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Cyberbullying: What is it and What Can Be Done to Protect Our Youth From Suffering Behind Closed Doors?

Perry Dripps The Impact of Psychosocial Issues on Learning Professor Peter Szuch March 6, 2013

2 Todays youth are spending an increasing amount of time interacting with others using information and communication technology (ICT) like phones and computers (Langos, 2012). Due to the increase in hours spent in front of a virtual screen, this generation is often referred to in literature as digital youth (Karle, 2013). This recent phenomenon undoubtedly comes with benefits and risks. One major concern is that the Internet is becoming an increasingly violent environment for people to navigate (Sugarman & Willoughby, 2013). While Olweus (2012) claims that it is a relatively low-occurring issue, cyberbullying is a growing phenomenon among the general public (Langos, 2012). Langos (2012) defines the term cyber as, something generated by technology. Traditional bullying and cyberbullying differ from mere aggression because they involve an imbalance of power between the bully and victim that is repetitious, intended, and malicious (Patchin & Hinduja, 2011). Dempsey, Sulkowski, Nichols, & Storch (2011) distinguish cyber-aggression (relatively equal power and isolated incident) from cyberbullying (unequal power and multiple incidents). Cyberbullying is defined collectively as, The use of ICT to intentionally harm a target by affecting his or her social status, relationships, and reputation (Bauman & Newman, 2013). Others define the term more generally as, Willful and repeated harm inflicted through the medium of electronic text (Patchin and Hinduja 2006). This latter definition has recently expanded to, The use of technology as an instrument to harass peersvia email, in chat rooms, on social networking websites, and with text messaging through their computer or cell phone (Patchin & Hinduja, 2011). Some of the most commonly reported forms of cyberbullying include derogatory

3 comments about someone elses appearance, messages that threaten security, spreading rumors, sharing sexual content, masquerading (taking someones identity and exploiting them), or excluding someone from a particular group (Cassidy, Brown, & Jackson, 2012). Cyberbulling generally involves bothering someone online, teasing them, calling them names, intentionally leaving them out, threatening them, or saying unwanted sexuallyrelated things about others (Hinduja & Patchin, 2007). Bullying can be private (e.g. text messages) or it can be highly public (e.g. posting images of someone on the Internet) (Menesini, Nocentini, & Calussi, 2011). Given the sheer number of youth who have access to ICT devices today, it makes sense why they are heavily impacted by this new technology (see Karle, 2013). There has been an explosion in adolescent online social networking behavior in the last few years (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010). One recent study found that 75% of youth aged 12 to 17 had accounts on social networking sites (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010). Teens are constantly trying to define their role and find their place in the world and these sites serve as a means for constructing their identity (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008). Concerning however is that online harassment has increased from 6% in 2000 to 11% in 2010 (Jones, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2012). Much of this is attributed to the rise of indirect online harassment like posting comments about others (Jones et al., 2012). Cyberbullies can harm a large number of people in a short amount of time, often with little supervision (Dempsey, Sulkowski, Nichols, & Storch, 2009). As Emily Bazelon points out in her new book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, Given what we know about how teenagers are neurologically more prone than adults to take

4 risks in front of an audience of peers, the degree of exposure many of them have on [social networking platforms like] Facebook seems like a bad idea (Bazelon, 2013). Providing adolescents with the ability to act without consequences may lead them to engage in risk-taking behavior (Jones et al., 2012). Hinduja and Patchin (2008) found 37% of teenage respondents admitted to saying things electronically they would not say in person. This culture of deception leads youth to feel unrestrained and more likely to harass others (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008). Sadly, this may lead victims to feel helpless and powerless because anyone could be their attacker (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008). Current estimates indicate that as much as 50% of students aged 13 to 18 have either witnessed or participated in electronic bullying (etin, Yaman, & Peker, 2011). Kowalski and Limber (2007) found that 11% of middle school students were cyberbullied, 7% were bully-victims, and 4% had bullied. Another study found that 7.8% of respondents aged 10-12 had engaged in or observed Internet bullying, 27.4% were 1314, and 64.8% were 15-17 (Griezel, Finger, Bodkin-Andrews, Craven, & Yeung, 2012). Current estimates indicate that roughly 10-20% of youth ages 11-19 report being bullied by others electronically (Dempsey, Sulkowski, Nichols, & Storch, 2009). Interestingly enough, most victims report knowing the perpetrator; three times out of four the victim reports that the perpetrator is also a friend or acquaintance (Kowalski & Limber, 2007). Not all groups may be equally at risk. Victims of traditional bullying are the most likely group to be cyberbullied (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008). Two thirds of bullies/victims in one study were also bullies/victims of traditional bullying (Twyman, Saylor, Taylor, & Comeaux, 2010). More time spent on the Internet also presents opportunities for bullying and being bullied (Twyman et al., 2010).

