Bullying awareness has become increasingly more important as school-aged children gain access to 21st century technology. Present day children belong to a “cyber-network” where perpetrators shield themselves through the anonymity of new communication styles .
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the act of using electronic technology, such as cell phones and computers, to deliberately harass or threaten another individual or group (3, 6). A difference between traditional bullying and cyberbullying is that with traditional bullying, the bully needs a physical location in order to harass their victim (6). However, with the advent of the Internet and cell phones, cyberbullying can happen anywhere and at any time (6). In addition, with traditional bullying, the bully is most likely known to their victim, whereas with cyberbullying, the perpetrator can have anonymity, which can have more detrimental effects on the victim.
While many schools recognize the importance of reducing the occurrence of cyberbullying, few schools may be aware of the prevalence rates within their schools (4). Due to policies aimed at prohibiting the free use of cell phones and online chat rooms/emailing during school hours, many cyberbullying incidents occur outside school grounds. However, although this may be the case, the effects of cyberbullying can carry over into the school climate (5). While attempts at implementing intervention programs and policies to reduce cyberbullying have been created (2), it may be more important to first understand not only the prevalence of cyberbullying, but more specifically what type of cyberbullying behaviors the students are involved in.
To increase our understanding of cyberbullying behaviors, our research team from St. John’s University conducted a study to do the following:
- assess the prevalence rate of cyberbullying among high school students
- assess the type of cyberbullying behaviors among high school students
- study how the occurrence of cyberbullying relates to social-emotional functioning
- study how the occurrence of cyberbullying relates to academic performance.
Ninth and tenth graders (11 male, 17 female) from a parochial high school in the New York area were recruited for participation in our research. Twenty-eight students completed the questionnaires.
Students’ exposure to cyberbullying was assessed through a revised version of the Revised Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire (7). The revised measure assesses cyberbullying specifically, whereas the original questionnaire targets traditional bullying. Students were administered a demographic questionnaire where students also self-reported their current GPA. Additionally, students completed The Behavior Assessment System for Children—Second Edition (BASC-2)- Self Report (SRP)***. Specifically, our research team focused on measures relating to cyberbullying along with:
- Attitudes to School
- Attitudes to Teacher
- Interpersonal Relations
- Social Stress
- Sense of Inadequacy
Electronic Technology and Communication
In our study, one hundred percent of high school students reported owning their own cell phone and 96.4 percent of participants reported using the text messaging feature on a cell phone. 96.4 percent of the sample reported using a home computer with 60.7 percent using their home computer every day, 28.6 percent using it a couple of times a week, and 7.2 percent using it a couple of times a month. Overall, the majority of students reported using a computer as a means of communication (53.6 percent reported using chat rooms; 96.4 percent reported using AOL or AOL Instant Messenger) (See Table 1).
Table 1: Percentage of students who utilize electronic technology as means of communication
Do you use text messaging?
Do you use a home computer?
Do you only go on website approved by your parents?
Do you use AOL or AOL Instant Messaging (AIM)
Do you have a MySpace/Facebook profile?
Frequency of Cyberbullying
In our research, the high school students did not report that they were frequently victims or engaged in cyberbullying. We also found the following trends:
- The vast majority of students reported normal levels of functioning
- When comparing males and females, there did not seem to be any differences in terms of cyberbullying or functioning.
Cyberbullying, GPA, and Functioning
In our research, the correlation between a high school student being a victim of cyberbullying and having a low GPA was weak. Additionally, the correlation between cyberbullying others and having a low GPA was also weak. However, our data also suggests that those who have reported having had cyberbullied others in the past had a higher sense of inadequacy and/or had a negative attitude towards their teachers.
Unfortunately, due to the small sample size, it is hard to generalize the conclusions of this study. In addition, the results may not be typical of high school students. However, with a larger sample size, future conclusions may aide in the development of an intervention program. It may be interesting to see the level of these behaviors and their related social emotional difficulties with a larger and more clinical sample. Knowing the prevalence rates of cyberbullying behaviors among students can help schools develop intervention programs aimed at the type of cyberbullying behaviors the students are engaging in. Future research should examine such programs and the long-term effect they may have. For example, does enrollment in this program reduce the likelihood of long-term cyberbullying behaviors? In addition, future research may want to investigate varied models of education and prevention for cyberbullying and compare the effectiveness of these models.
1. Beran, T. & Li, Q. (2005). Cyber-harassment: A study of a new method for an old behavior. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 32(3), 265-277.
2. Brown, K., Jackson, M., & Cassidy, W. (2006). Cyber-bullying: Developing policy to direct responses that are equitable and effective in addressing this special form of bullying. Canadian Journal of Educational Administration and Policy, 57, 1-35.
3. Chibbaro, J. (2007). School counselors and the cyberbully: Interventions and implications. Professional School Counseling, 11(1), 65-68.
4. Kowalski, R. & Limber, S. (2007). Electronic bullying among middle school students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(6), 822-830.
5. Li, Q. (2006). Cyberbullying in schools: A research of gender differences. School Psychology International, 72(2), 157-170.
6. Mason, K. (2008). Cyberbullying: A preliminary assessment for school personnel. Psychology in the Schools, 45(4), 323-348.
7. Olweus, D. (1996). The Revised Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire. Beren, Norway: Research Center for Health Promotion (HIMIL), University of Bergen, N-5015 Bergen, Norway.
8. Reynolds, C. R. & Kamphaus, R. W. (1992). Behavior Assessment System for Children. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.
9. Reynolds, C. R. & Kamphaus, R. W. (2004). BASC-2 Behavior Assessment System for Children, second edition manual. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.
***The Behavior Assessment System for Children – Second Edition (BASC-2)-Self Report (SRP) consists of a comprehensive set of rating scales that use a multi-dimensional approach to measure feelings, attitudes, and behaviors of children [8,9].