As a mom of three girls, cyberbullying is a huge concern of mine. While admittedly we are still a few years away from our daughters being old enough to have their own cell phones and social media accounts, a new study that looks at who is most likely to be cyberbullied, as well as who the aggressors often are, still worries me. Because the findings in the research, called "Toxic Ties: Networks of Friendship, Dating, and Cyber Victimization" and published in the September issue of Social Psychology Quarterly, say girls are the most common victims, and at the hands of those they thought were their friends.
Researchers looked at surveys from almost 800 eighth- to twelfth-graders at a suburban New York City public school in 2011. In the survey, participants were asked about social networks, their dating history, and cyberbullying experiences. For the purposes of the study, cyberbullying was defined as electronic or online behavior—most of which happened on Facebook or via text—meant to harm another person psychologically, or damage his or her reputation.
About 17 percent of kids reported being cyberbullied in the past week. Interestingly, they found cyberbullying was seven times more likely to happen between friends, either current or former, and dating partners, versus kids who never had any kind of close relationship.
"We believe that competition for status and esteem represents one reason behind peer cyberbullying," explained Diane Felmlee, lead author of the study and a professor of sociology at The Pennsylvania State University, in a press release. "Friends, or former friends, are particularly likely to find themselves in situations in which they are vying for the same school, club, and/or sport positions and social connections. In terms of dating partners, young people often have resentful and hurt feelings as a result of a breakup, and they may take out these feelings on a former partner via cyber aggression. They might also believe they can win back a previous boyfriend or girlfriend, or prevent that person from breaking up with them or dating someone else, by embarrassing or harassing him or her."
Girls were twice as likely to be victims of cyberbullying than boys. "Cyber aggression towards girls may be in part an attempt to keep girls 'in their places,'" Felmlee said.
Kids who identified as LGBTQ were also four times as likely to fall victim to cyberbullying versus their heterosexual peers.
Felmlee hopes the findings in this study will aid in bullying prevention and intervention programs. The information may be especially helpful for us parents, so we can get a better understanding of who is most likely to be bullying our kids online.
But maybe I'll just never give my girls phones, or allow them on social media. Dare to dream.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.