By Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on April 14, 2012
Cyberbullying and bullying are not the same, according to new research that suggests anti-bullying programs need to be tailored so there are specific interventions that target online bullying.
“There are currently many programs aimed at reducing bullying in schools and I think there is an assumption that these programs deal with cyberbullying as well,” says Jennifer Shapka, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, who presented the research at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting in Vancouver.
Shapka’s study involved 17,000 Vancouver students in grades 8 to 12 and a followup study involving 733 kids ages 10 to 18.
The study found that about 25 to 30 percent of the kids reported they experienced or took part in cyberbullying, compared to 12 percent who say they’ve experienced or taken part in schoolyard bullying.
The big takeaway? Kids don’t equate cyberbullying with traditional forms of schoolyard bullying, she said, noting the kids say that “95 percent of what happens online was intended as a joke and only 5 percent was intended to harm.”
The findings suggest that, in cyberbullying, adolescents “downplay the impact of it, which means that existing education and prevention programs are not going to get through to them,” she says.
“Students need to be educated that this ‘just joking’ behavior has serious implications,” she said, adding that being victimized online can have consequences for a person’s mental health, developmental well-being, and academic achievement. In extreme cases, there have been reports of suicide.
Traditional bullying, or schoolyard bullying, is often associated with three main characteristics: A power differential between bully and victim, a proactive targeting of a victim, and ongoing aggression.
Research is beginning to show that cyberbullying does not necessarily involve these three characteristics. Traditional power differentials — size and popularity — do not necessarily apply online. There also seems to be more fluid delineation between the roles youth play, she said, noting it is not unusual for an individual to act in all capacities — bullies, victims, and witnesses — online.
Previous work by Shapka and her colleagues has shown that in contrast to traditional bullying, cyberbullying is rarely associated with planned targeting of a victim.
She also says that a number of Internet safety campaigns that suggest parents keep an eye on their children’s online activity could be counterproductive, noting this kind of micromanaging can undermine healthy adolescent development.
“An open and honest relationship between parents and children is one of the best ways to protect teenagers from online risks related to cyberbullying, Internet addiction, and privacy concerns related to disclosing personal information online,” she concludes.