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Taking a Look at the Why of Bullying

A recent article from the BBC states that as researchers continue to consider the reasons children bully their peers, they are finding more and more frequently that there is more than just one type of bully. The stereotype that all bullies are aggressive with self-esteem issues is too simplistic, researchers say, and the mentality of bullying is much more complex. Aside from the blunt and open aggressor, another more Machiavellian kind of bullying has come to be recognized. Children who fall into this category tend to have better social skills, are often charismatic and liked by teachers – far from the “oafish” stereotype of bullies. Crucially, these children can turn on and off their bullying to suit his or her needs – and, of course, anonymous cyberbullying fits this modus operandi perfectly.

Many Schools Looking to Monitor Students’ Online Activity

In attempts to prevent violence in schools, some districts nationwide are taking steps to monitor students' online activity and social media posts. Spurred in part by the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., a year and a half ago, schools nationwide are collaborating with law enforcement in new ways in efforts to avoid these kind of tragedies. Investments are being made in new security technologies that can scan social media posts, school assignments and even student emails for potential threats. Supporters say such steps make students safer, but some others have expressed concern for student privacy. Critics also worry that social media monitoring could make criminals out of students who are just having typical kinds of teenage social and emotional problems.

Bots Causing Havoc on Social Media

Automated bots are taking over social media, says Arkose Labs, adding that more than half the logins and a quarter of new social media account applications are fraudulent. These fake accounts have implications for those fighting against cyberbullying and misinformation. The company reviewed 1.2 billion third-quarter transactions across platforms, including gaming and e-commerce, and determined that about 75% of fraud on social media was committed by bots.

Is Frequency of Social Media Use the Culprit in Teen Age Depression?

A recent UK study in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health reports that adolescents who checked social media more than three times daily had increased psychological distress compared with those with lower social media use. Researchers also found that reduced sleep quality and elevated cyberbullying exposure accounted for about 60% of the correlation between very frequent social media use and psychological distress among girls, but only 12% of the association among boys.

How does this translate? It appears that it is not the social media that is depressing kids, but rather their frequent use of it. This is especially so when screen time interferes with getting enough sleep, or if they are being bullied. More time on devices leads to missing out on other positive social interactions, sleep and exercise.

The Debate Over How Screen Time Affects Teens

National Public Radio reports that researchers appear divided over the effect of screen time and social media on teens' -- particularly girls' -- mental health. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, says social media in particular may be causing anxiety among teens, however others say that her data is skewed. Critics state smartphone use is almost ubiquitous among teenagers today, while only a small minority report mental health problems, so simply knowing that a teenager uses a smartphone (even for many hours a day) cannot reliably predict that the teenager will become depressed. Factors such as genetics or the presence of childhood trauma can serve as much larger predictors.

So why should the average parent worry about this scientific controversy? Because, one critic says, when parents simply demonize phones, "there's less of a communications channel" about what teens are encountering online. A parent's opportunity to mentor or support positive uses of media is replaced by "confrontation on a day-to-day basis." Well-meaning parents, wrongly believing the phone to be as risky as a cigarette or a beer, may actually be making their children's lives harder by fighting with them about it.

Girls More Likely Targets of Cyberbullying

The Associated Press reports cyberbullying in the US is on the rise, and girls are more likely than boys to be targeted, according to the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. Perpetrators of cyberbullying against girls are usually other girls, not boys, says Kind Campaign founder Lauren Paul, and both social media companies and school districts alike are continuing to search for ways to address this problem.

A Perspective on the Social Media Use of Generation Z

A recent article from CNBC takes a look at Generation Z (8 to 22 year-olds) and their feelings on social media. The article revealed that in an interview with a group of 17-year-olds, almost all said that they rarely watch regular TV and hardly ever use Facebook. It was also found that members of Gen Z are typically more conscious of privacy concerns when using social media apps than older generations, however they can have difficulty distinguishing between what is paid content from advertisers.

The teenagers spoke to CNBC after a week at London ad agency Isobel, which runs a summer school program for students. Two teams were tasked with creating an ad campaign to warn younger teens of the dangers of social media, before presenting them to a judging panel. One team cautioned children not to share their location on social media with the tagline “Your World is Theirs,” while the second group encouraged youngsters to “Pull the Plug on Online Hate.”

Adding Students with Disabilities to the Conversation about Social Media and Cyberbullying

Students with disabilities appear to experience higher highs and lower lows when using social media, according to a new report from the Ruderman Family Foundation. Students with disabilities are 1.8 times more likely to be victims—and 1.7 times more likely to be perpetrators—of social media-related cyberbullying, the group found in an analysis of survey information covering 24,000 Boston-area high school students. The connection between experiencing cyberbullying and suffering from depressive symptoms and suicidal tendencies is also particularly strong for these students.

Instagram is Trying to Stop Cyberbullying. What Can Parents Do to Help?

Instagram has recently announced new features and changes to help stamp out cyberbullying on the platform, including using artificial intelligence to detect when something offensive is about to be posted. A prompt will appear asking the user if they are sure they want to post, giving them the opportunity to reconsider. Another feature will be introduced soon that allows users to "restrict" someone, meaning they can delete comments from or block the other person from posts without that person knowing. The company said it arrived at the concept after hearing feedback that users are reluctant to outwardly block a bully because it could escalate the situation, especially if they also interact with the bully "in real life." These features may help, but social work professor Jonathan Singer says parents cannot rely on those safeguards alone. Singer encourages parents to discuss online safety with their children and keep communication open about social media use.

Cyberbullying on the Rise

The Washington Post just highlighted a report from the National Center for Education Statistics showing that 20% of teen students in the US said they were bullied in the 2016-17 school year, and of those, 15% were bullied online or via text, a 3.5 percentage point increase over the previous year. Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar of Purdue University says the spike may be due to increased awareness of what bullying looks like and reporting of cyberbullying incidents. Seigfried-Spellar states that students have become less inhibited about bullying others with digital separation because they don’t have to witness the emotional toll exacted or have to deal with the immediate consequences. “It’s easier to do because you don’t have to worry about a physical repercussion,” she said. “It removes that personal experience.”