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Teens are taking to the internet to engage in a practice known as digital self-harm — the act of anonymously posting something about oneself that is negative or mean. Some psychologists say digital self-harm is the modern day version of cutting.

A team of researchers recently released a report on digital self-harm that presented some pretty eye-opening numbers. Justin Patchin, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin, and Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center at Florida Atlantic University, studied data of nearly 6,000 U.S. middle and high school students between the ages of 12 to 17. What they found was that 6 percent of students have anonymously shared or said something about themselves via social media that was negative.

The survey showed non-heterosexual kids were three times more likely to cyberbully themselves, and cyberbullying victims were 12 times more likely to engage in self-bullying. Also, males are more prone to the behavior than females.

The survey results mirror a similar study that was published in 2013 by the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center. In that study, researchers found that 9 percent of adolescents were engaging in digital self-harm.

So why are kids bullying themselves?

Steven Tobias, a child and family psychologist in Morristown, said for some kids it's a way to get attention or sympathy from others. For other kids though, the reason they're engaging in digital self-harm might go much deeper.

“I think another thing that might be going on here is that this is how people feel that they deserve to be treated,” Tobias said. “That they are depressed, if they feel so badly about themselves that in a sense they think that this is right or this is what people are thinking about them or should be thinking about them. And then by posting online, it is just an outward expression, really of how badly they are feeling about themselves.”

Unfortunately, Tobias doesn't think the problem is going to go away anytime soon, especially since technology has become such a big part of our society. He said smartphones in particular are causing "significant emotional and even academic problems for this generation of kids."

In this episode of Forever 39, we dive into digital self-harm and what parents can do if they think their kids might be engaging in this practice. Do you have a personal story to share about digital self-harm, email us at

Also from this week's Forever 39 podcast — What's your feeling on vow renewals? PLUS: Our guilty pleasures revealed. Click on the podcast player above to hear the entire episode.

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— Annette and Megan, Forever 39

Join us for next week’s podcast when we look back on 2017, why January is known as divorce month, and this year's wedding trends.

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