Support the news
Behind screens, insults fly from fingertips on phones and social media sites. It's a problem that one survey says is on the rise in the region -- and disproportionately affects girls and LGBTQ students.
A survey of thousands of students at 17 public high schools west of Boston suggests that despite campaigns decrying cyberbullying, the problem has grown in recent years. The study, in the Journal of School Health, found that 21 percent of the 16,000 participating students said they'd experienced cyberbullying in 2012 — up from 15 percent from 2006.
At the same time, participants reported a 3 percent drop in experiences of face-to-face "school bullying," the report said, with accounts dropping from 26 percent to 23 percent during the six-year period.
Cyberbullying was reported higher among certain groups, Shari Kessel Schneider, project director at the nonprofit Education Development Center and lead researcher for the study, told WBUR.
"Cyberbullying was particularly concerning among females," she said.
The report found that incidences of cyberbullying between 2006 and 2012 increased by 10 percentage points — from 17 to 27 percent — among females; in males, such reports increased from 12 to 15 percent.
"Girls are more likely than boys to use social media sites, and their use has been increasing in recent years," Kessel Schneider said. "Cyberbullying, or particularly the kinds of relational bullying that girls often engage in — things like verbal harassment, or spreading rumors or exclusion — can easily occur on social media sites."
Kessel Schneider said the pervasive popularity of smartphones and social media sites, particularly ones like Snapchat, which allow messages to disappear, have made it easier for bullies to harass students.
"Cyberbullying can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It can occur anywhere where a youth has access to social media, even in their own home, and it also can be anonymous," she said.
The study also found "sexual minorities were more likely than heterosexuals to be bullied at school and online at every survey."
Kessel Schneider said that generally speaking, youths are hesitant to ask adults to intervene in cyberbullying situations, and according to the report, only 33 percent of those surveyed said they'd ever told an adult about experiencing that kind of abuse. Of those who did, more students told parents or non-school adults than school adults.
The report points out that in the wake of student deaths by suicide tied to cyberbullying, legislation in several states has pushed schools to take on more responsibility to address these kinds of situations, even though they largely occur outside of the school.
However, the report adds that as many students do not report incidents of cyberbullying, schools are in a tough position to stop the abuse.
With reporting from WBUR's James Pouliot
Support the news