Cyber Bullying in Schools
Bullying is defined as any action that results in the domination and issuance of threats to another person (Johnston & LaCaze, 2012). In this study, bullying is defined as unprovoked conscious and aggressive acts by the students that target other students with the goal of attaining psychological and physical domination through giving threats. In spite of the efforts by the school administrators to institute policies and strategies aimed at dealing with the problem, bullying has grown into a pandemic within the American school system (Pocevičienė & Girdvainis, 2010).
Tragic aftermaths of bullying which include attempted suicide and murder are still being reported (Pocevičienė & Girdvainis, 2010). In spite of this, bullying is categorized as a low-level violent act by schools when designing school-level policies (Johnston, & LaCaze, 2012). Whereas, possession of a weapon is considered a high-level crime, bullying which is more prevalent and equally dangerous is still rated as a low-level violent act.
This comparison shows that the seriousness of the effects of bullying on the victims is not fully appreciated by the schools. Previously, many considered bullying within the school system as a rite of passage through puberty. However, increased interest in the psychological aspects of students’ development and the school as a social institution has helped in bringing out the seriousness of the effects of bullying. On average, 15% to 20% of students in the K-12 grades are victims of bullying (Hester, Bolen, Hyde, & Thomas, 2011). Some studies have reported that up to 90% of the students between the fourth and eighth grades are victims of bullying (Hester, Bolen, Hyde, & Thomas, 2011).
To understand the gravity of bullying in the public school system, it is important to analyze the long-term effects of bullying on the victims. It is documented that victims of bullying within the school system often have self-esteem issues, suffer depression, anxiety, and often have difficulties in developing and maintaining healthy psychosocial relationships (Frisén, Jonsson, & Persson, 2007). Bullying has negative effects not only on the victims but also on the bullies. Sixty percent of the students identified as bullying between the sixth and ninth-grade have criminal records before they reach their 24th birthday (Thomas, Bolen, Hester, & Hyde, 2010). Bystanders are also affected by bullying.
From a psychological perspective, repeated exposure to aggressive behavior results in the victimization by the chronic presence of violence on student bystanders (Adams & Lawrence, 2011). This is further supported by the assertion that the observation of bullying is traumatic for second hand victims in situations or cases where the acts are accepted or tolerated by schools’ management (Adams & Lawrence, 2011). Since bullying affects all the involved parties within the school environment, it can be viewed as an interconnected cycle of behavior that develops within the school environment; thus, changing schools into breeding grounds for aggressive and violent behavior.
School administrators, having realized the potential negative effects of bullying, have taken steps to help reduce bullying (Maunder & Tattersall, 2010). Some of the strategies that have been adopted include implementation of anti-bullying programs, use of system-wide mandates such as zero-tolerance policies towards the vice, and workshops to empowered teachers with skills on how to handle bullying within the classroom (Maunder & Tattersall, 2010).
Strategies such as zero-tolerance policies were developed in response to the increase in gun violence within the US school system in the mid-1990s (Maunder & Tattersall, 2010). The approach seeks to deter students from bullying by the use of severe penalties for both minor and major violations of schools’ disciplinary codes to send a message that certain behaviors are not tolerated. In spite of these legislations and other strategies developed by and used within the school system, the rate of bullying within the US public school system has remained constant.
Various factors have been attributed the minimal change in bullying rates within the US school system. Bullying is not a stagnate problem and therefore, the strategies used to reduce bullying have to be continually reviewed and updated to address new challenges (Conn, 2011). This is brought out clearly by considering cyber-bullying which is much more difficult to address using conventional approaches. Through cyber-bullying, the students may be bullied by their fellows using electronic medium even outside their schools.
In fact, cyber-bullying has resulted in greater challenge for schools in dealing with the already challenging issue of public school system bullying. Even though there have been some developments with successful conviction of – students who bully, there is still a lot to be done to reduce and punish students for cyber bullying.
Developments in technology and subsequent adoption by the society and teenagers have led to the emergence of this new form of bullying within the public school system (Özer, Totan, & Atik, 2011). Cyber bullying is willful and repeated infliction of harm via an electronic medium of communication such as a computer or a phone. Cyber bullying within the school system takes on different forms and include sending harassing instant messages and emails, posting negative messages on social networking sites, verbally berating students in chat rooms, and sending discriminatory or harassing text messages via mobile phones or text messages (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012).
