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Hannah Smith: What exactly is cyberbullying and how prevalent is it?

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Bullying is a serious social problem, but not just among youth and it's more of a problem offline than online. It seems to happen wherever there’s human interaction, and – because social media is such a new phenomenon to people everywhere – its presence and unprecedented visibility in digital spaces has brought a major international resurgence of concerns about bullying.

That’s both good and bad – bad because the focus of public concern is more on social media (because it’s the new, little understood piece of the equation) than on the behavior, and good because there’s evidence that this time around we’ll get much farther in fixing the problem. More on that in a minute, but first what we know about bullying and cyberbullying….

Not just youth and not mostly online: A 2010 US national survey published by WorkplaceBullying.org indicates that, with 35 percent of adult workers in the US having experienced it, bullying is at least as big a problem among adults as among youth. Compare that to data about youth bullying cited in an issue brief by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC): that in-person bullying is still greater than cyberbullying, with 32 percent of 12- to 18-year-olds having experienced bullying offline and 4 percent of the same sample having experience cyberbullying. “Another study found that approximately 13% of students in grades 6-10 reported being cyberbullied,” it added.

Other research shows higher figures for cyberbullying – the Cyberbullying Research Center puts the figure at 24 percent of young people, on average, across multiple studies – but still lower than offline bullying. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC) at University of New Hampshire, confirms this in his 2013 report “Trends in Bullying and Peer Victimization.”

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