November 04, 2013
Children's perspectives on cyberbullying: definitions, bullies' motives, and help seeking.
Our third blog post today, from one of my dissertation students. Calum Harris prepared this one which relates to cyberbullying. Thanks to Calum, and all the other undergraduate students who have worked hard on these.
Bass,N., de Jong, M. T., & Drossaert, C. C. (2013). Children’s perspectives on cyberbullying: Insights based on participatory research. Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, & Social Networking, 16(4), 248-253.
This study sets out to gain a better insight as to how adolescents describe and perceive cyberbullying. Specifically, the researchers focussed on elementary school children’s perspectives as this age group has been very under sourced so far. To achieve a better view of the children’s perspectives group discussions about cyberbullying with the researcher and children were carried out. The researchers restricted the topics discussed but allowed the children to freely discuss what they wanted within the given topic.
Twenty eight children aged 11-12 years old took part in this study. Seven were taken from 4 different elementary schools, and all participated in the study for 6 weeks. Over these 6 weeks the children and the researchers met up once a week to discuss a specific aspect of cyberbullying. The children were given control over what was discussed, as long as it was within confines of the topic given by the researcher.
Incident and impact
Half the participants reported being bullied and 5 reported bullying others. The main impact mentioned was fear: fear of further cyberbullying, fear of escalation into violence, and fear of the bully’s unknown identity.
Differentiating cyberbullying from innocent pranks
The children noted two characteristics they believed separated cyberbullying from pranks, these being repetition and intention to harm. The researchers note that both of these characteristics do not always work in differentiating cyberbullying from pranks. Many people can watch a harmful youtube video once, but it still causes the bullied individual harm. Judging a person’s intentions is subjective and often ambiguous; one person may see their actions as a joke while another may see them as bullying.
Motives of bullies
An internal drive (e.g., a desire to bully others), negative experiences with the victim (e.g., losing a game against them) and characteristics of the victim (e.g., the victim wearing the “wrong clothes”) were all discussed as motives to bully. It was also decided that each motive did not have to be operate exclusively.
Thresholds for seeking help
Children often said that feelings of shame caused by being cyberbullied were the main reason for not seeking help, especially if they were discouraged from going on the internet by parents in the first place. Further bullying from other students also dissuaded individuals from telling their teacher or parents. The biggest inhibitor however is the fear of having their internet taken away, with some children expressing a vehement need for the technology.
By the end of week 6 all children were against cyberbullying. The majority of children also agreed they would intervene if cyberbullying happened near them, and would know what to do if they themselves were being cyberbullied.
The results of this study support previously found perceptions of cyberbullying, highlighting and better explaining its ambiguous nature. It draws attention to the distressing experience of being bullied by an unknown person, and the trepidation children experience when considering telling a caregiver or parent for fear of them over-reacting.
Overall the results demonstrate the difficulty in defining cyberbullying, and as a consequence the difficulties in dealing with a possible case of cyberbullying as each case is victim to the same level of ambiguity as the definition is. The use of group discussions was found to be good at creating enthusiasm over the topic, however whether it will continue to be able to do so over a longer period of time is unknown. The findings suggest that more information on cyberbullying should be available, and a bullying policy should be made so the children know what to expect if they are bullied, therefore alleviating any trepidation the child may feel over the possible fallout of seeking adult help.