Another reason for the failure of the anti-bullying policies and strategies is bullying has become part of the school climate. Bullying has been considered part of the school system and rite to passage for students at different levels for years (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). Top-down corrective models have shown that legislation are effective in promoting awareness and require change of the corresponding system to be effective.
To deal with a problem that is ingrained in the school system requires the use of organic bottom-up strategies that allow for mutual collaboration between different school stakeholders over time (Willard, 2011). Such an approach allows for the development of long lasting change that may influence school culture and therefore, allows for even the successful use of legislative strategies.
There is a general stereotype that the boys are often the bullies as opposed to girls (Çetın, Peker, Eroğlu, & Çıtemel, 2011). Boys and girls are both bullied and girls can bully other girls. The focus in bullying among the boys is seen by many researchers as an attempt to decide on the social order within the middle school (Çetın, Peker, Eroğlu, & Çıtemel, 2011). Statistical findings show that the boys are often the victims of bullying as opposed to girls (Çetın, Peker, Eroğlu, & Çıtemel, 2011). Additionally, middle school girls often target other girls because boys rarely direct their aggression to girls. Analysis of differences in bullying across the upper grades shows that there are no significant differences (Çetın, Peker, Eroğlu, & Çıtemel, 2011).
Across the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, there are no differences between the number of bullies and the victims of bullies. Thus typical middle school grade levels have comparable number of bullies at each grade (Çetın, Peker, Eroğlu, & Çıtemel, 2011). It is however important to note that findings show that younger students are often targeted by older bullies. Furthermore, bullies tend to target students who are significantly different in physical attributes or mental ability.
Physical bullying is prevalent in the public school system. Statistics show that grade levels are influential on the students that are likely to be physically bullied. Sixth grade students are more likely to be physically bullied than seventh and eighth graders (Accordino & Accordino, 2011). Sixth graders moving from elementary to middle school and are therefore more likely to be targeted in the social restructure of the social hierarchy. Furthermore, boys are at greater risk of physical bullying than girls. The effect of race on the propensity to be bullied or be a bully has also been explored (Accordino, & Accordino, 2011.
The findings reveal that African American students are more involved in physical bullying and Hispanic adolescents are more likely to be physical bullies than their Caucasian counterparts are. Socioeconomic factors have also been highlighted as influential on bullying in public schools. Students from more affluent families are less likely to be physically bullied (Sbarbaro, & Smith, 2011; Accordino, & Accordino, 2011). Sexual orientation is another major causative factor of bullying within the American public school system. Lesbians, gays, transgender, and bisexual students are more likely to be physically assaulted and bullied. In fact, 22% of students in these categories report being assaulted physically because of their physical or sexual orientation (Sbarbaro & Smith, 2011).
Cyber bullying is on the rise and presents unique challenges to the public school system. The failure to deal with the conventional modes of bullying raises questions on the public school system ability to deal with the risks and challenges associated with cyber bullying. Currently, 40% of teens in the United States (US) have at one time been victims of cyber bullying (Accordino, & Accordino, 2011).
Additionally, girls are more likely to be victims of cyber bullying whereas boys are more likely to be cyber bullies. This statistics differs from the conventional perception of bullying whereas boys are perceived to be at greater risk of being bullied and being bullies. Analysis of cyber bullying also reveals that African American students are more likely to be cyber bullies than Caucasians. Students from more affluent families are more likely to be victims of cyber bullying than students from low socioeconomic classes.
The problem at the research school is the unique challenges presented by the emerging cyber bullying in the public school system. Cyber bullying is an emerging form of bullying that presents unique challenges to the public school system. Unlike the other forms of bullying such as physical bullying, cyber-bullying victims can be targeted irrespective of their location. Additionally, cyber bullying can be used to perpetuate other forms of bullying. Cyber bullies are targeting groups of students that appeared to be immune to conventional modes of bullying.
