Cyberbullying’s offline roots: Research

The research evidence is growing that cyberbullying on cellphones and in social sites is more symptomatic of what’s going on at school than a separate problem on the Internet. The US Department of Education’s report for the 2008-’09 school year shows a high correlation between cyberbullying and physical bullying at school: “A higher percentage of students ages 12 through 18 who reported being cyberbullied anywhere during the 2008-09 school year reported having been engaged in a physical fight at school (15.6%), compared to students who were not cyberbullied (5.1%), and a higher percentage of students 12-18 who reported being cyberbullied reported being a victim of crime (12.8%) than students who were not cyberbullied (3.3%), the DOE reports. It also reports one of the lowest figures I’ve seen yet for overall incidents of cyberbullying: 6%. And, interestingly, more of that bullying occurred on cellphones than on the Web (3% vs. 2%, respectively). Please see the National Center for Education Statistics report’s highlights linked to above for more evidence of a tight relationship between cyberbullying and in-school social aggression.

Data like this is helpful, because understanding what we see on phones and in Facebook as the tip of an iceberg will help parents and educators deal with cyberbullying more intelligently. How? Because we’ll see that any evidence in social media of relational issues developing over time at school life is just that – evidence, not the problem itself, and often part of a reaction chain. It usually requires more than an abuse report to the service provider for resolution. What’s visible online is often a reaction to something that happened offline or in other media environments, in which case the “bully” on a Web page could’ve been the target in a previous incident and assigning blame in one incident helps no one. So safety in social media – whether in Facebook or Club Penguin or on phones or Xbox Live – is only part of children’s emotional safety and is itself social – shared and enabled by peers and caring adults. And in addition to prevention and intervention, mitigating risk involves helping children develop resilience and social skills online and offline.

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