Cyberbullying in Schools: Information for School Psychologists

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Cyberbullying has become prevalent in schools in recent history, particularly in the last decade, due to the rise in technology and social media. More children have their own cell phones than ever before, and they are getting their first cell phones at younger ages. Bullying has always been an issue in schools.

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With the emergence of cyberbullying, the bullying now often continues after the children leave school. It is hard for children to avoid the torment of their bully, since the bully can reach them anywhere from online. Due to this, it is important for school psychologists, and other school personnel, to understand the differences between traditional bullying and cyberbullying, and understand why some students bully while other students are targets. It is also important for school psychologists to understand the laws and best practices about bullying and cyberbullying, and to have knowledge of the best intervention strategies that they can apply at their schools.

This paper is meant to give a broad overview of cyberbullying, and to help understand what a school psychologists role is regarding this issue in schools. This paper will discuss the following topics in the order listed here: general definition and prevalence; comparison of traditional bullying and cyberbullying; laws in schools; middle school students; high school students; college students; gender differences; characteristics of the cyberbully; characteristics of victims; children’s perspectives of cyberbullying; peer attachment and beliefs about aggression; high school teachers and support professionals perceptions and perspectives; a school psychologists role in assessment, prevention, and intervention; Intervention strategies; and educating students about dealing with cyberbullies.

General Definition & Prevalence in Schools

A general definition of bullying is, “A form of unprovoked, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is either repeated or has the potential to be repeated over time” (Lawner & Trezian, 2013). An extension of bullying is cyberbullying, which is a form of bullying where victims are harassed via the internet or mobile phones (Doherty & Lang, 2015). Due to how fast technology is changing, a study conducted a couple of years ago could already be inapplicable to some situations and schools.

In 2008, the most common methods of cyberbullying was via phone calls and text messages (Smith et al., 2008). In 2010, the most common methods of cyberbullying were computer instant messages and online discussion groups (Content Server 40, NEED TO CITE, 2010). A study in 2016 cited methods used as emails, text messages, and messenger apps including WhatsApp and Messenger.

There are many forms of cyberbullying, such as the following: flaming, cyber-stalking, denigration, impersonation, outing, exclusion and harassment. The most common forms of cyberbullying seen in schools include provocative messages with threats, and harassment. (Çak?r, Gezgin & Ayas, 2016)

Studies have found varying percentages of students who are cyberbullied, and those who cyberbully. The numbers range from 6% to 37% of students being victims of cyberbullying, and 2% to 36% of students being cyber bullies at some point. (Çak?r, Gezgin & Ayas, 2016) The most reported numbers show the actual percentage of students who cyberbully or are cyberbullied are around 15% to 20%. Another study reported that 29% of students were bullied in schools, but only 1% were purely cyberbullied. Most children who are cyberbullied are also bullied by other means in person. (Wolke, Lee & Guy, 2017) Another study reports that as many as 30% of students either bully or are bullied. (Diamanduros, Downs & Jenkins, 2008) The number of students involved with either bullying or being victims of bullying are high enough to warrant school interventions.

Some populations are more prone to bullying and cyberbullying than others. These populations include: students who identify as LGBTQ+, students who are overweight, students with disabilities, racial minorities, and ethnic minorities. (Bradshaw, Waasdorp, O’Brennan & Gulemetova, 2013).

Comparison of traditional bullying and cyberbullying

There is a phenomenon called the Online Disinhibition Effect (ODE), which is a psychological effect in which humans in cyberspace do not have their usual inhibitions and boundaries. This phenomenon is one reason why cyber bullying continues to be a big issue. Cyberbullying is often more intense and has more severe outcomes than face to face bullying, due to the disinhibitions online. (Lapidot-Lefler & Dolev-Cohen, 2015)

Although face to face bullying seems to be more prevalent in schools, students who are cyberbullied are often bullied face to face, or physically, as well. Despite being less common according to statistics, cyberbullying is more relevant than face to face bullying because of the ODE, which results in more severe bullying. Cyberbullies do many cruel things, including posting offensive, humiliating, or even nude pictures and videos to social media accounts. They may post them to the victims account, or make a fake account and post it there. (Çak?r, Gezgin & Ayas, 2016)