5 There are gender differences as well. Traditionally, research finds that boys tend to engage more in physical bullying and girls tend to engage more in covert forms of bullying (Griezel et al., 2012). Bauman & Newman (2013) note that 72% of the students from a large sample who were bullied were women. In Dempsey et al. (2009), 17% of females reported cyber victimization whereas only 11% males did. Some studies also find that girl victims show more depressive symptoms than boys (Low & Espelage, 2013). Physical bullying and cyberbullying are associated with substance abuse, violent behavior, unsafe sexual behavior, and suicide (Litwiller & Brausch, 2013). Why might this be? For one, low parental monitoring leads to an increase in cyberbullying, nonphysical bullying, and risk taking; in addition, bullying behavior shows a strong positive correlation with family violence (Low & Espelage, 2013). Race and socioeconomic status (SES) may influence cyberbullying behavior because the home environment and relationships with caregivers varies greatly among different groups (Low & Espelage, 2013). In this study, African American students had less parental monitoring and higher levels of bullying than Caucasian students. I would also argue that youth of higher SES are at risk because their families can afford the cost of unrestricted ICT access. Urban youth may additionally be in jeopardy because there tends to be an increase in violence, use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs in these environments (Pelfrey & Weber, 2013). These findings suggest that certain demographics and characteristics influence cyberbulling behavior (Sengupta & Chaudhuri, 2011). Bullies tend to have particular behavioral characteristics as well. They often have a harder time empathizing with peers and are sometimes labeled as more disengaged than their peers (Renati, Berrone, & Zanetti, 2012). Cyberbullies also report the concern that

6 others will bully them and they consequently may act on impulse without thinking about the consequences (Steffgen, Knig, Pfetsch, & Melzer, 2011). Lastly, certain groups who have been traditionally discriminated against may also become online victims. Bazelon (2013) points out this with the case of the Star Wars Kid Video. This child was a special needs student who was unaware that a video had been posted of him online; the video remains active today with 27 million views on Youtube (Bazelon, 2013). The new trend for YouTube videos to go viral increases the chances that certain groups (e.g. homosexuals, minorities etc.) will be bullied (Bazelon, 2013). Cyberbullying is not an issue to be taken lightly. Hinduja & Patchin (2007) note the many offline consequences to online victimization including violence, acting out, delinquency, and mental health issues. Those who experience cyberbullying report frustration, anger, sadness, anxiety, fear of attending school, diminished concentration, disrupted school friendships, eating disorders, and suicide attempts (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008). Anxiety is the most common symptom (Dempsey et al., 2009). The nature of the bullying incident has a greater impact on the victim than the form of bullying (i.e. Is this highly public? Can she tell others? etc.) (Bauman & Newman, 2013). Many victims report depressive symptoms, so researchers argue that cyberbullying be considered when assessing depression in youth (Perren et al., 2010). Unlike traditional bullying, victims of cyberbullying no longer feel safe when they go home at the end of the school day (Dempsey et al., 2009). They are the targets of harassment 24 hours a day, 365 days per year (Hinduja & Patchin, 2008). Cyberbullying behavior is particularly dangerous because of anonymity (Dempsey et al., 2009). A higher degree of anonymity leads teens to engage in more harassment behavior (Patchin

7 & Hinduja, 2011). Online bullying incidents can be more hurtful because they are often on public display for large audiences for a much longer time period than traditional bullying (Griezel et al., 2012). One benefit to this is the transparency that text provides as hard evidence to determine if cyberbullying has occurred (Griezel et al., 2012). Why does the problem persist? While it is likely a culmination of different factors, two negatively influencing issues are the lack of adult monitoring and the lack of reporting among youth victims. Dempsey et al. (2011) point out that only 38% of youth have a caregiver who monitors their online activity and only 9% of adolescents report online bullying incidents to adults. Not surprisingly, computer proficiency and time online positively correlate with cyberbullying (Hinduja & Patchin, 2013). Todays youth are becoming more proficient with digital devices while, at the same time, older generations have minimal understanding of what goes on during daily online activity. Todays youth simply do not have the training and skills they need to make responsible, ethical decisions about what they and their friends say via text and on the Internet. They need support and mentorship from adults who can teach empathy and who can help them make healthy, positive, and adaptive decisions regarding ICT communication. These findings indicate a clear call for interventions in school systems, along with a social policy overhaul that better protects our youth from harm. How was this need determined? I determined the need to address this psychosocial issue after a recent incident at my school involving a student who had been cyberbullied over the course of the last month. I have removed the students name below in order to maintain confidentiality. A__ is a sophomore at Somerville High School (SHS) who had his identity stolen

