by Claire Miller
With the increasing popularity of social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter, the schoolyard bullying of the past has found a new, electronic forum.
College of Education doctoral students Leandra Parris, former graduate student Hayley Cutts, and faculty members Joel Meyers and Kristen Varjas are studying how students cope when their peers take bullying to the Internet.
Parris, Cutts, Meyers and Varjas recently published an article on cyberbullying, or bullying that takes place electronically, in Youth & Society, a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on issues related to the second decade of life.
For the article, Parris and Cutts interviewed 20 students at a suburban high school about their experiences with cyberbullying and found that teenagers generally deal with it in one of two ways: “Reactive coping” and “preventive coping.” Some also indicated that there was “no way to prevent cyberbullying.” Reactive coping can involve deleting or ignoring harmful messages and seeking support from friends, while preventive coping can include talking about issues in person and increasing security measures. Some students in the interviews also said they felt that nothing can be done about this form of bullying.
Combined with the research COE faculty and students have conducted on cyberbullying in the past, the article in Youth & Society offered researchers the opportunity to have open conversations with students and identify ways that they cope that previous literature didn’t identify.
“Students can report instances of cyberbullying, block certain kids from their web pages and change their passwords,” Varjas said.
Cyberbullying can be a difficult subject to monitor – most offenses take place away from school and social networking sites constantly upgrade their formats. This is why parents and school officials should make an effort to familiarize themselves with the technology, Parris said.
“Students will sometimes talk to each other about it and generally know what to do when this kind of bullying occurs, but they don’t talk to adults about it,” she said. “They don’t think adults know as much as they do and they don’t want the technology taken away. So when you do have a student really getting cyberbullied, if they don’t feel confident to go to an adult, that’s when there’s a problem.”
Since collecting the data for this article, Parris has interviewed students at an urban high school to compare how teenagers who live in different areas deal with instances of cyberbullying. So far, she’s found a number of commonalities between suburban and urban students’ experiences, but also noted that cyberbullying is a very personal experience and affects individual people in different ways.
“The impact cyberbullying can have really depends on the student, their perspective on the situation and the nature of the bullying,” she said.
For more information about the COE’s Center for Research on School Safety, School Climate and Classroom Management, visit http://education.gsu.edu/schoolsafety.
For more information about the article, visit http://yas.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/03/06/0044118X11398881.abstract.