Just as the use of technology itself has evolved, so has the ability to bully. Bullying, once restricted to the school or neighborhood, has now moved into the online world. Bullying through electronic means is referred to as “cyberbullying.”
As adults, thinking back, it was just a generation ago that kids and teens were asking their parents for a phone in their room — maybe even one with a separate line or three-way calling — so they could easily and somewhat privately connect with friends.
Today, a kid or teen’s desire to connect with friends has not changed, but the options for doing so have grown tremendously. Children are not only asking for their own tablets, gaming devices, and mobile phones at a younger age, they also want access to popular social media sites, and the ability to engage in online games and share information.
Just as young people used to spend unmonitored time playing with friends in the neighborhood, outside the periphery of adults, they are now engaging with each other in the cyberworld, “talking” with each other, “talking” to each other, and “talking” about each other, often without adult or parental monitoring. While technology allows young people to connect in meaningful ways, such as the opportunity to share ideas, photos, videos, and more, the unsupervised nature of the cyberworld demands the need for guidance, guidelines, and social responsibility.
While the definitions of cyberbullying, sometimes called online bullying, vary from source to source, most definitions consist of:
• electronic forms of contact
• an aggressive act
• harm to the target (Hutson, 2016)
The technology, accessed through computers or cell phones, used to cyberbully includes:
• personal websites
• social networking sites
• chat rooms
• message boards
• instant messaging
• video games (Feinberg & Robey, 2009)
Other helpful definitions include:
• Cyberbullying occurs “when someone repeatedly makes fun of another person online or repeatedly picks on another person through e-mail or text message or when someone posts something online about another person that they don’t like” (Cyberbullying Research Center, 2016 ).
• Cyberbullying is as an aggressive, intentional act distributed by an individual or group, using contact in an electronic medium, continuously and relentlessly against someone who cannot stand up for himself or herself easily (Smith et al., 2008).
Unique characteristics of cyberbullying
Recently a student shared “that all bullying hurts, whether in person or through technology, the end result is that bullying in any form is emotionally damaging.”
Contrasting offline bullying with online bullying:
• targets might not know who the bully is or why they are being targeted, as cyberbullying can happen anonymously;
• cyberbullying can have a large audience – the actions of those who cyberbully can go viral;
• it is often easier to be cruel using technology because of greater physical distance and the person bullying doesn’t see the immediate response by the target – they might not recognize the serious harm from their actions because they lack seeing the target’s response; and
• it can be harder for parents and adults to manage cyberbullying (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014).
Rates of Incidence
• Rates of cyberbullying victimization range from 5% to 74% (Hamm, Newton, & Chisholm, 2015).
• 15.5% of high school students and 24% of middle school students were cyberbullied in 2015 (Center for Disease Control, 2015).
• The percentages of individuals who have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lifetimes have nearly doubled (18% to 34%) from 2007-2016 (Patchin & Hinduja, 2016 ).
• Boys are more likely to be cyberbully perpetrators and girls are more likely to be cyberbully targets (Hamm, Newton, & Chisholm, 2015 ).
How cyberbullying impacts students
• Those who are cyberbullied are also likely to be bullied offline (Hamm, Newton, & Chisholm, 2015).
• Cyberbullying can result in serious emotional problems for targets, including anxiety, low self-
esteem, depression (Hinduja & Patchin, 2015), stress, and suicide ideation, (Kowalski, Giumetti, Schroeder, & Lattanner, 2014).
• Those who are cyberbullied can feel more uncontrollability than those facing traditional bullying, because they have less control over who views the bullying and less ability to make the bullying stop. There can also be more permanence with cyberbullying compared to traditional bullying: nearly everything on the Internet is available to everyone, everywhere. It can be challenging to erase information once it goes on the Internet (Pearson, Andersson, & Porath, 2005).
• Those who cyberbully are more likely to have anxiety, depression, less life satisfaction, less self-esteem, and face drug and alcohol abuse (Kowalski, Giumetti, Schroeder, & Lattanner, 2014).
