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Abstract

The use of information and communication technology (ICT) has not only brought advantages to mankind. One downside is the emergence and increase of cyberbullying in schools. Affecting students of all ages, teachers, parents, and other educators, this special form of bullying is an increasing challenge for schools. This article offers an overview of the current state of research regarding prevalence and forms of cyberbullying; its psychosocial correlates in victims, bullies, and bully-victims; possible avenues for prevention and intervention approaches for school practitioners; and implications for future research.
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DOI: 10.1177/0143034312445241
2012 33: 467School Psychology International
Nandoli von Marées and Franz Petermann
Cyberbullying: An increasing challenge for schools
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DOI: 10.1177/0143034312445241
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Article
Cyberbullying:
An increasing challenge
for schools
Nandoli von Mare
´es
State Education Authority Donaueschingen, Germany
Franz Petermann
University of Bremen, Germany
Abstract
The use of information and communication technology (ICT) has not only brought
advantages to mankind. One downside is the emergence and increase of cyberbullying
in schools. Affecting students of all ages, teachers, parents, and other educators, this
special form of bullying is an increasing challenge for schools. This article offers an
overview of the current state of research regarding prevalence and forms of cyberbully-
ing; its psychosocial correlates in victims, bullies, and bully-victims; possible avenues for
prevention and intervention approaches for school practitioners; and implications for
future research.
Keywords
bullying, cyberbullying, cybervictims, information and communication technology (ICT),
intervention, prevention, schools
Deborah, a friendly, slightly shy 5th grader, was referred to a school psychologist
by her class teacher due to a high rate of sick days. Deborah often experienced
intense stomach aches in the morning which led her to either avoid going to school
all together or—if the pain started during school time—to get her mother to pick
her up again. Over the course of counselling with Deborah and her mother, it
became clear that she dreaded being ostracized, as she had once been, with no
one to play with during breaks. Her fears intensified when someone took on her
identity in a popular social network for students and started posting offensive
messages to pupils from her class in her name. This experience, though eventually
Corresponding author:
Nandoli von Mare
´es, School Psychology Counselling Centre, State Education Authority Donaueschingen,
Irmastraße 7-9, 78166 Donaueschingen, Germany
Email: nandoli.marees@ssa-ds.kv.bwl.de
terminated through school and police intervention, traumatized her to such an
extent that she refused to visit her school ever again, not trusting any of her
former classmates anymore and fearing a reoccurrence at any time.
Definition of cyberbullying
Deborah’s experience is one example of cyberbullying—a phenomenon which
appears in many forms and is exercised via a multitude of modes. Definitions of
cyberbullying vary, but most researchers agree that it is an intentional, repeated,
and aggressive act or behaviour carried out by a group or individual employing
information and communication technology (ICT) as an instrument. The acts go
against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself or terminate the bullying
(Smith et al., 2008; Vandebosch & Van Cleemput, 2008; Wolak, Mitchell, &
Finkelhor, 2007). While cyberbullying has many similarities with traditional bully-
ing, the issues of repetition and power imbalance are less easy to define, as for
example an embarrassing picture, once uploaded to a website, can be viewed
repeatedly, thereby creating on-going humiliation. As to power imbalance, many
cybervictims experience helplessness if their bully remains anonymous and often
there is no getting away from cyberbullying, as technology-based interactions can
take place any time, and in any place (Dooley, Pyzalski, & Cross, 2009; Slonje &
Smith, 2008). Another aspect distinguishing cyberbullying is anonymity, with
cyberbullies able to remain unidentified behind their computer screen or cell
phone and to aggress against their victims even when they are physically far
away (Spears, Slee, Owens, & Johnson, 2009). This physical distance may help
to disinhibit cyberbullies, making it easier to say or write things they normally
would not in a face-to-face interaction. In sum, technology allows potential bullies
to distance themselves from their victim and disperse harmful material to a larger
audience than ever before (Patchin & Hinduja, 2011).
