Bullying is a serious social issue that is not new to students. For decades, it had been an inseparable element of school and higher education routines. Millions of students around the globe know the bitter taste of bullying and violence. Millions of others enjoy the power of intimidation and abuse, using it to harm their peers. With the emerging power of social networks, the issue of cyber bullying has drawn considerable professional and public attention. Questions emerge as to why cyber bullying continues to persist and what can be done about it. Overall, cyber bullying is a complex phenomenon that is caused by a variety of factors. Thesis: The research’s primary message can be broken down into three components: causes of cyber bullying, its effects on students, and methods of prevention. Being a product of numerous factors, cyberbullying has enormously negative effects on pupils’ wellbeing; only systemic approaches can help reduce the scope of cyber violence in schools.
Bullying is fairly regarded as one of the most serious social problems facing contemporary schools. It can be defined as “sending or posting harmful or cruel text or false images using the Internet or other digital communication devices to harm a victim” (Washington 22). That is, it is a unique form of technology-mediated violence, when an offender uses the Internet, social media, and other communication technologies to abuse his or her victim. With the rapid proliferation of computers and other communication technologies, cyberbullying is becoming much more prevalent (Washingto, 2014). As of today, offenders have easy access to a variety of communication means, from cell phones and tablet devices to smartphones and personal computers (Washington, 2014). These technologies give rise to new misuse and abuse opportunities.
However, cyberbullying is not the same as traditional bullying. The latter has been defined as “repeated intimidation, over time, of a physical, verbal, and psychological nature of a less powerful person by a more powerful person or group of persons” (Washington, 2014, p. 21). Cyberbullying differs from traditional bullying in the sense that it gives perpetrators a strong anonymity advantage (Davison & Stein, 2014). Anonymous cyberbullies display much more aggressiveness compared with offline bullies (Davison & Stein, 2014). Simultaneously, cyberbullying lacks a ‘physical’ component (Davison & Stein, 2014). Cyberbullies rely mostly on the emotional, psychological, and cognitive mechanisms of offense. Finally, in distinction from traditional bullying, cyberbullying enables offenders to target their victims at any time (Davison & Stein, 2014). Thus, it is more pervasive, permanent, and far-reaching. Not surprisingly, modern schools become more concerned about preventing Internet violence against students.
Why Teenagers Use the Internet as a Platform for Bullying
One of the key questions surrounding cyberbullying is why teenagers bully their peers using the Internet as a platform. Socioeconomic criteria are believed to be at the heart of the cyberbullying phenomenon. Teenagers from lower socioeconomic layers are more likely to become victims of cyberbullying than their better-off peers (Davison & Stein, 2014). At the same time, children from more affluent families are more inclined to bully their peers than children from poorer households (Davison & Stein, 2014). Why socioeconomic status influences the incidence of cyberbullying is difficult to define. Washington (2014) suggests that, according to the social dominance theory, those who enjoy a higher social status and possess more social power choose to victimize their peers from the lower social layers to maintain their position in the social hierarchy. This is also why previous bullying experiences matter. Students who have experience bullying their peers offline will readily engage in cyberbullying (Washington, 2014). This is how they will try to preserve their status of ‘tough’ guys (Chisholm, 2014). These, however, are not the only factors of cyberbullying. Parental support and involvement in students’ affairs have significant effects on the incidence of cyberbullying. Davison and Stein (2014) write that children from families with unemployed fathers were twice as likely to fall victim to cyberbullying as their peers from families with working fathers. The lack of parental support also translates in cyberbullying, since students use available Internet opportunities to relieve their stresses and deal with their emotional tensions (Chisholm, 2014). Other factors include family socialization, gender, and cultural context (Low & Espelage, 2013). All these factors predetermine the difficulties experienced by victims of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying: Effects on Victims
It is not a secret that cyberbullying profoundly alters victims’ emotional state and wellbeing. The negative effects of cyberbullying on students’ everyday functioning have been extensively documented. According to Davison and Stein (2014), these effects are both short- and long-term. Basically, cyberbullying leads to academic underachievement (Davison & Stein, 2014). In other words, victims of cyberbullying experience huge difficulties in learning. Students who have been good at most discipline start to lag behind their student peers. They can also engage in bullying behaviors to cope with their own emotional tensions (Davison & Stein, 2014). It is possible to assume that cyberbullying causes a chain reaction of negative behaviors, which disrupt the productive atmosphere of learning in the classroom. Low self-esteem is another consequence of cyberbullying. While victims of cyberbullying experience lower self-esteem, their perpetrators use available cyberbullying opportunities to improve their self-esteem and emotional status (Davison & Stein, 2014).
Cyberbullying also increases the prevalence of risky behaviors in youth. Davison and Stein refer to another study, which confirmed the intricate link between cyberbullying and binge drinking (Davison & Stein, 2014). Drinking and marijuana use are common among victims of cyberbullying (Davison & Stein, 2014). They serve as methods of dealing with the stress of harassment (Davison & Stein, 2014). Some victim even display the signs of suicidal behaviors, although the relationship between cyberbullying and suicide is questionable (Davison & Stein, 2014; Sabella, Patchin, & Hinduja, 2013). The economic costs of cyberbullying also should not be disregarded. As Davison and Stein (2014) suggest, these are the costs of lost productivity – many teachers have to spend their time on dealing with the consequences of cyberbullying instead of being focused on learning. Given these complexities, the need for developing strategies to prevent cyberbullying becomes particularly urgent.
Only systemic and systems approaches can be useful in minimizing the risks of cyberbullying among students. Schools operate as cultural microcosms with their unique cultural traditions (Chisholm, 2014). Therefore, a deep cultural change is needed to help prevent cyber violence in schools. Simultaneously, tackling the issue of cyberbullying is not possible without ensuring that children grow up in healthy families and receive enough parental support in their daily affairs (Davison & Stein, 2014). Parents should communicate with their children to help them minimize their emotional strain (Davison & Stein, 2014). These family-oriented approaches should be further supported with the help of anti-bullying laws and policies implemented by schools (Chisholm, 2014). Educational campaigns have proved to be particularly effective in minimizing the scope of bullying behaviors in schools (Chisholm, 2014). Such campaigns aim to raise students’ awareness of cyberbullying and its negative consequences, while empowering them to recognize the signs of cyberbullying and prevent it before it becomes unbearable (Chisholm, 2014). Thus, schools and other educational institutions must be ready to face the problem of cyberbullying in its complexity. Only a combination of individual, school-based, and family-oriented strategies can be helpful in preventing the risks of cyber violence among students.
To conclude, cyberbullying is a serious social issue that has far-reaching negative effects on students’ health and wellbeing. The principal causes of cyberbullying vary, from poverty and related socioeconomic issues to prior bullying experiences and the lack of parental supervision. Low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and even suicidal intentions are the direct consequences of cyber bullying. Systems approaches are needed to tackle the issue and help students overcome the risks of Internet violence.
- Chisholm, J.F. (2014). Review of the status of cyberbullying and cyberbullying prevention. Journal of Information Systems Education, 25(1), 77-87.
- Davison, C.B. & Stein, C.H. (2014). The dangers of cyberbullying. North American Journal of Psychology, 16(3), 595-606.
- Low, S. & Espelage, D. (2013). Differentiating cyber bullying perpetration from non-physical bullying: Commonalities across race, individual, and family predictors. Psychology of Violence, 3(1), 39-52.
- Sabella, R. A., Patchin, J.W., & Hinduja, S. (2013). Cyberbullying myths and realities. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 2703-2711.
- Washington, E.T. (2014). An overview of cyberbullying in higher education. Adult Learning, 26(1), 21-27.