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Not funny? Teens may not understand the damage done by cyberbullying

New research from the University of British Columbia suggests that teenagers view online bullying as different from the old-fashioned, in-person variety -- and that they may underestimate the harm done by bullying their peers online.

The new findings suggest that teens tend to view online bullying as a joke. Because kids don't see their online actions as harmful, traditional anti-bullying programs in schools may not help reduce kids' cruelty online, the researchers said.

The research, a pair of studies on Vancouver tweens and high school students, was presented Friday at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. From a university press release about the new research:

“Students need to be educated that this ‘just joking’ behaviour has serious implications,” [said researcher Jennifer Shapka, PhD, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at University of British Columbia.]

Being victimized online can have consequences for a person’s mental health, developmental wellbeing, and academic achievement, according to Shapka. In extreme cases, there have been reports of suicide.

It's not just kids' perceptions that are different; online bullying departs from the rules of schoolyard bullying in several other ways, too. In face-to-face interactions, bullies tend to be the bigger or more popular kids. But the researchers found that on the internet, it's not unusual for the same individual to be both a bully and a victim at different times, and that online bullying tends to be more spur-of-the-moment, with fewer planned attacks on specific victims. Online bullying is also more widespread -- 25 to 30 percent of youth say they've participated, versus 12 percent who have taken part in in-person bullying.

In addition to better educating kids about the consequences of their online actions, what should parents do? Here's what researchers advise:

A number of Internet safety campaigns suggest parents keep an eye on their children’s online activity but Shapka says this kind of micro-managing can undermine healthy adolescent development.

“An open and honest relationship between parents and children is one of the best ways to protect teenagers from online risks related to cyberbullying, Internet addiction, and privacy concerns related to disclosing personal information online.”

Via ScienceDaily
Photo by J_O_I_D

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