• Both cyberbullies and targets of cyberbullying report less school satisfaction and achievement (Bernan & Li, 2007).
• Motivations behind cyberbullying include a lack of confidence or desire to feel better about themselves, a desire for control, finding it entertaining, and retaliation (Hamm, Newton, & Chisholm, 2015).
• Targets of cyberbullying have a greater chance of becoming bullies themselves, as being cyberbullied can lead to revenge bullying as a way to cope. And, cyberbullies have a greater risk at being bullied in return, resulting in a vicious cycle. Being a cyberbully contributes to a twenty-fold increase of also being a target of cyberbullying (Arslan, Savaser, Hallett, & Balci, 2012).
• Because cyberbullying can occur anonymously, cyberbullies can act more aggressively as they feel there will be no consequences. In face-to-face bullying, the bully can view the impact as the attack happens, whereas cyberbullies cannot see any of the immediate outcomes, often resulting in further aggression (Kowalski, Giumetti, Schroeder, & Lattanner, 2014).
Trends to address cyberbullying
• There are several challenges for addressing cyberbullying. Parents suggest they lack the technical skills to keep up with their children’s’ online behaviors. Schools are educating about cyberbullying with policies, training, and assemblies, yet don’t always know when and how to intervene in cyberbullying when it happens off campus. Law enforcement often can’t get involved unless there is clear evidence of a crime of threat to someone’s safety (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014).
• Effective approaches to address cyberbullying requires effort from children, parents, schools, law enforcement, social media companies, and the community (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014).
• A multilayered approach can best combat cyberbullying, including educational media campaigns, school-based programs, parental oversight and involvement, legislative action, and screening and evidence-based interventions by health care providers, especially pediatricians and mental health professionals (Aboujaoude, Savage, Starcevic, & Salame, 2015).
• Parental involvement can significantly reduce cyberbullying perpetration and victimization. Parents can be taught how to openly discuss cyberbullying with their children, when to meet with school administrators, and when and how to work with a bully’s parents, request that a website or service provider remove offending material or contact the police (Aboujaoude, Savage, Starcevic, & Salame, 2015).
• Parents can also create an age-appropriate “technology use contract” that identifies behaviors that are and are not appropriate on the Internet, as well as consequences for inappropriate behaviors (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014).
• The most common strategies reported by youth to cope with cyberbullying were passive, such as blocking the sender, ignoring or avoiding messages, and protecting personal information. Those who are cyberbullied are most likely to tell a friend about the incident. When asked what coping strategies those who were previously cyberbullied would encourage to someone being cyberbullied include blocking the sender, ignoring the messages, and telling someone, such as a friend. Getting retaliation was the least recommended strategy (Hamm, Newton, & Chisholm, 2015).
• Only 33% of teens that were targets of cyberbullying told their parents or guardians about it, because children are worried they will face reduced Internet and cellphone privileges or other punishments (Juvonen & Gross, 2008 ).
• Improving social networking safety skills can help prevent cyberbullying, such as understanding how cyberbullying can cause harm, making sure personal information is not available on social media, keeping social media accounts private, not “friending” people they do not know, and general efficacy (Wölfer, Schultze-Krumbholz, Zagorscak, Jäkel, Göbel, & Scheithauer, 2013).
• If someone is being cyberbullied, he/she should keep all evidence of cyberbullying, keep a log with the dates and times of the instances, and report the instances (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014).
Bystanders to cyberbullying might not want to get involved because of the fear that the bullying will come onto them. However, by not doing anything, bystanders are passively encouraging the behavior. Bystanders can make a big difference by actively standing up against cyberbullies. Bystanders should intervene if they feel comfortable, tell a trusted adult after, and never encourage or contribute to the cyberbullying, such as laughing at comments, forwarding hurtful comments, or silently allowing it to continue (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014).
For helpful resources on cyberbullying, go to pacer.org.