In spite of these developments, the US public schools are ill prepared to deal with the unique challenges presented by cyber bullying. The strategies currently being used by the public schools in addressing bullying have been painted to be ineffective and lack in dealing with cyber bullying (Ayas & Horzum, 2011). In addition to the failures in dealing with conventional modes of bullying, cyber bullying presents unique challenges associated with the ubiquity associated with the use of electronic media.
For the public school system to develop effective approaches to deal with cyber bullying, an understanding of its manifestation, challenges associated with its management and its uniqueness is required. This descriptive study seeks to develop an understanding of the manifestation, challenges in management and uniqueness of cyber bullying with the aim of providing direction for future research and policy development within the American public school system context. The aim of the study is to develop an understanding of the manifestation, uniqueness, and challenges posed by cyber bullying while bringing in the students’ perspective of the problem.
The study focuses on the East Baton Rouge Parish public schools. The public education sector is the largest provider of education in the US. The public education sector receives funding from the state, federal, and local levels. The district has ninety schools that serve over 43000 students in grade PK through grade 12 (National Centre for Education Statistics, 2012). On average, the school district spends $10662 per pupil as per the current expenditure estimates. A large proportion of the expenditure is on instruction (58%) whereas support services receive (36%) and elementary and secondary expenditures account for 6% of the total expenditure. The district has fourteen students for every fulltime teacher (National Centre for Education Statistics, 2012).
This student to teacher ratio is the same as the state of Louisiana (within which the district is located) (National Centre for Education Statistics, 2012).It is worth noting that public education is universally available and is vital for the attainment of universal literacy. The literature review suggests that bullying is more prevalent in middle school (Siegle, 2010). A critical review of cyber bullying also shows that the students develop relevant technological skills to propagate this form of bullying (Siegle, 2010). This in essence suggests that this form of bullying is likely to be more prevalent in higher levels of education. The study will thus focus on middle school and high school since bullying is prevalent at these levels and students at this level have access to the skills and technology required to propagate or engage in cyber bullying.
The American public school system has been associated with bullying for a long time. Despite the implementation of strategies aimed at dealing with the vice, bullying persists (Johnston, & LaCaze, 2012). Current psychological studies suggest that bullying affect not only the victims but also the bullies and third-party observers (Johnston, & LaCaze, 2012). Cyber bullying presents a platform where bullying can affect more students than conventional modes of bullying.
The use of technological gadgets and social media increase the number of third-party observers and has extended the target to groups that were previously not being targeted. The ubiquity afforded by the use of mobile devices and social networking sites makes cyber bullying unique. The public school system has contended with the challenges associated with the conventional modes of bullying and is grappling with the strategies that can be used.
A descriptive, phenomenological study will be undertaken to address the issues highlighted in the problem statement. Descriptive research typically entails the use of data from surveys and cases to inform conclusion and recommendations (Huefner, 2009). Under this approach, characteristics of the population and the phenomenon being studied are centered on. However, descriptive studies cannot be used to develop causation (Babbie, 2007). It is noteworthy that data description under this approach tends to be factual, accurate, and systematic.
The study focuses on developing a better understanding of the manifestation, uniqueness, and challenges associated with cyber bullying within the American public school system. It is apparent that the study focuses on developing a better understanding of the manifestation of a problem within a specific population. Though cyber bullying is universal, the study focuses on its manifestations within the East Baton Rouge Parish district. Additionally, the study is limited to determining the manifestation, uniqueness and challenges associated with the management of cyber bullying.
The purpose of the study is to develop an understanding of the manifestation, challenges in management, and uniqueness of cyber bullying with the aim of providing direction for future research and policy development within the American public school system context. Manifestation of cyber bullying refers to the frequency of its occurrence and the platforms used to perpetuate the vice. Uniqueness of cyber bullying entails comparing cyber bullying to others modes of bullying within the American public school context.
The challenges faced in the management of cyber bullying entails all practical and policy issues faced by teachers and students alike in minimizing the occurrence of the vice. By developing an understanding of the manifestation of cyber bullying and the challenges associated with its management, the study will offer policy-makers a lifeline in dealing with this problem. Even though bullying in general has been explored in detail, cyber bullying is minimally addressed in research. Most studies depend on secondary data and fail to capture the actual state of cyber bullying in the American public school system. From this perspective, the study findings will be important in filling a knowledge gap and propagating research into cyber bullying with specific reference to the American public school system.
