If your child owns a smartphone, they may have an increased
risk of becoming a victim of online bullying, according to a recent study
conducted by the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) at
Bridgewater State University.
believed to be one of the first to examine cyberbullying among elementary
school-aged youth, sampled more than 11,700 third, fourth, and fifth
graders at schools throughout New England between January 2010 and September
“I was surprised to find that almost all of the
eight-year-olds were already interacting with others online," says study
author Elizabeth Englander, PhD, professor of psychology and coordinator of the
MARC program. According to her research, elementary school-aged children are
already immersed in cyber-technology, with over 90 percent of third graders
reporting that they play interactive games online.
Smartphone Use Linked to Cyberbullying
Over the course of the study, smartphone ownership increased
and non-smartphone ownership deceased in every grade—which could spell trouble
for kids interacting on the cyber-playground. The results of Englander’s
research show that smartphone ownership is a significant risk factor linked to
cyberbullying—both for bullies and victims.
Fifth grade smartphone owners are more than 20 percent more
likely to be victims of cyberbullying than non-owners. Similar numbers were
found for third and fourth graders. Smartphone owners are also more likely to engage
in bullying behaviors online.
Englander notes that parents who are considering buying
their child a smartphone should weigh both the benefits and the risks of the
Cyberbullying Occurs Most Often During Interactive Games
At the elementary school-age, children are most likely to
experience cyberbullying while playing interactive games online, including kids
as young as third graders, according to the study.
“I had anticipated that [third graders] might be playing
games, but thought they would probably be single-player games,” Englander says
of the unexpected finding. However, it was no surprise that cyberbullying tends
to occur on sites where kids interact together in real time.
But despite the higher rates of bullying during online
gameplay, the study found that kids at the highest risk for repeated bullying
were more likely to associate the behavior with Facebook, email, or text
messaging. Indeed, just as cell phone use has increased among youth, so has
Facebook use—even for students under the age of 13. According to Englander,
this suggests that parents and children may not understand—or be aware of—the rationale
behind federal guidelines that recommend Facebook and similar websites be used
only by kids age 13 and older.
Even if your children don’t own smartphones or play online
games, it’s still important to talk to them about cyberbullying. A new
study by McAfee, an Internet security provider, found that one in 10 teens feared
for their safety, due to bullying online.
Talking to your kids could also help prevent abusive
behaviors. A recent study published in the Journal of
Youth and Adolescence suggests that kids are less likely to become
online bullies if they believe adults will reprimand them for their behavior.
out personal information over the Internet, including over chat rooms or
through social media. Be cautious not to include personal information in
instant message profiles, blogs, or personal websites.
share passwords with other people, ever.
respond if someone sends a bullying message. Save the message, or print it
out, and then take it to an adult.
open emails from unknown sources or from someone known to be a bully.
sending messages when upset or angry.
become a bully. Help other kids who are being bullied by not joining in.
Print out the offensive messages and show them to an adult.