New Research May Help Parents and School Officials Understand the Roots of Cyberbullying

The practice of peer bullying has been around for as long as any of us can remember, but as technology becomes more available to teens and young children, many adults are finding it difficult to keep up with this modern form of peer pressure, dubbed “cyberbullying.” The lack of parental supervision on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter has made it easier for children and teens to target their peers, and research has shown that approximately 25% of all school-age young adults have experienced cyberbullying at some point, while a whopping 87% of all young adults have witnessed cyberbullying happening.

Adults seem to take one of two sides regarding this problem: some adults claim that bullying is a natural part of growing up, and that parents today are simply coddling their children so much that their kids aren’t able to defend themselves; a growing portion of adults, however, acknowledge that bullying today is vastly different from the bullying that occurred as little as 10 years ago. Although psychologists and parents alike have been working tirelessly to curb cyberbullying, many anti-bullying activists have encountered a great deal of disappointment — and new research may help to explain why their efforts are often in vain.

Popular social media sites, like the two referenced above, are a little easier to control simply because the user’s identity is always attached to his or her postings and comments. But a new social media phenomenon is beginning to take over these platforms, and the newer platforms, such as Whisper and Ask.fm, value anonymity over everything else. According to Mike Dreiblatt, the president of the anti-bullying activist group Stand Up to Bullying, these anonymous apps make it even easier for teens and young adults to express the kinds of strong emotions that are natural (for that age group), and yet unacceptable to express in real life.

Another factor that makes cyberbullying so difficult to control is that it changes over time — as little as one or two years, in fact, can change how young adults interact with each other and respond to victimization. A study recently conducted at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) shows that the middle school period (between sixth and eighth grades) is most conducive to serious peer victimization, and that very small personal differences will greatly change whether bullying occurs verbally, physically, or over the internet. Factors such as gender, age, and whether or not English is a student’s first language will all determine how effective anti-bullying interventions are.

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