8 from his laptop computer. I became aware of the issue when I met with the student to discuss a separate issue where he needed to go home to help his father, who had been sent home early from work after being highly intoxicated on the job. The bully has stolen A__s IP address and has also changed his Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter passwords so he no longer has access to these accounts. The bully has also posted messages on the victims profile on social networking sites. One message posted on Facebook and Twitter was, My name is A__ and I suck d*** and there have also been other instances where the bully has used the victims Facebook account to harass girls in the school, many of whom the victim does not know personally. One message to one sophomore girl read, Hey babywanna f***? Currently, I filed a report with the school police officer and the students counselor and school principal have also been informed. I talked to the IT computer teacher to help the student close his accounts and recover his files. The victim told me this was helpful but didnt do muchits still going on. We contacted Facebook and the student closed his account permanently. My hope is that I can utilize an intervention program that helps A__ and other students who are dealing with this and similar issues. How has cyberbullying impacted A__s learning? This situation has been extremely embarrassing, anxiety provoking, and frustrating for A__. The incident has negatively affected his academics, especially since the bully deleted his science fair paper from his desktop a few days before the event. Fortunately, the victim was able to recover an older version of the file, but now he is worried that the bully may have deleted or changed other files on his computer as well. The bullying has cut back on the amount of time that A__ has had to do

9 homework because he has instead spent his time trying to track down the bully. He has reason to believe that the bully is one of his friends but he is hesitant to confront the friend and is not willing to provide the suspects name. He is stressed about what information they know, what they are sharing, and he is concerned things will get worse. My biggest concern for A__ is that he has become increasingly paranoid and feels like someone is monitoring his every move when he is on the Internet. He says he has a hard time feeling safe when he is home. Because this student is already at risk (English is his second language, low SES background, unstable family life etc.), something must be done stop this from continuing. How are the following individuals and groups influenced by this psychosocial stressor? The principal must face the reality of cyber threats from both inside and outside of the school. He or she must not only be aware that the Internet is a source of stress for students and their families, but he or she must actively seek out governmental and community agencies/programs to help reduce this and other bullying incidents. Teachers need to help students establish better skills for how to navigate and use the Internet and how to use ICT. Teachers have to deal with a new set of classroom issues like having students who miss class because of online bullying and they must also learn how to manage and monitor cyber technology in the classroom like student cell phone use and computer use, especially in IT classrooms. Parents often feel uneducated and powerless to deal with this issue. They may be complacent that their son or daughters behavior is normative if others bullied them when they were a child. Parents who monitor their childs online activity may struggle because they have to choose between being a helicopter parent and allowing their child the

10 freedom to talk openly online and via text with others. School counselors must seek out curricula that target both traditional and cyberbullying in the school. These programs must also teach youth ways to responsibly interact and utilize ICT. Counselors must support students and refer them for further services if the bullying negatively impacts learning and/or physical and mental health. The issue affects students both directly and indirectly. Victims of cyberbullying may report anger, anxiety, suicidal ideation etc. but cyberbullying can impact the relationships that bullies and victims have with others in the school. Students may take active and/or passive roles in perpetuating negative online behavior. Students may be less trusting of other students if cyberbullying is an issue. Cyberbullying events impact friendships, students reputations, and certain instances may lead them to disengage from academia altogether. Students may also engage more in bullying themselves. Mental health providers and psychometricians must develop better measures to assess cyberbulling behavior and they also need a better set of tools to help students cope when they are bullied. Promising are measures like the etin, Yaman, & Peker (2011) Cyber Victim and Bullying scale. It will be helpful for school psychologists to have reliable and valid measures such as this to determine cyberbullying behavior. Accurate assessment and dissemination of information will help establish clear and open communication with parents, law enforcement, school personnel, and others. Communities, nations, and the world at large are also at risk for cyber corruption. This threat increases anxiety for all and may lead to a wide range of physical and psychological issues. Multi-tiered interventions must be implemented to stop cyber harassment at its source by promoting a culture of cyber-kindness (Cassidy et al.,

11 2012). Companies like Facebook must be held accountable so that youth feel safer online. Interventions that can help I wanted to choose an intervention that uses Ross Greenes collaborative problem solving (CPS) approach: (1) empathize with those who are facing the issue, (2) collaboratively define the problem (and recognize that it is a problem), (3) invite all parties to collaboratively find a solution, and (4) implement a solution (i.e. intervention). The SHS school counseling program will use this and other evidence-based approaches. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) is a well-established bullying prevention program that has been conducted in a wide range of schools (Olweus & Limber, 2010). This program has had great success in Norwegian countries and, more recently, in the United States. The OBPP has the following goals: reduce existing bullying problems among students at school; prevent the development of new bullying problems; achieve better peer relations at school. In sum, the goal is to change the culture of the school by altering norms for bullying and harassment behavior. Prevention research suggests that programs aimed at reducing cyberbullying should focus on Internet use, amount and type of social activities, and level of exposure to traditional/cyber bullying (Twyman et al., 2010). Because home is the primary location for online behavior (Cassidy et al., 2012), parents and families will be essential to the success of the program. Based on this information, additional measures will be needed to adapt the OBPP to fulfill the need of improving peer and online relationships. The OBPP utilizes a training-of-trainer (TOT) approach through courses that have been held at national, state, and local levels. Trainers educate school professionals like guidance counselors, teachers, and principals about the program through a series of 11-12