Forms of cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is bullying via the use of internet, mobile phone, or a combination of
both, and the modes chosen have diversified (e.g., bullying by phone call, text
messages, instant messaging (IM), emails, posting or sending embarrassing
photos or video clips, creating ‘hate-websites’). In order to intervene successfully,
it is important that school personnel know about the different forms cyberbullying
may take. Willard (2007) has offered an alternative classification according to the
cyberbullying action itself, independent of the medium employed. She described
‘flaming’ which includes heated arguments through emails, IM, or in chat rooms,
during which rude, offensive, or threatening messages are relayed. ‘Harassment’
implies repeatedly sending insulting, hurtful messages, while ‘cyberstalking’
involves consistent harassment and threats of physical harm, to a degree that the
victim starts fearing for his or her safety. ‘Denigration’ is posting mean, untrue, or
harmful material (text, photos, or videos) about or of someone in order to harm his
468 School Psychology International 33(5)
or her reputation, damage friendships, or to humiliate. During ‘impersonation’,
another’s identity is used to send or post material of insulting, inappropriate, or
embarrassing content in order to damage the reputation or the friendships of the
target (as in Deborah’s case). ‘Outing’ is forwarding or publicly posting personal
information or images of someone else, especially such material containing private,
potentially embarrassing information. ‘Trickery’ can be a part of outing, occurring
when a person is tricked into revealing private, potentially embarrassing informa-
tion, believing that this is intended for the recipient only, while the cyberbully
intends to share the material with others. ‘Exclusion’ occurs when someone is
intentionally left out or barred from an online group or community, for example
from IM buddy lists or an online gaming community. The Willard classification is
by no means complete. New forms of cyberbullying continuously evolve, as can be
seen from a recent investigation by Paul, Smith, and Blumberg (2012). As can be
deduced from these examples, cyberbullying appears in relational and social forms
of bullying, which can be direct or indirect, and involve both overt and covert acts
of bullying with technology (Archer & Coyne, 2005; Spears et al., 2009)
Prevalence rates
Prevalence rates of cyberbullying and cybervictimization vary strongly, depending
on the type of informant assessed (e.g., victims, peers, teachers), the definition and
instrument on which assessment is based, the age group investigated, gender of
participants, and rate of internet and mobile phone use, to name only the most
important factors. General statements about prevalence are therefore difficult to
make, but due to the increased use of information and communication technology
over the past years, cyberbullying in its many forms has become more frequent
(Li, 2006; Ortega, Elipe, Mora-Mercha
´n, Calmaestra, & Vega, 2009) with mobile
phones (call, text message) and instant messaging on the internet being the most
frequent media of cyberbullying (Smith et al., 2008; Sourander et al., 2010). The
fact that some studies have found up to one-third or more of students to have
experienced cyberbullying seems to suggest that this phenomenon is becoming a
part of many children’s everyday experience and is much more widespread than
most educators and students think (Cassidy, Brown, & Jackson, 2012; Cassidy,
Jackson, & Brown, 2009; Li, 2006). As Kowalski, Morgan, and Limber (2012)
confirm, there seems to be a small but significant overlap between traditional
and cyberbullying, as well as between traditional and cybervictimization, with per-
petrators and/or targets of cyberbullying often involved in traditional bullying
forms as well (Erdur-Baker, 2010; Skrzypiec, Slee, Murray-Hanrvey, & Perreira,
2011; Vandebosch & Van Cleemput, 2009). This overlap between involvement in
cyberbullying and traditional bullying can already be found among children
between 7 and 11 years of age, where Monks, Robinson, and Worlidge (2012)
found that children were most likely to take the same role (i.e., bully or victim)
in traditional and cyberbullying. One hypothesis regarding this relation is that
bullying begins at school and is then continued via communication technologies
von Mare
´es and Petermann 469
(Sourander et al., 2010). While victims of traditional bullying still seem to outnum-
ber cybervictims, cyberbullying may gradually substitute traditional forms (Ortega
et al., 2009). However, Sakellariou, Carrol, and Houghton (2012) warn that an
increase in cyberbullying does not imply that traditional bullying forms are becom-
ing less prevalent and less destructive.