Bullying was once viewed as a rite of passage and was institutionalized within both public and private learning institutions. Currently, bullying is recognized as a major challenge to learning and a problem that fosters a climate of fear and disrespect within schools (Accordino & Accordino, 2011). This environment impairs the physical and psychological wellbeing of both the victims and perpetrators of bullying and has significant influences on learning within schools. In 2010, the US department of education held a summit to focus on bullying (Campbell, 2011).
In this summit, there were calls for partnership between government and non-governmental institutions to devise a strategy that would help reduce bullying in the school system (Campbell, 2011). This is one of the major pointers in recent times of the seriousness of bullying as a problem within the school system. A survey of forty three thousand high school students resulted in findings showing that 50 % of the students had been bullied within the past one year (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012).
A study focusing on three thousand seven hundred middle school and high school students from schools in North Carolina showed that aggressive behavior in students is directly correlated to growth in their social status (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). Bullying behavior in teenagers generally peaks when they hit the 98th percentile of popularity within the school (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). Even though these statistics show a poor state of face-to-face bullying, the statistics for cyber bullying paint an even worse picture.
There has been an increase in the availability of technological devices and a decline in the electronic device prices. These factors have ushered in a new era where students can easily access and use mobile devices. American students are more connected currently than they were in the past ten years. Research findings show that three-quarters of students between the age of 12 and 17 years-old own cellphones that are in family plans paid by adults (Çetın, Peker, Eroğlu, & Çıtemel, 2011). Ten percent of students in this category maintain their own contracts whereas nearly 20% have a pay-as-you-go plan. Teenagers within the public school system prefer payment plans that feature unlimited texting capabilities (Çetın, Peker, Eroğlu, & Çıtemel, 2011).
In fact, cell phone texting is a favored method of communication by teenagers, with girls receiving an average of 80 texts a day while boys receive 30 on average (DeVoe & Murphy, 2011). Another important aspect related to the use of electronic devices is that teenagers often bring their cellphones to school and text frequently even if schools impose bans on phones and in-class use of phones. This has led to suggestion by different researchers that the lack of visual feedback in electronic communication encourages students to be less inhibited on cellphones and social media than when conversing in person.
Phones with multimedia capabilities have led to the increased engagement of students in sexting (the sharing of sexually suggestive messages and nude photos of self (Ayas & Horzum, 2011). It is, however, important to note that there is no clear data of the state of sexting among teenagers because of conflicts in existing reports (Ayas & Horzum, 2011). An online study reported that 20% of teens admit to sending nude pictures of themselves via instant messaging, email, and cellphone texts (Ayas & Horzum, 2011). Nearly 40% of teenagers also report that it is common for nude and seminude pictures to be accessed or shared with unintended recipients (Ayas & Horzum, 2011).
The common reason for sending such messages is pressure from boyfriends and peers. Another use of cellphones that is directly related to cyber bullying is the use of the device by the students to record and upload real or staged fights. Students have also used disposable phones to call in fake bomb threats to schools (Calvert, 2010). All these uses are related to cyber bullying since they may affect other students directly or indirectly.
Cyber bullying is a devastating misuse of cellphones within the public school system (Yasuda, 2010). The use of cellphones and other mobile devices such as laptops presents a major challenge in managing the vice within the public school system. In stark contrast to physical and face-to-face bullying where bullies are typically bigger, stronger, and socially favored, cyber bullies can be of lesser stature than their targets. Students are using the anonymity offered by cellphones, social media, and online hosting accounts to harass fellow students, teachers, and even school administrators repeatedly (Ayas & Horzum, 2011).
Though there are variations in the extent of cyber bullying among students, current studies suggest that ages and characteristics of the students are influential on the extent of the vice (Ayas & Horzum, 2011). Fifteen to 33% of students between the ages of 13 and 18 years report being cyber bullied consistently (Ayas & Horzum, 2011). However, these are estimates by the one hundred and forty teachers surveyed in this study. This limits the validity and reliability of the findings since the teachers may have been subjective. The anonymity and ferocity associated with cyber bullying attacks have left many students fearful and frustrated (Yasuda, 2010). On the other hand, school administrators are unsure of their obligation and authority to discipline and deal with out- of- school behavior by their students.
