Traditional Schoolyard Bullies Likely to Engage in Cyber-Bullying as Well

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
26 May 2015

Impact of cyber-bullying more insidious and far reaching than traditional bullying

Children and teens who are bullies in the school yard are likely to become cyber bullies as well. But new studies also show that victims of school yard bullying may also become bullies in the anonymous world of cyberspace.

But the majority of cases, teens who are the victims of traditional bullying are twice as likely to become victims in cyberspace as well. While girls are more likely to be victims of cyber-bullying than boys, they are also more likely than boys to be cyber-bullies.

A recent study of Grade 9 students in Victoria found 15% of girls and 14% of boys had been perpetrators of cyber-bullying with 21% of girls and 12% of boys reporting they had been victims.

Cyber-bullying is still far less widespread than traditional bullying, but the potential effects of cyber-bullying are more insidious, says Professor Sheryl Hemphill of the Australian Catholic University's School of Psychology.

While traditional bullying generally occurs during school or the few hours after school, cyber-bullying can take place irrespective of either the time of day or the victim's geographic location. The perpetrator, or as frequently occurs, the group of perpetrators, are likely to remain anonymous making it almost impossible for the person being bullied to defend themselves, and making it extremely difficult for parents to contain.

Professor Sheryl Hemphill of ACU leader of groundbreaking international study into bullying

The outcome for those bullied online or in the school yard varies from individual to in individual.

"Some victims of both forms of bullying seem able cope and move on, while others may end up with depression which in some cases may become severe there is a risk of self harm," Professor Hemphill says.

Since 2002, Professor Hemphill has led an ongoing international longitudinal study that monitors and analyses the behaviours, attitudes and outcomes of more than 900 Victorian school children from age 10 and 11 through their teenage years and into adulthood.

Carried out in collaboration with the University of Washington, the International Youth Development Study (IYDS) as it is known continues to shed new light on bullying, together with the risk factors for both perpetrators and victims.

Charting Victorian students from Year 7 into their early 20s is providing invaluable insights into the short and long term effects of bullying, the factors involved that help create perpetrators and the factors that can lead to a student becoming a victim.

Cyberbullying can be impulsive with little awareness of the harm inflcited on the victim

Past findings by Professor Hemphill and her team of international researchers include the discovery that school bullies aged 16 and 17 are twice as likely to engage in violent and anti-social behaviour than their non-bullying peers, while victims of traditional bullying at the same age are three times more likely to suffer from depression and depressive symptoms in young adulthood .

The study has also uncovered strong links between bullying, violence and binge drinking, and found that early alcohol use in late childhood or early teens is a strong factor in later violent anti-social behaviour.

Over the past several decades there have many been many national and international investigations into traditional bullying, and the long term effects on both perpetrators and victims, but almost no research into the relatively new phenomenon of cyber-bullying.

Professor Hemphill and the International Youth Development Study are among the first researchers worldwide to tackle cyber-bullying and to begin examining the long term effects on young people.

Parents need to closely monitor and guide their child in cyberspace

"Exposure to cyber-bullying is yet another potential risk factor for problem behaviour and mental health problems," she says.

In one of the world's first longitudinal studies into cyber-bullying looking at behavioural and mental health outcomes over a 24 month period, Professor Hemphill and her team of researchers found that perpetrators of cyber bullying in Grade 10 were associated with theft in Grade 11, while cyber victims in Grade 10 were linked to depressive symptoms by Grade 11. The study also found that Grade 10 students who were both perpetrators as well as victims of cyber-bullying were involved with problem behaviour in Grade 11 which included suspension from school, binge drinking, marijuana use, depressive symptoms and self-harm.

"It is crucial to find ways to reduce cyber-bullying and other established risk factors to also reduce problem behaviour and mental health problems," Professor Hemphill says.

Along with being a victim of traditional bullying, or a perpetrator, risk-factors identified for both victims as well as perpetrators of cyber-bullying are poor performance and achievement at school, poor social skills, an anti-social group of friends, family conflict and poor family management such as having no clear rules, difficulties with concentration and a lack of emotional control.

"Students with skills in emotional control such as being able to control their temper and not act impulsively are less likely to be bullied by others. Students with a strong sense of morals who tend to do the "right thing," are also less likely to be victims of bullying," she says.

Students doing well at school with positive family involvement less affected by bullying than underperformers with low self esteem

To combat cyber-bullying, Professor Hemphill believes a multi-faceted approach is needed not only to target the student but also the school environment, their families, their peers and their local  communities.

"Such programs may be more challenging and costly to implement initially, they are likely to have wide-ranging and cost-saving impacts one of multiple problem behaviours and mental health problems," she says.

With many of the first cohort of Victorian youngsters participating in the ongoing International Youth Development Study now entering their early 20s, Professor Hemphill says that in addition to studying the risks, predictors and effects of traditional and cyber bullying, the researchers now have a chance to explore workplace bullying and whether bullying or being bullied at school is a factor.