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Adolescents downplay seriousness of cyberbullying

Heather Rudow April 17, 2012

(Photo:Wikimedia Commons)

New research from the University of British Columbia comparing traditional bullying with cyberbullying found distinct differences in the way students view the two.

“There are currently many programs aimed at reducing bullying in schools and I think there is an assumption that these programs deal with cyberbullying as well,” says research presenter Jennifer Shapka. “What we’re seeing is that kids don’t equate cyberbullying with traditional forms of schoolyard bullying.  As such, we shouldn’t assume that existing interventions will be relevant to aggression that is happening online.”

The study involved 17,000 students from Vancouver between grades 8 and 12 as well as a follow-up study with youths between the ages of 10 and 18.

The results revealed that 25 to 30 percent of participants reported experiencing or taking part in cyberbullying, compared with 12 percent who reported taking part in schoolyard bullying.

However, says Shapka, “Youth say that 95 percent of what happens online was intended as a joke and only 5 per cent was intended to harm. It is clear that youth are underestimating the level of harm associated with cyberbullying. Students need to be educated that this ‘just joking’ behavior has serious implications.”

Shapka says schoolyard bullying is typically associated with three main characteristics — “a power differential between bully and victim, a proactive targeting of a victim and ongoing aggression” — but research is beginning to show that cyberbullying does not necessarily involve these three characteristics.

“An open and honest relationship between parents and children is one of the best ways to protect teenagers from online risks related to cyberbullying, Internet addiction, and privacy concerns related to disclosing personal information online,” she says.

For more information about cyberbullying, read Sheri Bauman’s Cyberbullying: What Counselors Need to Know, a 2011 book published by the American Counseling Association, as well as the June 2011 Counseling Today article “Bullies with byte.”

Source: University of British Columbia

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

Follow Counseling Today on Twitter.

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