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More PsychNotes: Childhood Issues

May 5, 2016       

Most Kids Ignore Cyber-Bullying
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

More and more attention has been directed at cyber-bullying as a cause for many childhood emotional problems. As usual, the media sensationalizes and draws conclusions about single events. For instance, if a teenager commits suicide after cyber-bullying, the cyber-bullying is seen as the cause. Typically, when something is new, such as technology, it is not well understood and can be used as a scapegoat for all sorts of societal problems.

The reality is that bullying can cause harm, but cyber-bullying alone is not likely to create distress in youth. Researcher Mitchell and colleagues (2016) examined a national sample of nearly 800 youth ages 10-20. They found that 34% had been involved in harassment incidents in the previous year. Most (85%) of the incidents were in-person or a combination of in-person and technology.

The victims of bullying reported significantly less distress when the incident involved cyber-bullying alone. Typically, they felt they had more control over cyber-bullying such as blocking the individual from their social media. In addition, even though there were more witnesses to the cyber-bullying, in-person bullying usually involved a group of perpetrators who were more personally connected to the child.

However, when technology was used in combination with in-person bullying, the level of distress reported was greatest. This may be due to the personal nature of the bullying and that the individual felt more helpless to escape it. When technology was used along with in-person bullying it was most often in the form of texting.

Therefore, technology does not cause, or even increase bullying. It is just another tool used by bullies. When focusing on the problem of bullying, school administrators and parents need to be most concerned about in-person bullying. Since such bullying is often related to interpersonal problems, teaching conflict resolution and handling emotions can be more useful than focusing on technology as the issue.

Mitchell, K.J., Jones, L.M., Turner, H.A., Shattuck, A. and Wolak, J. (2016). The Role of Technology in Peer Harassment: Does It Amplify Harm for Youth? Psychology of Violence, 6, 193–204. DOI: 10.1037/a0039317

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