Laws in Schools

As of 2011 there are 36 states that have provisions in their education codes that prohibit cyberbullying specifically. In addition, 13 states have jurisdiction over off-campus matters if it creates a hostile environment. Due to cyberbullying being a relatively new issue, and because it often occurs off campus, it is challenging for schools to enforces policies with the limited amount of legal authority they have. The U.S. Department of Education has 11 key components in state bullying legislation, and one of them addresses cyberbullying. It states that school districts must provide a very clear definition of cyberbullying, and it must be easy to understand and interpret by all. (Stuart-Cassel, & Springer, 2011)

Also as of 2011, 25 states define cyberbullying and prohibit it, 11 states prohibit it but don’t define it, and 10 states do not mention it at all. Some states have specific laws in place to try and prevent cyberbullying from occurring in the first place. One example is,“New Hampshire state laws requires each school district to provide educational programs for students and their families on ‘preventing, identifying, responding to, and reporting incidents of bullying or cyberbullying.’” (Stuart-Cassel, & Springer, 2011) In some severe situations of bullying, parents or the victim may want to take action against who they feel responsible. In 18 states, bully legislation assures that state bullying laws don’t limit their rights to make legal claims against individuals or schools. Although courts seem to side with school districts more than it does with the victims. (Stuart-Cassel, & Springer, 2011)

A School Psychologists role in Assessment, Prevention, and Intervention

Although School Psychologists already have many roles, there are a lot of approaches they can take to combating cyberbullying in their schools. They can be effective leaders in regards to promoting awareness of the issue, and explaining the psychological impact it has on students. They can, and should, also assess for prevalence and severity of cyberbullying in their schools. They should help develop prevention programs to address cyberbullying in their schools, as well as create intervention strategies for when cyberbullying inevitably occurs. School psychologists should also be a team member with other school personnel, and help develop policies for their school districts on this ever evolving issue.

Middle School students

High school students

College students

Gender differences

Many studies have tried to analyze the gender difference in and cyberbullying victims and perpetrators, and many different results have been found. A meta-analysis by called, Is There a Gender Difference in Cyber-Victimization?: A Meta-Analysis, by Sun & Fan in 2016 tries to discern the actual answer from these studies. Over 40 research articles were analyzed for their results, and the overall conclusion was females are overall slightly more likely to be cyber victims, while males are more likely to be the perpetrator of bullying overall.

After the authors analyzed the 40 studies from different countries, they found that culture is a compounding factor. The effect size of gender was very different between asian respondents, and Northern America/ European respondents. Males in Asia were actually more likely to be cyberbullying victims than Asian females were. While on the other hand, females in North America and Europe were more like to be cyber victims than their male counterparts. (Sun & Fan, 2016)

Characteristics of the cyberbully (emotional and behavioral problems?) (psychological typology?)

A meta-analysis of 77 studies evaluated the predictors of cyberbullying. It was found that a typical cyberbully would fit the following profile: be an older male; have been involved with offline bullying previously; have behavioral problems; believe that their aggressive behavior is okay; be online often; be victimized offline; report many internalizing symptoms; possibly have or show symptoms of an antisocial or narcissistic personality; lack moral values and empathy; have parents with many conflicts; have parents that do not supervise them much; have a negative climate in school; lack positive peer relationships. (Guo, 2016)

Characteristics of Victims

The meta-analysis of 77 studies mentioned in the previous section also found that the typical victim of cyberbullying would fit the this following profile: be a female; have experienced bullying offline previously; have high levels of stress and depression; feel lonely and hopeless; be on the internet often; possible bully other people face to face; have behavior problems; be antisocial; have low self-esteem; have a positive belief or attitude about aggression; live in a negative family environment; be less committed to school; be rejected and isolated severely from their peers. (Guo, 2016)

Children’s perspectives of cyberbullying

Peer Attachment and beliefs about aggression

High school teachers/ teachers/ support professionals perceptions & perspectives

Intervention strategies

Studies show that the most important and appropriate way to deal with cyberbullying is through education and publicity (Lapidot-Lefler & Dolev-Cohen, 2015). It is also important for educators to know and understand that cyberspace and physical space cannot be severed; bullying online can lead to physical violence and vice versa. (Lapidot-Lefler & Dolev-Cohen, 2015)

Another approach to combating bullying and cyberbullying in schools is to educate teachers about the dynamics of bullying, providing in-depth information about signs of bullying, and educate on the signs that specifically pertain to cyberbullying. Schools can also involve their students in coming up with a solution, as some schools have created bullying committees for students to be a part of, which can help identify bullying issues that school staff were unaware of. (Smith, 2015)

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