by Michelle Kilpatrick Demaray, guest contributor
A significant number of youths are the victims of bullying, and the topic has been studied for decades. But online or cyberbullying is a newer phenomenon. It is a significant and growing problem, with reports indicating that up to 50 percent of school-aged children experience bullying via technology (Mishna, Cook, Gadall, Daciuk, & Solomon, 2010). For victims of cyberbullying, research has identified a wide variety of negative outcomes, including social, emotional, and academic problems.
Bullying (both traditional and cyber) is aggressive behavior that is repetitive, intentional, and occurs between two individuals with unequal amounts of power (e.g., physical size, age, social status). Bullying can take many different forms, including physical (e.g., hitting), verbal (e.g., name-calling), and relational (e.g., excluding someone or spreading rumors). Young people engaged in bullying participate in different roles, including the victim and the bully, and there is a percentage of kids who are involved in the behavior as both a bully and a victim (bully-victims).
Cyberbullies use electronics, such as cell phones and computers. And, unlike traditional face-to-face bullying, the bully can be anonymous. The ability to be anonymous might increase the likelihood that youths will engage in the behavior. Furthermore, a cyberbully does not necessarily see the reaction of the victim, making it easier to engage in mean behaviors.
Cyberbullying potentially can be more upsetting for the victim because the bullying behavior might include a wider audience and be more permanent. For example, a harassing picture can be sent to a large group of people or posted somewhere for people to view for a long period of time. Cybervictims also can have a more difficult time escaping from the bullying. With traditional bullying, the victim might be able to leave the situation, but fleeing isn’t an option in the virtual world, where mean comments or pictures exist online or on technology.
The reasons and factors that influence students to engage in bullying online are multiple and complex.
Some studies have found that youth who bully face-to-face are also likely to engage in online bullying (e.g., Wang, Ianotti, & Luk, 2012). Thus, if a youth is bullying someone in person they might also be bullying others online. However, a significant proportion of individuals who bully online do not bully in face-to-face situations (Twyman, Saylor, Taylor, & Comeaux, 2010).
Other research has found that young people who engage in cyberbullying have less empathy (defined as sharing another person’s emotional state) than students not involved in cyberbullying (Steffgen, Konig, Pfetsch, & Melzer, 2010). In a large study, 40 percent of students who engaged in online bullying reported not feeling anything after bullying online, while only 16 percent of the cyberbullies reported feeling guilty. Moreover, some students reported online bullying made them feel “funny, popular, and powerful” (Mishna et al., 2010).
Adolescent cyberbullies have been found to engage in other problematic behaviors as well. For example, they have been found to be more likely to engage in substance abuse and have higher levels of participation in school violence (Sourander et al., 2010; Wang, Iannotti, and Luk, 2012).
Peers, teachers, and parents also can influence the likelihood that a youth will engage in bullying online. Young people who believe other students are bullying online are more likely to engage in the behavior themselves. In addition, adolescents who believe the adults in their lives will punish them for bullying online are less likely to engage in the behavior (Hinduja & Patchin, 2013).
Parents play an especially important role. Students who bully online are more likely to report poor parent-child relationships and a lack of parental monitoring of online behavior (Ybarra & Mitchell; 2004).
This blog post focused on the “why” of cyberbullying, and it is important to answer this question as a step toward developing interventions to stop it from occurring. It is obviously equally important to explore what you can do to help the targets of cyberbullying, but that is a topic for another post. In the meantime, check out this link, which provides a tip sheet to help kids learn how to best respond to cyberbullying.
Dr. Michelle Demaray is a professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University. She is in the School Psychology Program and teaches courses in child development, assessment of emotional and behavioral issues in children and adolescents, and professional issues in school psychology. Her research interests include social support and bullying and victimization in schools.
Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J.W. (2013). Social Influences on Cyberbullying Behaviors Among Middle and High School Students. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42, 711-722.
Mishna, F., Cook, C., Gadalla, T., Daciuk, J., & Solomon, S. (2010). Cyber Bullying Behaviors Among Middle and High School Students. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80, 362-374. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.2010.01040.x.
Sourander, A., Klomek, A.B., Ikonen, M., Lindroos, J., Luntamo, T, Koskelainen, M., Ristkari, T., & Helenius, H. (2010). Psychosocial Risk Factors Associated With Cyberbullying Amond Adolescents: A Population-Based Study. Archives of General Psychiatry, 67, 720-728. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.79.
Steffgen, G., Konig, A., Pfetsch, J., & Melzer, A. (2011). Are Cyberbullies Less Empathic? Adolescents’ Cyberbullying Behavior and Empathic Responsiveness. CyberPsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 14, 643-648. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2010.0445.
Twyman, K., Saylor, C., Taylor, L.A., & Comeaux, C. (2010). Comparing Children and Adolescents Engaged in Cyberbullying to Matched Peers. CyberPsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 13, 195-199. doi:10.1089/cyber.2009.0137.
Wang, J., Ianotti, R.J., & Luk, J.W. (2012). Patterns of adolescent bullying behaviors: Physical, verbal, exclusion, rumor, and cyber. Journal of School Psychology, 50, 521-534. doi: 10.1016/j.jsp.2012.03.004.
Ybarra, M.L., & Mitchell, K.J. (2004). Youth engaging in online harassment: associations with caregiver-child relationships, Internet use, and personal characteristics. Journal of Adolescence, 27, 319-336. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2004.03.007.