Child psychologist David Carey on cyberbullying - what do we really know? 5 years ago

Child psychologist David Carey on cyberbullying - what do we really know?

The proliferation of social media has made instant communication available to children, adolescents and adults, but it is undeniable that a new form of bullying behaviour has emerged alongside the new technology.

Commonly referred to as cyberbullying, we now know that children and adolescents (as well as adults) can be harassed, threatened, intimidated, embarrassed and excluded by electronic messages across an ever-increasing variety of platforms. The dynamics of cyberbullying is an emerging area of social research.

Let’s review some of what we do know...

Who gets bullied?

Research is indicating that in Europe about 10% of nine to 16-year-olds are involved in cyberbullying. This percentage includes both those who bully and those who are victims of cyberbullying. The North American statistic seems to be the same. The research indicates that some children in this age range report being bullies, some being bullied and some taking part in both bullying and being bullied.

Cyberbullying overlap

The recent literature seems to indicate there is an overlap between cyber and face-to-face bullying with both victims and bullies being involved in both contexts. Those who bully at school seem to have a higher probability of being a cyberbully and the same holds true for in-school victims of bullying. Interestingly, a percentage of online victims are not victims in school. This suggests that cyberbullying is not always an extension of face-to-face bullying and that there are differences between cyber and face-t0-face bullies and victims.


Age and gender issues

There are mixed results for this type of research with one study indicating that females are more often cyberbullies than males. One explanation for this is that females prefer the anonymity of online bullying to the more traditional face-to-face bullying behaviour. However other studies found that males are more prone to cyberbullying than females and another study found no gender difference. We simply do not have enough information yet to come to a conclusion about gender differences. Some studies have shown that females prefer more written forms of cyberbullying and boys prefer more image-based forms. Age related studies showed that cyberbullying is most prominent during the adolescent period than in childhood or adulthood. This may be a result of the increased sophistication of technology use in the adolescent years.

So, now what?

It is still too early for any definitive picture of the cyberbully or the cyberbully victim to be painted. We do not know if the impact of cyberbullying on victims is different from the impact of face-to-face bullying. We do not know if there are differences in the bullying behaviour of the cyberbully to the face-to-face bully. More research is needed before we can create empirically-based interventions for cyberbullying.

What is most important for parents is to constantly monitor, to the best of their ability, computer and phone usage of their children and keeping lines of communication open throughout all the childhood and adolescent years.

David Carey, our resident child psychologist, has over 25 years experience in both clinical and educational settings. The author of several books, he's also a regular contributor to the Moncrieff show on Newstalk 106-108FM and on TV3.