Considering age trends reported, involvement in cyberbullying as perpetrator or
victim seems to increase over the age range from 10 to 16 years (Smith et al., 2008;
Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004), possibly reflecting the increased use of information and
communication technology by adolescents. In conclusion of their findings,
Sakellariou et al. (2012) suggest that cyberbullying seems to be more prevalent
during the compulsory school years than during the late secondary years when
adolescents focus more on realizing their academic goals (see also Slonje &
Smith, 2008). When it comes to gender differences, researchers have reported dif-
ferent results, with some studies finding no gender differences (e.g., Ybarra &
Mitchell, 2004), some reporting girls to be victims and perpetrators of cyberbully-
ing more often (e.g., Smith et al, 2008; Wolak et al., 2007) and some finding boys to
be more involved in both cyberbullying and cybervictimization (Li, 2006; Popovic
´-
C
´itic
´, Djuric
´, & Cvetkovic
´, 2011).
Risk factors associated with cyberbullying
Researchers only recently have begun to investigate risk factors for engagement in
cyberbullying. According to the internet-enhanced self-disclosure hypothesis, com-
puter-mediated and online communication result in more and more intimate self-
disclosure (Valkenburg & Peter, 2009). This might have the positive effect of
enhancing relationship quality of existing friendships, which can in turn promote
well-being. The downside is that students who provide very personal information
of and about themselves become more vulnerable to cyberbullying, where this
information is used against them. Support for this hypothesis can be deduced
from the finding that many cybervictims exhibit frequent and risky internet
usage (Erdur-Baker, 2010; Smith et al., 2008; Vandebosch & Van Cleemput,
2009). Additionally, the reduced visual and auditory cues in computer-mediated
communication and the potential anonymity behind the screen might disinhibit
potential cyberbullies.
Katzer, Fetchenhauer, and Belschak (2009) discovered a strong relationship
between traditional victimization in school and cybervictimization, with school
victims being seen significantly more often among victims of chat room bullying.
Findings by Kowalski et al. (2012) support this correlation, leading these research-
ers to conclude that the risk of being involved in cyberbullying is greater if
youth are frequently involved in traditional bullying at school. The best pre-
dictor for cyberbullying was found to be cybervictimization and vice versa, mean-
ing that students involved as bullies have a high risk of be victimized, while
cybervictims often become cyberbullies as well. The direction of this influence is
yet unclear.
470 School Psychology International 33(5)
Students whose normative beliefs approve of overt and relational aggression are
more likely to be aggressive online (Ang, Tan, & Mansor, 2010; Werner, Bumpus,
& Rock, 2010) and those involved in cyberbullying on a regular basis show less
empathetic responsiveness (Steffgen, Ko
¨nig, Pfetsch, & Melzer, 2011) and perspec-
tive taking. Patchin and Hinduja (2011) found evidence that students experiencing
stressful life events and the negative emotions these evoke were more likely to
participate in bullying and cyberbullying. As shown in research on risk factors
of traditional bullying, most of these relationships seem bidirectional in nature,
with risk factors and bullying or victimization influencing and aggravating each
other reciprocally (Perren & Alsaker, 2006; Von Mare
´es & Petermann, 2010).
This leads us to psychosocial correlates of cyberbullying.
Impact and consequences of different forms of cyberbullying vary and are mod-
erated by factors such as social acceptance (Boulton, Smith, & Cowie, 2010), social
integration (Jones, Manstead, & Livingstone, 2011), effectiveness of coping strate-
gies employed (Parris, Varjas, Meyers, & Cutts, 2011; Skrzypiec et al., 2010), or
self-blaming attributions (Baumann, 2010). Overall, the psychosocial correlates of
cyberbullying seem to be in line with studies on the impact of bullying on students.
Even though cyberbullying may for the most part not last as long as traditional
bullying, its damaging effects have been shown to be comparable, if not greater.
Researchers hypothesize that the increased negative effects are due to the fact that
cyberbullying incidents can occur anywhere and at any time, potentially be wit-
nessed by a large, mostly unknown, limitless audience, and theoretically remain in
cyberspace permanently, thereby creating repeated and on-going victimization
(Kowalski & Limber, 2007, Smith et al., 2008). Additionally, cyberbullies can
easily conceal their identity, which might heighten the power imbalance and add
to the impact their negative acts have on their targets. Overall, cyberbullying seems
much too complex to be described as ‘simply being conventional bullying trans-
ferred behind the screens via e-technologies’ (Spears et al., 2009, p. 192).
