In the last decade, online communication has increased dramatically as a format for social interaction, particularly among adolescents. In 2005, researchers identified approximately 21 million American teenagers as internet users, with use surging at the 7th grade level and peaking between 11th and 12th grade (1).

It was found that 54 percent of American children reported using a computer for recreational purposes daily, with 28 percent spending more than one hour a day in recreational computer use, which more than doubles the amount of time reported in 1999 (2).

Given this increase, a growing body of research has focused on bullying that occurs while communicating online. The term used for this sort of behavior is cyberbullying. Bullying has long been a concern for researchers, parents, administrators, and teachers, because

  • bullies tend to have long-term behavioral difficulties, such as being at an increased risk of substance use and domestic violence (3, 4),
  • and victims are at an increased risk of depression, low self-esteem, and peer rejection across time (3, 5, 6).

Instant Messaging and Blogging

Adolescents spend much of their time online instant messaging and blogging.

  • Instant messaging enables adolescents to create private chatrooms with their peers who are defined on a specific list of people with whom they wish to interact (7). The majority (57 percent) of participants in our study reported using instant messaging.
  • Blogging consists of updating a personal webpage made up of posts, which are arranged chronologically and involve ideas, opinions, photos, poetry, and commentary. A bit less than half (41 percent) of our participants reported blogging between a few times a week and everyday.

The purpose of our research was to address questions regarding adolescents’ online aggression (or cyberbulling) toward peers, specifically with respect to instant messaging and blogging. We also examined the relation between their online bullying and face-to-face bullying, as well as the relation of adolescents' frequency of use of instant messaging and blogging with both online and face-to-face bullying.

The research was done through almost 500 adolescents (ages 12-17) who completed a survey about their online communication. Our survey was adapted from the Direct & Indirect Aggression Scales (8).

What We Found

  • Adolescents who spent more time online reported that they engaged in cyberbullying or were the victims of cyberbullying more frequently than their peers who spent less time online.
  • Adolescents engaged in cyberbullying more so than being the victims of cyberbullying.
  • Females engaged in instant messaging and blogging more than males did.
  • Males reported higher levels of face-to-face bullying than did females, but there was no sex difference in cyberbullying.

Our results also addressed the relation between cyberbullying and face-to-face bullying and we found that

  • Youth who engaged in higher levels of cyberbullying also engaged in higher levels of face-to-face bullying.
  • Youth who were victims of cyberbullying also reported being victims of face-to-face bullying.
  • 7th grade males reported being victims of face-to-face bullying more so than 7th grade females.
  • 11th grade males reported being victims of cyberbullying and victims of face-to-face bullying more so than 11th grade females.
  • Regardless of how much face-to-face bullying students reported, the more they used instant messaging, the more they engaged in cyberbullying. This suggests that communicating online may influence youth to engage in cyberbullying, irrespective of the degree to which they are aggressive in their face-to-face interactions.

Implications

  1. The results clearly demonstrate that a significant number of adolescents report engaging in cyberbullying. Therefore, an important implication of this study centers on the need for parental supervision of children’s online behaviors.
  2. Additionally, this study demonstrates that youth who bully others when face-to-face are also the youth who cyberbully, and youth who are victims of face-to-face bullying are also the victims of cyberbullying. This result offers a different perspective than the media’s typical portrayal of bullying, which highlights the tendency of victims of face-to-face bullying to become bullies in future interactions. Although both tendencies may be true, this study demonstrates that youth who are bullies and victims often maintain their roles across contexts.
  3. It is important to note, however, that whereas the internet provides a largely unsupervised opportunity for adolescents to engage in cyberbullying, it also provides significant opportunities for positive social interactions. For instance, this study found that adolescents, particularly females, reported engaging in more online prosocial behavior (such as saying something nice about someone in an instant message to him or leaving a nice comment about someone on her blog) than cyberbullying. Females were similar to males in their cyberbullying but higher than males in their online positive behavior, although both males and females were higher in prosocial behavior than bullying. The more youth reported instant messaging and blogging, the more they engaged in prosocial behavior. It is possible that online communication contributes to positive face-to-face relations or vice versa. Further information about adolescents’ use of the internet to engage in prosocial behaviors and the relation of their online and face-to-face prosocial behaviors is available by contacting these researchers.

Note: These researchers may be contacted to obtain detailed statistical results of this study if desired.

References

  1. Lenhart, A., Madden, M., & Hitlin, P. (2005). Teens and technology. Pew Internet and American Life Project.
  2. Roberts, D. F., Foehr, U. G., & Rideout, V. (2005, March). Generation M: Media in the lives of 8-18 year-olds. Washington, D.C.: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved September 6, 2006 from http://www.kff.org/entmedia/upload/Generation-M-Media-in-the-Lives-of-8-18-Year-olds-Report.pdf.
  3. Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
  4. Zarzour, K. (1994). Battling the school-yard bully. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
  5. Austin, S., & Joseph, S. (1996). Assessment of bully/victim problems in 8 to 11 year-olds. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 66, 447-456.
  6. Horne, A. M., Glaser, B., & Sayger, T. V. (1994). Bullies. Counseling and Human Development, 27, 1-12. 7) Riva, G. (2002). The sociocognitive psychology of computer-mediated communication: The present and future of technology-based interactions. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 5, 581-598. 8) Björkqvist, K., Lagerspetz, K., & Österman, K. (1992). Direct and indirect aggression scales (DIAS). Retrieved April, 2005 from http://www.vasa.abo.fi/svf/up/dias.htm.

Biographical Information Kelly M. Lister, M.A. is a fifth-year doctoral student in Bowling Green State University’s Clinical Psychology program in Bowling Green, OH. Her research interests include children’s and adolescents’ computer-mediated communication (specifically instant messaging and blogging) and its relation to their aggressive and prosocial behaviors. She also is interested in school-based intervention and prevention programs related to decreasing aggression and increasing problem-solving skills and social competency. She can be contacted at klister@bgsu.edu.

Eric F. Dubow, Ph.D. is a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH and an Adjunct Research Scientist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor, MI. His primary research interests include the development of aggression from childhood to adulthood and across generations, the effects of exposure to real-life and media violence among children and adolescents, and school-based interventions focused on problem-solving and promoting social competence among children. Dr. Dubow can be contacted at edubow@bgsu.edu, and more information about his research can be found at http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/psych/page33037.html.