12 whole-day assemblies that are distributed over 12-18 months. To assess the needs of students and their families at SHS, the Olweus Bully/Victim questionnaire will be administered to students and the results will be typed up in a report that is disaggregated by gender, race, and age and dispersed to teachers and families. Follow up measures will be given to measure program success. In addition to the OBPP, SHS will develop ICT and Internet use curricula during the school day and will also provide parents with helpful information so they can best support their child at home (Cassidy et al., 2012). This information may need to be translated and interpreted for English Language Learners (ELLs). The Cassidy et al. (2012) study interviewed parents about how they believe the issue should be addressed. Most parents thought adults in the home and school should model the right behavior, provide opportunities to dialogue with youth, and develop school curricula. Parents must be given assessments that measure their knowledge of social networking technology, their level of concern about the issue, their experiences with online bullying, and their ideas for promoting what the authors refer to as Cyber kindness. As the authors note, It is important for all concerned parties to find ways to cultivate positive online behaviors rather than merely trying to curtail negative ones. Adults will be trained about online communication and how to monitor, block and limit access to potentially harmful material (Cassidy et al., 2012). Adults must be able to communicate, provide support, and educate students (Cassidy et al., 2012). Modeling behavior cannot be stressed enough (Cassidy et al., 2012). Adults need to make sure that computers and ICT devices are out in the open and check in with kids whenever they are online (Cassidy et al., 2012). At home, no parents should allow his or her child to use a

13 computer alone in his or her bedroom. As Bazelon (2013) notes, it is better to start out strict with kids and give them more online freedom over time than to wait until it is already too late. Students need to be at the core of solving the issue. In her book, Bazelon (2012) describes a story of a group of students at Mary Louis Academy in Queens. A relatively small group of students in the school organized a school-wide Delete Day. Students were welcome throughout the day to come in to the computer lab at the school and delete all unnecessary or potentially hurtful content that they had posted about others or others had posted about them. The students signed a waiver agreeing that they pledge to: 1) delete personal information that is dangerous in public, 2) delete unknown friends, 3) delete inappropriate comments and pictures, 4) delete Formspring accounts [an anonymous Facebook-type social networking site], 5) delete hurtful or offensive groups, 6) create an email address that is suitable for a college-bound young woman, and 7) encourage my friends to delete. SHS will host a similar event to raise awareness about the issue and to empower its students to feel like they are making their school a safer place. Strengths to the OBPP is that it establishes open communication, is comprehensive, and involves a wide range of individuals and families. It has also been used in a variety of different settings, which is promising for its use in an urban school. However, there are many different components to the program. If any one of these components falters, the program will not have much of an impact. Weaknesses are that it may be difficult to get everyone to accept that cyberbullying is a problem. It may be difficult to reach parents who work multiple jobs or who do not speak English as their primary language. Parents and teachers may have difficulty finding the time to ensure

14 that they understand the curriculum and that it is carried out successfully. No amount of prevention will eradicate all attacks, which could lead to learned helplessness. What is the proposed method to measure the success of the intervention? The OBPP program uses a variety of pre and post-implementation measures (outlined in the OBPP handbook) to ensure that the program is successful. This will involve questionnaires, open response, and total number of reported incidents. What factors will influence the success or failure of the intervention? Measuring the success of this kind of intervention, especially short term, is quite difficult. One issue is that reporting of cyberbullying incidents may initially increase because of the raised awareness about online bullying behavior. Teachers/parents/ therapists must be willing to take the time to learn about the issue and help implement and reinforce program initiatives. This could be difficult in large urban school environments where time and resources are hard-pressed. Olweus and Limber (2010) note that it may be difficult to designate time to train nonteaching staff like bus drivers, custodial staff etc. because these staff often have different contracts and work hours. Scheduling workshops and parent information sessions could be a major problem. Recording data is also difficult because students may continue to underreport incidents and certain parents may continue to minimize the severity of the issue. How can schools accurately measure improvement? Consensus building and follow up will be difficult. If successful however, students and their families will be able to exist in a culture of kindness that leads them to feel more safe and secure. This kind of environment will lead students to be more successful academically and towards more healthy developmental outcomes.

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