Being the victim of cyberbullying can evoke strong negative emotions, including
fear and helplessness, feeling vulnerable and alone, it can diminish self-worth and
seriously disrupt relationships (Baumann, 2010; Boulton et al., 2010; Spears et al.,
2009). As Monks et al. (2012) have found, children in primary school already view
cyberbullying negatively and are aware that victims’ emotions can be impacted
negatively. Cybervictims have been shown to experience more emotional and
peer-problems, more psychosomatic complaints (headaches, abdominal pain),
and more sleeping difficulties. Being a cyberbully has been associated with more
hyperactive behaviour and conduct problems, and less prosocial peer group behav-
iour. Youth experiencing cyberbullying, as either offender or victim, feel less safe at
school and uncared for by teachers (Sourander et al., 2010), have a lower self-
esteem, more suicidal thoughts, and are more likely to attempt suicide than those
not involved in cyberbullying (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010a, 2010b). Most psycho-
somatic and psychiatric problems were discovered among those who were both
cyberbullies and cybervictims (Gradinger, Strohmeier, & Spiel, 2009; Sourander
et al., 2010). However, the impact of cyberbullying on individuals and their families
von Mare
´es and Petermann 471
is not only psychological and emotional, it can also be physical, when it leads
to students not attending or changing school, moving towns and breaking-up rela-
tionships (Spears et al., 2009).
Prevention and intervention measures
To date, little research has been published on effective preventive measures and
interventions to reduce cyberbullying. Based on empirical evidence, researchers
suggest that programs for the prevention of cyberbullying should be incorporated
in school curricula and include thorough instruction on internet safety and online
conduct (Wolak et al., 2007). As Parris et al. (2011) have found, many students
believe that little or nothing can be done to reduce cyberbullying. Students there-
fore need knowledge of strategies and resources, including both reactive (e.g.,
delete, block or ignore messages) and preventive strategies (e.g., increased security
and awareness). Students who experience cyberbullying also need effective coping
skills (e.g., seeking social support) to reduce the associated stress and negative
emotions (Tenenbaum, Varjas, Meyers, & Parris, 2011). Surely all students
would profit if such coping skills were included in social skills programs in
school (Petermann & Petermann, 2011). Further, students and school personnel
require knowledge about effective means to counter cyberbullying (i.e., blocking
the perpetrator, reporting offensive material) as cyberbullying can seriously impact
students’ ability to be successful at school (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010a).
According to Ang et al. (2010), cyberbullying prevention and intervention efforts
should aim at modifying norms and beliefs of students—teaching that cyberbully-
ing in its various forms is neither legitimate nor acceptable. Findings on successful
prevention programs suggest that programs offering health education and teaching
emotional self-management competencies can positively influence students’ strain
level resulting from interpersonal conflicts (Patchin & Hinduja, 2011).
Students often do not report cyberbullying to school personnel or parents
because most believe that adults cannot help in such situations (Parris et al.,
2011; Tenenbaum et al., 2011). This implies that the provision of supportive stu-
dent-teacher-relationships and maintenance of an empathic, nonthreatening, posi-
tive school environment, with adults showing resources to successfully tackle
cyberbullying, and having open discussions about cyberbullying may improve stu-
dents’ confidence that seeking help from an adult could be helpful (Patchin &
Hinduja; 2011, Paul et al., 2012). Since many adults are still unaware of the numer-
ous negative potentials of (internet-ready) mobile phones and the internet, aware-
ness needs to be increased. Smith et al. (2008) suggest that cyberbullying should be
included in school anti-bullying policies and materials, in teacher preparation, and
parental guidance materials. Parents and teachers need to find adequate ways and
means to monitor children’s use of information and communication technology,
and the impact this has on their lives. As a survey by Ja
¨ger, Amado, Matos, and
Pessoa (2010) has shown, most experts agree that schools have a crucial role to play
in dealing with cyberbullying. Unfortunately, very few schools have incorporated
472 School Psychology International 33(5)
cyberbullying into their school curricula or school policy, or educated their staff
and students on ICT and cyberbullying to date. A crucial prerequisite for all pre-
ventive and intervention measures is teacher knowledge about the extent and forms
of cyberbullying and effective anti-bullying measures. As Cassidy et al. (2012) have
shown, many teachers are unaware of the prevalence of cyberbullying among their
students, and even if teachers rank prevention as a priority and know about pos-
sible interventions, policies or programs are not automatically implemented in
schools.
