Schoolyard bullying has been the subject of much media and academic work; however, a new form of bullying is emerging: cyberbullying.  This form of aggression occurs when one or more individuals target another using some (or multiple) forms of Communication and Information Technology (CIT), including email, instant messaging (IM), text messaging on a cell phone, social networking sites (i.e. Facebook, Nexopia, MySpace) or even through the development of a website (Kowalski & Limber, 2007).  Some examples of cyberbullying include spreading rumors and gossip via instant messaging, writing mean messages on social Networking sites and blogs, or even using a cell phone to photograph or film others changing in a dressing room and posting the footage on the Internet.  Cyberbullying is of growing concern for parents and educators alike.  In the past, victims of bullying could find safety at home, however, with cyberbullying, victims are vulnerable in their own bedroom.  The question that this paper addresses is what parents can do to help keep their children safe online.

Keep Your Kids Safe With Open Communication

Many recent articles and books have discussed the ways in which parents can effectively monitor and control their children’s Internet use, with suggestions ranging from checking the computer’s online history or installing Net Nanny or other monitoring software to surrupticiously read their children’s Instant Messages and emails.  While this kind of monitoring may be effective (and indeed necessary) for younger children, as a child becomes a teenager this kind of intrusive monitoring may damage the communication and trust between the parent and the child.  By the end of developmental period of adolescence, individuals are expected to be independent, self-sufficient adults (Arnett, 2006).  For this to happen, adolescents need to be given increased responsibility, the power to make decisions for themselves, and be shown increased levels of trust.  Indeed, recent research by Stattin and Kerr (2000) has clearly shown that it is not a parent’s attempt to control or monitor their adolescent’s behavior that predicts reduced levels of antisocial and deviant behaviors, rather, it is the adolescent’s willingness to disclose information to his or her parents that is predictive.  Said differently, trust and open lines of communication are the best ways to ensure developmental wellbeing for adolescents.

What We Looked At In This Study

The current study was undertaken to examine how parental monitoring of online activities are related to cyberbullying outcomes.  Specifically, we examined whether parental regulations (i.e. whether teens need to gain permission from parents before posting anything online), parental control (i.e. setting limits on Internet use), or child disclosure (i.e. how much teens share with their parents about their experiences online) was associated with adolescent’s engagement in Internet bullying.

Participants

This study involved 733 elementary and high school students (282 males, and 451 females), between the ages of 10 and 19, from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.  Participants completed a self-report questionnaire in which they responded to questions about cyberbullying and about how their parents promote Internet safety in their home.

Our Findings of Child Behavior Online

27% of participants reported having been involved in sending and receiving mean messages on the Internet and that this trend increased with age.  Girls were more likely than boys to be involved in this form of online aggression, which makes sense given that previous research on girlhood aggression has shown that girls tend to use more social means of bullying others (e.g., rumor spreading and gossiping, Underwood, 2003). 

A small, but significant portion of the sample - 12% - were involved in the creation of websites that were used to embarrass or make fun of other people.  Although there were no gender differences for this activity, older adolescents were more likely to engage in this type of behavior, most likely due to their more sophisticated computer skills.  37% of adolescents reported either posting or making disparaging comments about pictures that were posted online.  There were no age or gender differences for this form of online aggression.

Parental Control and Regulation of the Internet May Have Negative Consequences

Adolescents of parents who installed monitoring software and otherwise controlled their Internet use by setting strict regulations were more likely to be involved in the Cyberbullying incidences described above than adolescents who talked to their parents in open conversations about what they are doing online. These findings reflect those of Stattin and Kerr’s (2000) findings. These findings also fit with a growing number of studies showing that high levels of parental monitoring and control can actually be associated with the opposite outcomes of what they were intended for.

Don’t Punish the Victim! Teach Your Kids About the Internet

Keeping our children safe from cyberbullying is not about blocking websites and monitoring everything they are doing on the Internet. This is exemplified by the report of a 13 year old girl, who admits that she “wanted to tell my parents but I was afraid that they would never let me chat again and I know that's how a lot of other kids feel,” (Media Awareness Network, 2005).  As an adult, it may be tempting to simply remove the computer or monitor Internet use in order to keep your children safe; however, this actually punishes the victim and does nothing to actually solve the problem. Engage adolescents in a dialogue about appropriate use and how to be responsible users of the Internet.  Foster an open relationship.  Just as we teach children appropriate behavior offline, so we must discuss with them what is appropriate online.

References

Arnett, J. J. (2006). Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: A Cultural Approach, 3rd Ed.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Kowalski, R., & Limber, S. (2007). Electronic Bullying Among Middle School Students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41 , pp. 22-30.

Media Awareness Network. (2005). Young Canadians in a Wired World Phase II. Retrieved October 15, 2008, from Media Awareness Network: http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/research/YCWW/phaseII

Stattin, H., & Kerr, M. (2000). Parental Monitoring: A reinterpretation. Child Development, 71 , pp. 1072-1085.

Underwood, M. K. (2003). Social Aggression Among Girls. New York: Guilford Press.

Additional Links and Suggestions for Further Reading

The TeenTech research project is looking for participants.  If you are or know of an adolescent between the ages of 11 and 14, and would like to take part in a research project that will help us learn more about what teens are doing on the Internet, how it is affecting their development, and how we can better keep them safe, consider participating in our TeenTech research project: www.educ.ubc.ca/faculty/shapka/teentech ; email: teen.tech@ubc.ca

GetNetWise Online Safety Guide provides safety guidelines for protecting private identity information according to the age/maturity of the child. http://kids.getnetwise.org/safetyguide/ www.cyberbullying.ca is a Canadian site devoted entirely to cyberbullying, visit a site run by Bill Belsey, who also runs www.bullying.org

www.cyberbully.org offers a concise description of cyberbullying and provides additional resources and references.

http://www.cyberbullying.us/ provides information on cyberbullying and offers personal anecdotes to supplement statistics.  Also includes resources for parents and teachers.