Cyberbullying is a common term for bullying behaviors conducted through social media and other forms of modern communication, rather than through face-to-face encounters or other personal interactions. For several reasons, this modern form of bullying may have a particularly negative impact on affected individuals. In a study published in September 2013 in the Journal of Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments, researchers from Johnson & Wales University examined the risks of cyberbullying among U.S. high school and middle school students. The researchers found that cyberbullying is common among these teenagers and preteens. They also found that differences in technological sophistication between children and their parents may help contribute to an atmosphere that makes cyberbullying relatively easy to perpetrate.
As a rule, the intent of bullying behaviors is a conscious or unconscious desire to assert power over others, maintain or achieve social status, or diminish other people’s status. Traditionally, bullying relies on physical proximity between individuals, or on relatively slow methods of communication such as written messages or landline-based phone conversations. Some people use physical methods such as punching, spitting, kicking or other forms of assault to achieve their objectives. Others use verbal methods such as taunting, belittling or the making of threatening statements. Still others use social methods such as rumor-spreading, exclusion from a peer group or publicly orchestrated humiliation or embarrassment.
Cyberbullying differs from traditional bullying in several ways. First, while traditional bullying is limited to personal interactions or fairly slow communication methods, cyberbullying takes place through forms of media—such as the internet and cell phones—that can reach large numbers of people in an extremely short amount of time. The forms of media used for cyberbullying also make it very easy to participate anonymously and never reveal one’s true identity or the source of a bullying attack. In addition, the person targeted by cyberbullying commonly has little or no chance of deleting a publicly posted attack once that attack has been perpetrated. For all of these reasons, a cyberbullying incident can produce more widespread negative effects than a traditional bullying incident, and can also continue to produce those negative effects for a longer period of time.
New Internet Risk Findings
In the study published in the Journal of Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments, the Johnson & Wales University researchers administered a survey called the Survey of Knowledge of Internet Risk and Behavior (SKIRB) to over 4,200 U.S. middle school and high school students. Their intent was to assess the impact of cyberbullying in teen and preteen populations. The 47 questions posed in the survey focused on issues such as common uses of the internet and other forms of social media, opinions on appropriate use of these communication methods and awareness of the potential pitfalls of communicating through electronic social networks.
After reviewing the results of the SKIRB, the researchers found that almost 33 percent of the study participants reported being cyberbullied within a school environment. Although significant numbers of both high school and middle school students were affected, middle school students reported higher rates of bullying than high school students. The researchers also found that most high school and middle school students don’t clearly understand the risks associated with communicating through computers or cell phones, and therefore do little or nothing to protect themselves and diminish their exposure to potential harm.
Parent’s Weak Supervision Of Internet Monitoring
The researchers also found that only one-third of all study participants in middle school had parents who kept up with their children’s internet activity. Among the participants in high school, this number fell to 17 percent. In stark contrast, almost 90 percent of all study participants had direct access to a home computer, and roughly 93 percent gained access to the internet in one way or another. The authors of the study believe that these extremely unbalanced figures stem from differing levels of technological knowledge and familiarity between parents and their teen and preteen children. While today’s teenagers and younger children have grown up in a world dominated by social media, their parents are typically far less comfortable with the new communications technologies. This situation makes it relatively easy for children to avoid their parents’ oversight and use social media without adequate supervision.
The frequency of cyberbullying is likely tied to the combined effects of a lack of parental oversight, technological sophistication among teens and preteens, and lack of awareness among teens and preteens about the potential pitfalls of social media participation. The authors of the study in the Journal of Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments believe that ongoing efforts must be made to teach children about social media risks in a respectful manner and emphasize the importance of forming relationships that don’t rely on any form of bullying behavior.