Recommendations for Dealing with Cyberbullying

A few months ago, I spoke to Carole Williams, an expert in cyberbullying who speaks at schools and runs training sessions for parents about what to do if their child is being bullied online, and measures they can take to stop it from happening.

But what is cyberbullying? It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, often without explanation of what it means, and what the effects are on its victims.

Image © Michael Cordedda
Image © Michael Cordedda

A group of researchers at Stanford University have recently been looking into this, and their results bring back some good recommendations for its prevention.

The idea was that the researchers would conduct an interdisciplinary study. I’m an advocate of multidisciplinary research teams – my own is an example of one – because it allows a lot of different perspectives to come together, and you end up with analyses that you might otherwise have missed.

Aboujaoude et al searched through several medical journals as well as using open-source resources such as Google to find data about cyberbullying. They went through government legislation, community responses and books, which must have taken a huge amount of time.

Their initial discoveries were perhaps unsurprising. Cyberbullying is quite prevalent, with up to 40% of young people having been victims to it at some point. The most likely groups to be targeted are females and sexual minorities, with males being the main perpetrators. There is a well-established link to suicidal thoughts and actions, as reported in several previous studies.

The researchers conclude that the importance of taking action to combat cyberbullying cannot be underestimated, particularly in an increasingly connected world.

“Available data suggest a serious problem whose consequences are real and should not be dismissed as a “virtual” by-product of an increasingly digitalised childhood and adolescence.”

So, what can we do about it?

According to Aboujaoude et al, the best approach would be multi-faceted rather than simply relying on a single element, such as government legislation, to deal with the problem.

Recommendations included educational media campaigns; programs in schools to help young people deal with concerns about cyberbullying and learn about its effects; parental awareness and oversight; government legislation; and interventions by health professionals such as doctors and mental health workers.

It is good to see subjects like this beginning to receive the attention they need; too often the problems of the “digital native” generation are dismissed by adults as being somehow less than real, simply because they take place online. But it is important to remember that when the majority of a person’s life is lived interconnected with digital devices, traumatic events that occur via those devices are just as important to address as any that might happen offline.

You can find more details about the study via Science Direct.