Enabling students to speak about cyberbullying and allowing them to be part of
the solution seems one promising avenue for addressing this growing concern and
developing solutions (Cassidy et al., 2009). One possible method of achieving this,
the Quality Circle approach, has been developed by Paul et al. (2012) and is
described in this issue. From their work in schools, the authors conclude that
forms of bullying and cyberbullying alter over time. It therefore seems imperative
that intervention programmes can adapt to the varying nature of this behaviour in
order to remain effective.
Adults need to become sensitive to psychosocial risk factors and symptoms
associated with cyberbullying in order to identify possible perpetrators and victims
and intervene successfully (Kowalski et al, 2012; Sourander et al., 2010). With third
generation, internet-ready phones readily available to an increasing percentage of
students, this seems a growing challenge. The boundaries between students’ school
and private life are disappearing through the use of communication technologies,
with conflicts occurring at school continued online and by anyone. For school
leadership and communities in general, this implies that prevention and interven-
tion efforts need more comprehensive strategies (e.g., Englander, 2012; Olweus &
Limber, 2010; Spears et al., 2009). From extensive research on bullying, we now
have a fairly good overview of what constitutes effective bullying prevention and
intervention measures—requiring on-going, systematic efforts on individual,
school, and community levels. However, when it comes to cyberbullying, more
research is needed on which components of anti-bullying programs constitute
effective preventive and intervention measures.
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Dr Nandoli von Mare
´es is a School Psychologist in Baden Wu
¨rttemberg, Germany.
Apart from counseling students, parents, and teachers, she advises schools on
prevention issues, and trains school counselors. She earned her doctoral degree
from the University of Bremen in 2009, doing research on bullying and bullying
assessment in pre- and primary school. Address: State Education Authority
Donaueschingen, School Psychology Counseling Service, Irmastraße 7–9, 78166
Donaueschingen, Germany. Email: nandoli.marees@ssa-ds.kv.bwl.de
Professor Dr Franz Petermann is Chair in Clinical Psychology, Director of the
Centre for Clinical Psychology and Rehabilitation, University of Bremen. His
research interests include clinical child psychology, behavioural therapy in children
and rehabilitation research. Address: Centre for Clinical Psychology and
Rehabilitation, Department of Psychology, University of Bremen, Grazer Str. 6,
28359 Bremen, Germany. Email: fpeterm@uni-bremen.de
476 School Psychology International 33(5)
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Der frühzeitigen Prävention kommt eine immer größere Bedeutung zu. Auf der Basis zunehmender Kenntnisse über normale und abweichende Entwicklungsverläufe lassen sich altersspezifische und entwicklungsbezogene Präventionsprogramme besser begründen und schließlich erfolgreich umsetzen. Ein besonderer Fokus liegt auf Fördermaßnahmen, die bereits im Kindergartenalter ansetzen, wie etwa die Stärkung der sozial-emotionalen Kompetenzen. Jedoch haben sich mittlerweile auch schulbasierte Programme etabliert.
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There is little research that has examined cyberbullying among children under the age of 11years. The current study explored the nature and extent of the phenomenon among primary school children aged 7- to 11-years-old (N = 220; 116 boys and 104 girls) and investigated their perceptions of the distress caused to victims, how victims would feel, and their recommendations to victims for coping strategies. Participants completed a modified version of Ortega, Calmaestra, and Mora-Merchán’s (2007) and Smith et al.’s (2008a) bullying and cyberbullying questionnaire. The results indicated that cyberbullying is used and experienced by some children in this age group, with some age and gender differences in these experiences. Cyberbullying is generally viewed negatively and children are aware that it may have a negative impact on the emotions of victims. There is some overlap between involvement in cyberbullying and traditional bullying; with children most likely to take the same role (i.e., traditional bully and cyberbully or traditional victim and cybervictim) across the two settings. The most commonly endorsed coping strategy for victims was to tell someone, which is in line with government guidance to schools. The findings are discussed in relation to research with secondary school pupils as well as addressing potential implications for interventions with this age group.