Cyberbullying can cause ADHD Misdiagnosis


In the next three blog posts, I’d like to discuss an important topic and one of major concern in today’s news; Cyberbullying.  

When I wrote Mistaken for ADHD, I mentioned bullying as one of the more than 46 things that could cause a child to be mistaken or misdiagnosed as ADHD. Of course, the type of bullying to which I was referring at the time was the “old-fashion” one- you know – when the playground-school-sporting event bully pushes another kid around, intimidates him or her and takes his or her lunch money.

Well…since that time, more and more has been discovered about a more specific type of bullying-cyber bullying- the use of a technical device such as a cell phone or computer to intentionally harm another person. This form of bullying is very different from that of the traditional school bully in that Cyberbullies:

  • Often remain anonymous
  • Can strike at any time the victim is using his or her cell phone or computer
  • Doesn’t usually require an audience to get his or her “kicks” from hurting the other person
  • Are often so impulsive that they use their electronic device without thinking (They shoot from the hip) and send hate messages and pictures depicting the victim as evil, not-normal or deviant
  • Do not have to face their victim-thus they have no sympathy or remorse
  • Usually have poor communication skills and often make failing grades and end up in legal trouble.

Cyberbullying has become more common place as many children and teens are using computers and cell phones with Internet access. Many times, these children and teens’ parents fail to teach them the proper emotional and social use of these technical marvels. They simply teach them how to physically use the machines and then leave them to discover the other things as they go!

Cyberbullies can be classified as:

  • Those seeking revenge or trying to right a wrong. Some of these kids and teens may have been victims of in-person physical bullying-abuse and are trying to avenge what they see as a wrong or injustice. Many of these are girls as they tend to use fewer physical ways to bully and therefore more likely to use secretive methods to get even or extract revenge.
  • Those who are so impulsive that they post a comment or broadcast an e-mail without thinking about the consequences
  • Those who want to control others and seek power to overcome their own insecurities and fears. Many times, these kids had been past victims of Cyberbullying and need to feel in control of others in order to have control of themselves. They crave attention and if they don’t get it, will often intensify their bullying efforts to get it.
  • Those who are just plain mean, are immature, or see bullying as a game, a diversion, or an ego trip. These bullies tend to act as a group – like a sorority- and keep their bad deeds secret unless they feel they can get more entertainment value out of the abuse, if the targeted person knows. Once the excitement and stimulation wears off, they usually cease bullying and go to their next victim.

How can Cyberbullying victims suffer ADHD misdiagnosis?

Bullied kids and teens many times:

  • Become more impulsive as they tend to act without thinking when trying to avoid situations in which they fear they might suffer more abuse or feel threatened and insecure.
  • As the abuse continues, develop poor self-esteem and social-friendship-relationship problems
  • Develop a level of paranoia from not knowing who causes it and when it will occur again and this often leads to inattentiveness and poor grades
  • Eventually, become anxious and depressed, placing them at higher risk for failure and suicide.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to Cyberbullying than most of us thought. In some ways, it can be much more harmful than in-your-face bullying and has in the past year been responsible for several teens committing suicide to resolve or avoid an emotional situation or perceived threat for which they saw no other way out.

In my next post, we’ll take a look at the subtle signs and symptoms that victims of Cyberbullying may show and how similar clues might pop up in cyber bullies themselves.

Dr. Frank

P.S. You might want to take a book at these earlier posts on bullying and teen depression and suicide:

And these articles on

How Teenage Depression May be Confused with ADHD

Depression in ADHD Teens 

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