School Climate & Safety

Cyberbullying Increases as Students Get Older, Study Finds

By Kristie Chua — September 11, 2014 2 min read
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Students transition from traditional bullying to cyberbullying as they get older, a new study found.

The study’s primary author, Cixin Wang, an assistant professor at the University of California Riverside’s School of Education, focused on 1,180 students in the fifth to eighth grades over the period of three semesters. The research considers the fact that students can be both perpetrators and victims of bullying over time, a reality born out by other studies; children cannot just be divided into two groups of those who bully and those who are bullied.

The study, published last month in the School Psychology Quarterly, created bully and victim subgroups, labeling how frequently students either participated in bullying or how frequently they were targeted by bullies. The results pointed to the idea that there is instability in who and how many students frequently perpetrated and were victims of bullying.

But Wang did find consistency in the type of bullying students engaged in. While traditional bullying decreased as students got older, cyberbullying increased. There was also a considerable increase in bullying from fifth to sixth grade, which Wang believes is due to the transition from elementary to middle school.

The study also found that girls were more likely to experience verbal and cyberbullying while boys were more likely to experience physical bullying.

Since every case of bullying is different, Wang believes that schools need to change the way they target bullying.

“School-based interventions need to address the differences in perpetrator and victim experiences,” she said. “The key is to use individualized specific interventions for bullying, not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Bullying is still a prevalent issue, although it has taken a new form by moving online. The two kinds of bullying are different in many ways. However, interventions can often be difficult, since many think cyberbullying is less harmful than traditional bullying, and therefore don’t report it.

Jim Dillon, director of the Center for Leadership and Bullying Prevention, wrote in an Education Week Commentary that he believes encouraging schools to facilitate discussions about bullying will create a stronger community that prevents bullying and instead educate students to take responsibility for their actions:

When students are members of a strong community, they feel accepted and supported, not isolated and excluded. They can trust that there will be someone to help them if they are in need. A school community is a place where people value each other and have a sense of responsibility for helping everyone feel safe and protected.

Some federal officials, meanwhile, are pointing to the idea of using an app that engages parents in conversations about bullying with their children. Another app is designed to allow anyone to easily and anonymously report acts of bullying.

Photo by Jhaymesisviphotography/Flickr Creative Commons

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.