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Cyberbullying ‘neither an epidemic nor a rarity': Researchers

This has been stated before but not seen (or reported) enough: Cyberbullying is not an epidemic, even though news reports about it seem to have reached epidemic proportions. The last six surveys of “random samples” of students nationwide by two of the US’s top researchers on the subject – Profs. Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center – found that 18.8-29.2% (“average 23.9%”) of students had been cyberbullied, Dr. Patchin reported in their blog.

“Our friends at the Crimes Against Children Research Center [CCRC] at the University of New Hampshire have collected data from students across the U.S. in 2000, 2005, and 2010 and saw a modest but steady increase in cyberbullying between 2000 and 2010 (from 6% to 11%),” but the CCRC do point out that social media emerged and their use among teens grew during that same period as well.

View of bullying research pioneer

Patchin also pointed out that “Prof. Dan Olweus, who has done more to advance the scholarship of school bullying than anyone else in the world” argues that cyberbullying is “basically a low-frequent phenomenon” and argues that there hasn’t been a marked increase in cyberbullying in the past 5-6 years.

“So where does this leave us?” Patchin asks? “Professor Olweus is right that cyberbullying isn’t some new phenomenon that is completely distinct from the bullying that has been perpetrated by and toward teens for generations. But it is occurring at levels that demand our attention and initial evidence suggests that it is increasing. We know that most cyberbullying is connected to offline relationships and that most teens who cyberbully also bully at school.”

Here’s the parenting piece

Something else we now know from researchers in Australia: The ethics that guide our children (and all of us) in everyday life are the same online and on any digital device. The authors of the new study “Enhancing Parents’ Knowledge and Practice of Online Safety” from the Young & Well Cooperative Research Centre write that, “rather than sliding into a moral vacuum when they go online, young people draw upon the same moral framework that shapes their offline engagements. This underlines the importance of parents continuing to have open and ongoing conversations with young people about their online activities that reiterate their family’s values” (see this [I’ve just found that links to the study from both Google and my post are broken; I’m waiting to hear if they’ll be fixed]).

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think talking to your kids about their behaviour online is indeed very important.

    April 5, 2013
  2. That’s a really interesting point you’ve raised at the end about it not being a moral vacuum. My understanding of the psychological effects of anonymity are that it can suck a little bit of ethics out of the person’s moral framework; this is why riots and hooliganism can be so destructive. Maybe it’s like the vacuum’s connected but it isn’t on full power, what do you think? Either way, I agree it is hugely important for parents to engage in that conversation with their kid. We’ve drawn up a guide about how to have this difficult chat, both before and after they get bullied. Let me know what you think: http://bit.ly/ZAFGkQ

    April 4, 2013
    • Anne #

      Thanks for your comment, Michael. I think the Young & Well CRC researchers meant “vacuum” in a different way in that statement – saying online spaces, contrary to what adults may think, aren’t actually like a vacuum bottle containing no air (in this case not ethics). I agree with them. Online spaces don’t change everything. They aren’t actually completely separate from offline spaces (or what’s often referred to as “real life”). In fact, they aren’t actually the sole context of what’s going on in them. Facebook isn’t ultimately the context of what’s happening on it – school life is, where kids are concerned. They’re interacting with their peers at school for the most part. So that has to be taken into consideration where cyberbullying’s concerned.

      I really like your point on this page about the importance of helping young people – whether targeted by bullying or bullying themselves (because the latter’s usually a sign of internal hurting, right?) – love themselves. Your point about listening, really listening, to someone who’s feeling hurt and targeted is so important too. An important study here in the US that surveyed young people nationwide about their experiences with bullying (the Youth Voices Project) found that really being heard, having someone to listen, is often what helps the most.

      I do think it’s important to make it clear, as many studies have shown, that cyberbullying is still less prevalent than bullying, and to not throw all mean behavior under the “cyberbullying” umbrella so that the problem becomes seen as some sort of epidemic. No matter what the news headlines indicate, research shows that the vast majority of young people do not bully nor have they experienced bullying or cyberbullying. Thanks for your good work.

      April 9, 2013

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