Dispelling Myths About Cyberbullying

SHAILA on December 13, 2012

Cyberbullying is widely publicised and is named as an epidemic by the media. Such news reports turn parents apprehensive and we need to combat this media-generated fear, writes Larry Magid, a technology journalist, in his Huffington Post article on dispelling myths about cyberbullying.   

Larry writes about a presentation at the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) conference in Washington in which a leading researcher on youth risk cited research that shows such reports are misleading.  

Online Bullying is Less Prevalent than Bullying in Person

Michele Ybarra, president of the Center for Innovative Public Health presents research results that substantiate this view. In a survey of the target demographic, the study shows

  • 39% have experienced direct bullying in person  
  • 17% experienced it online
  • 10% by phone and
  • 14% through text messaging

Ybarra agrees that children use technology extensively but disagrees that cyberbullying is increasing. Quoting figures presented by the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, she states there was no increase in Cyberbullying rates between 2008 and 2010 for 13 to 17 year olds.

 Cyberbullying is also Less Distressing Compared to Direct Bullying 

  • 38% of children bullied in schools are likely to report to their parents while only
  • 15% of child cyberbullying victims speak about it

Larry agrees that different studies project different numbers of cyberbullying cases. This discrepancy results from the very difference in notion as to what constitutes cyberbullying.  Olweaus Bullying Prevention Program defines bullying as intentional, repetitive and aggressive behaviour, involving imbalance of power. However, perspectives differ.

Likely Targets of Bullying

  • Girls are twice likely to be electronically bullied than boys (22% vs 11%, figures of 2009) according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However bullying rates among High School students has not increased between 2009 and 2012.
  • Children who are different from their peers in height, weight, language, or dress can also turn targets.

Increase in Internet Usage Proves Beneficial

David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center presented a paper entitled "The Internet, Youth Safety and the Problem of 'Juvenoia’” in 2011 in which he reports that young people experienced lesser cases of trauma after internet use increased extensively. 

Maths, writing proficiency and participation of children in extracurricular activities has marginally increased.  Even crimes committed by young, the arrest rate of juvenile, school violence, hate comments reported by school children has significantly gone down, reported the National School Crime survey.

There has also been an improvement in social problems. Sexual abuse of children, teen pregnancies, and teen suicide rates have dropped. There are reports in the media about suicides of cyberbullying victims, but these are rare instances and quite frequently there are other factors at work.  

Reasons for the Positive Impact of Internet

  • Children experience reduction in boredom and alienation when they are online.
  • Internet enables safer independence exploration and,
  • contrary to common belief internet increases detection of deviance.

Importance of Adult Response

Adults play a vital role in this scenario. Normally, children with a little help from peers can handle bullying, but some cases call for parental intervention and if need arises that of the law enforcement agencies too.

Awareness among children about online safety is increasing, yet nearly half of the teens have reportedly performed some risky online behaviour like chatting with a stranger or befriending someone they do not know on a social networking site.

Like any other situation, cyberbullying too, does not have a single solution for the entire gamut of issues surrounding it. As responsible parents, instead of instilling fear in a child’s mind, we need to provide tools (like Mobicip, of course) and have conversations that will help them learn to navigate the internet safely.