Ryan Meldrum, Florida International University – Digital Self-Harm

Bullies aren’t the only people causing harm online.

Ryan Meldrum, associate professor in the department of criminology and criminal justice at the Florida International University, says other negative thoughts can come from an unlikely place.

Dr. Meldrum’s areas of expertise include the causes and consequences of low self-control, the link between poor sleep quantity/quality and adolescent antisocial behavior, and the role of peer associations in the etiology of delinquency and substance use. His research has appeared in such journals as Criminology, Justice Quarterly, Journal of Quantitative Criminology, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Developmental Psychology, Criminal Justice and Behavior, Journal of Criminal Justice, Crime & Delinquency, Sleep Health, Intelligence, and Journal of Youth and Adolescence, among others. He is the winner of the 2016 Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences New Scholar Award, was named a 2016 FIU Top Scholar for Research, and was named a 2019 FIU Top Scholar for Student Mentorship.

Dr. Meldrum’s teaching interests focus primarily on Research Methods and Criminological Theory. In addition, he developed the course Biosocial Criminology, which teaches students about cutting edge cross-disciplinary theory and research on the neural, genetic, and biological underpinnings of antisocial behavior and how these factors intersect with social factors emphasized by mainstream criminological theories.

Dr. Meldrum serves as an editorial board member for Journal of Criminal Justice, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Adolescent Research Review, and Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice. He also serves as an ad hoc reviewer for several journals, including Criminology, Justice Quarterly, American Journal of Criminal Justice, and Youth and Society.

Digital Self-Harm

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The mental health of kids and teens is in the spotlight. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have resorted to remote teaching, leading kids to spend more time online. Now, “digital self-harm” is emerging among adolescents, and it may be increasing.

Digital self-harm involves someone anonymously posting negative and hurtful things about themselves online. In short, they are cyberbullying themselves.

To study its causes, two questions about digital self-harm were included as part of the 2019 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey, in which 10,000 Florida middle and high school students participated. We found that one in ten Florida students reported they engaged in digital self-harm in the past 12 months. We also found that getting bullied is associated with digital self-harm. So too are elevated levels of negative emotions like depression and anxiety that often result from bullying.

Adolescents today have so many digital outlets where they can post. They may be engaging in digital self-harm to elicit comments from others saying ‘No, you’re not that, you’re beautiful, you’re great!’ In other words, they might be seeking out some sort of validation that can alleviate the negative emotions that come from being bullied and other strains and stressors.

Our study is only the second peer-reviewed study on digital self-harm. Among the many unanswered questions about this behavior that remain is whether it is a steppingstone to physical self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

Right now, we are working to make professionals – like psychologists and school administrators – aware of the behavior so that they can screen for it, detect it early, treat those who have engaged in it, and prevent escalations of the behavior.

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