Online Self-Trolling: New Form of Self-Harm Among Teens?

Preteen sits in dark, holding phone, with face lit up by the screenAbout 6% of teens have anonymously bullied themselves online, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The phenomenon, known as self-trolling or self-bullying, may be a new form of self-harm akin to cutting and other injurious behaviors. The study looked at more than 5,500 teens to assess rate of self-bullying, as well as risk factors for the behavior.

Is Self-Bullying a Form of Self-Mutilation?

The study gathered data in 2016 on 5,593 12-17-year-olds who participated in a nationally representative survey. Students answered demographic and mental health questions, as well as queries about their experiences with bullying, including self-bullying. The study defined self-bullying as sharing hurtful content about oneself, such as by posting it on a social media site or sending it to a friend.

About 6% of participants had engaged in self-bullying. The practice was more common among boys (7.1%) than girls (5.3%). Half (51.3%) reported self-bullying just once, with 35.5% doing it “a few” times, and 13.2% self-bullying “many” times.

Boys were more likely than girls to say that they bullied themselves as a joke or to get attention. Girls reported that self-bullying was a way to cope with depression and psychological pain.

Non-heterosexual teens were three times as likely to bully themselves online. Cyberbullying victims were 12 times as likely to engage in the behavior. Drug use, behavioral issues, symptoms of depression, and self-harm offline also strongly correlated with self-bullying.

Self-Bullying and Teen Mental Health

In 2014, the phenomenon of self-bullying came to prominence following the suicide of 14-year-old Hannah Smith. The British teen had been bullied in person. Her parents initially thought cyberbullying might have been a motivating factor in her suicide. An investigation revealed that Smith had posted negative comments about herself on but found no evidence of cyberbullying by peers.

The study’s authors highlight the correlation between depression, self-harm, and suicide. They urge more research on self-bullying, arguing that there may also be a connection between online self-harm and suicide.


  1. Both the aggressor and the victim: Alarming number of teens cyberbully themselves. (2017, October 30). Retrieved from
  2. Davies, C. (2014, May 06). Hannah Smith wrote ‘vile’ posts to herself before suicide, say police. The Guardian. Retrieved from
  3. Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2017). Digital self-harm among adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.06.012

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  • joshua

    November 4th, 2017 at 6:17 AM

    I am thinking that the more I read the more I needs to keep my kids away from any social media :/

  • Reg

    November 7th, 2017 at 2:11 PM

    I agree with Joshua.

    Gone are the days of childhood innocence that we were allowed to grow up with. Kids today have such big issues that they have to confront and tackle every single day. Technology is great to a point, but where do we then know where to draw the line?

  • Meghan

    November 11th, 2017 at 6:40 AM

    Many teens could be doing this in an effort to beat someone else to the punch.
    But how sad it is that they even feel this hatred for themselves :(

  • Suzy

    November 14th, 2017 at 8:47 AM

    I find it to be so sad that teens just don’t get to have the carefree and fun existence that I did when I was younger. It seems like there is so much pressure on them now that thankfully we did not experience growing up but I think that it is very much taking a toll on this generation and I do not see that going away any time soon. I am concerned for their future, how they are able to handle things. You would think that because they have been exposed to so much that they would have a better grasp, but I worry for them that they have gone through so much at such a young age that eventually they will lose that ability to cope and carry on. It really does scare me for them.

  • Marcia

    January 6th, 2022 at 7:17 AM

    As adults, we tend to romanticize our childhoods. Growing up has always been hard! There has never been a decade that was free of war, poverty, violence, bullying or any of the societal ills we have today. The stress may have been delivered in a different format but it was still stressful.

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