Bullying has, unfortunately, been a part of adolescent life for decades. Some may call it a rite of passage, but the reality is that it is an often ugly part of school and community life that can lead to lasting emotional and physical trauma. In extreme cases, it also results in suicide, particularly among vulnerable adolescents, so the seriousness of the problem is clear. In the modern era, as shocking as it is to many people to believe, bullying has come to the digital age and is resulting in kids and teenagers being taunted in almost every imaginable manner. Today’s adolescent is likely to either be a victim or cyber bully before finishing high school, being such a bully themselves, or surprisingly enough, ending up on both ends of the spectrum. Studies have largely been conducted specifically about cyber bullying for the past eight years and, on average, upwards of 27 of respondents are victims of some level of extreme cyber bullying, while other studies point that this percentage is much higher and increasing at staggering rates (Wang & Ianotti, 2012). This number is simply unacceptable and local school systems throughout the world, particularly in North America, need to do a better job of assisting teachers in providing resources to their students aimed at eliminating the threat of cyber bullying. In addition, resources should be provided to assist victims of cyber bullying by giving them support to ease any psychological or physical trauma that they might have experienced. Touching on these areas is the aim of this brief study.
To begin to understand how to work within the local Ontario school system to combat this problem, teachers and other stakeholders in childhood education must first understand the unique components of cyber bullying. While such an action can be perpetrated against any age group, it is typically children and teenagers who find themselves becoming a victim. The action occurs when an individual is harassed, humiliated, threatened, or targeted in some manner primarily through digital communication. This can take place via either the Internet, other digital devices, and the increasingly feature rich mobile or smart phone. An important distinction for the purposes of this paper is that cyber bullying occurs when both the victim and the instigator are both minors. If an adult is involved, it becomes a form of harassment that carries different distinctions (Fauman, 2008). Teachers need to be on the lookout for students in their class that are either victimized by such behavior, or those that are instigating it. Cyber bullying is unique because of the speed by which embarrassing or threatening comments made about a student can circulate throughout the school environment, and even an entire district, before adults discover it. This illustrates the seriousness of the problem and why it must be dealt with from the very outset, lest even more lasting damage be done.
The activity of cyber bullying is usually ongoing. It does not stop at a simple rude instant message, but often evolves into hurtful and lewd language, rumors being spread throughout the Internet about the victim, and can evolve into threats or other embarrassments that can torment a young person. Schools are tying to get involved, but their tactics have largely failed. Because much of cyber bullying takes place off campus, whereas more traditional types of bullying occur on campus, educational institutions are hard pressed to tackle the issue on their own. The schools that have disciplined students for cyber bullying activity taking place off campus have often found themselves embroiled in legal battles that they lose more than win (Jose, Kljakovic, Scheib, & Notter, 2012). A new approach is needed. Perhaps there are educational programs that can be implemented into the school curriculum that convince student’s that cyber bullying is wrong, or that encourage victims with resources that they can safely utilized if they find themselves being bullied in this manner. In addition, school’s need to work more closely with law enforcement officials. Rather than taking matters into their own hands, thus often fighting a losing battle, they could forge cooperative efforts with the police force to make cyber bullying a crime that is dealt with swiftly and effectively.
One recent study revealed that as many as 75 of students in Canada have been victimized by cyber bullying (Holfeld & Grabe, 2012). In addition to studies previously mentioned in this paper, this new finding reveals a wider problem that has invaded nearly every segment of adolescent life. The message here is that educators must be aware of the factors involved that are transcending their classrooms on a nearly daily basis. Other studies, for example, have revealed that there are certain variables that teachers and other adults can look for in noticing both possible victims and instigators of such activity using digital media. Vandebosch & Van Cleemput (2009), for example, noted that there was a relationship between gender, frequency of Internet use, and an individual’s tendency to be involved in more traditional forms of bullying that lead to an increased likelihood of becoming involved in cyber bullying as well.
Let us first consider gender. Studies to do note tendencies of increased victimization allude to the reality that there are higher rates of being the target of cyber bullying activity amongst female adolescents. Other studies, however, are inconclusive. As females are increasingly shown to be the target of sexually oriented text messages and the posting of inappropriate pictures online, however, studies become more conclusive that educators need to inform girls about the importance of remaining safe online. This entails encouraging them to be a part of only safe and secure social networks, to guard against their photos being taken with any mobile device, and only to share online photos with trusted individuals. While males are less likely be a victim of cyber bullying, they are seen in many studies to be more likely to be the instigator of sexually inappropriate messages targeted at adolescent females.
Studies are also demonstrating that the more a teen uses the Internet, the higher the probability is of them being involved in cyber bullying (Jose, P., Kljakovic, Scheib, & Notter, 2012). This is a troubling trend, as more and more adolescents rely heavily on electronic gadgetry in their daily lives. Even the most unsuspecting teen can wind up a victim of cyber bullying, serving to wreck their self-esteem, cause academic problems, and contribute to emotional breakdowns. The advent of Internet usage also has made it easier for students to instigate bullying behavior, when they otherwise would not have engaged in such activity. This is largely due to the reality that much of cyber bullying takes place anonymously, so adolescents that might not feel they have they physical or verbal prowess to conduct such behavior the traditional way, suddenly feel empowered with the use of technology.
Moving forward, educators must do a better job of both teaching and advocating for safe Internet usage. They should model this behavior in front of the community in an effort to shift minds towards the power of technology and what is happening with today’s young people. Schools also need to do a much better job of working with law enforcement agencies, rather than against them. Too often, schools turn a blind eye to all types of bullying, when the reality is that academic institutions are the most logical place to begin anti-cyber bullying campaigns. Working together, teachers and students alike can take a stand and reverse the trends of the studies presented in this brief paper.
Fauman, M. A. (2008). Cyber bullying: Bullying in the digital age. American Journal of Psychiatry, 165(6), 780-781.
Holfeld, B., and Grabe, M. (2012). Middle school students’ perceptions of and responses to cyber bullying. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 46(4), 395-413.
Jose, P., Kljakovic, M., Scheib, E., and Notter, O. (2012). The joint development of traditional bullying and victimization with cyber bullying and victimization in adolescence. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 22(2), 301-309.
Stomfay-Stitz, A., and Wheeler, E. (2007). Cyber bullying and our middle school girls. Childhood Education, 83(5), 2.
Wang, J., and Iannotti, R. (2012). Cyber-bullying among U.S. adolescents. Prevention Researcher, 19(3), 3-6.