A number of theories have been formulated and applied to develop an understanding of the factors that drive bullying. The social dominance theory is one such theory and claims that harassment and bullying are aimed at forcing people to submit themselves (Vaillancourt, Trinh, McDougall, Duku, Cunningham, Cunningham, Hymel, & Short, 2010). Stronger students have power over weaker students and this is the main influential factor on physical bullying. The existence of stronger members within a group who then seek to rule over the weaker members in a newly created social hierarchy is the main driving force behind bullying under this theory (Vaillancourt, Trinh, McDougall, Duku, Cunningham, Cunningham, Hymel, & Short, 2010). The theory can explain why weaker and younger students generally tend to be targets for older bullies.
However, the theory does not fit with the general trends in cyber bullying where even the physically strong and the financially well endowed can be targeted. This presents a major theoretical gap since the social dominance theory is largely used to explain the cause of bullying. This has led to increased research into other concepts and theories that can adequately explain cyber bullying. The structures implemented by school management and the stage of biological development in which students are considered to be are influential on cyber bullying (Smith, Mahdavi, Carvalho, Fisher, Russell, & Tippett, 2008).
Though the social dominance theory may explain most cases of bullying, other factors such as self-esteem, peers, family, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity have also been shown to be influential on bullying (Pearce, Cross, Monks, Waters, & Falconer, 2011). Students with low self-esteem are at greater risk of being forced into submission and being victimized (Pearce, Cross, Monks, Waters, & Falconer, 2011). It is, however, worth noting that self-esteem does not cause victimization though there is a correlation between low self-esteem and a higher risk of being bullied.
Another factor that influences bullying and victimization is parenting styles. Study findings show that greater parental involvement is associated with reduced likelihood of students engaging in all forms of bullying (Smith, Mahdavi, Carvalho, Fisher, Russell, & Tippett, 2008). However, parents who are overprotective or over involved place their children at greater risks of victimization. This clearly shows that parents ought to consider their approaches to parenting to reduce the likelihood of their children being bullies of being bullied. However, the focus on specific cases in studies focusing on parenting and bullying behavior reduces the generalisability of the findings.
Bullying can also be looked at as a behavioral development that is influenced by the environment in which students are immersed (Jones, Manstead, & Livingstone, 2009). Having more friends that are associated with bullying and less victimization increases the likelihood of a student being a perpetrator of physical, verbal and relational bullying (Jones, Manstead, & Livingstone, 2009). Simply, students who relate more to bullies are likely to adopt the bullying behavior. Socioeconomic status and ethnicity are also influential on bullying. In general, older boys from urban, low-socioeconomic class, Black or Hispanic communities are more likely to be bullies (Johnston & LaCaze, 2012). It is also worth noting that there is a high correlation between victimization and disparities in socioeconomic status. Students who attend public schools with large economic inequality are at elevated risks of being victims of bullying (Johnston & LaCaze, 2012). However, it is not clear if these factors are also influential on cyber bullying.
The school climate is another variable that is equally influential on cyber bullying in the US. The school climate can promote or limit the rate of bullying in public schools. School climate as used in this context refers to several facets of the school environment including the level of connectedness by teachers, stance on bulling, and empathy among students (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). Connectedness within the school environment refers to the degree to which students experience a sense of caring and closeness with other students, teachers, and the overall school environment (Jones, Manstead, & Livingstone, 2009).
Study findings reveal that students who bully others report feeling less connected and are uncomfortable in the school setting (Johnston & LaCaze, 2012). Correlation between connectedness to school and bullying has been determined (Johnston & LaCaze, 2012). Additionally, teachers’ position (views and perception) on bullying influences the overall school environment and determines the extent to which students can engage in bullying freely (Dooley, Gradinger, Strohmeier, Cross, & Spiel, 2010).
Empathy is also influential on the likelihood of students engaging in bullying. Students with empathetic feeling are less likely to engage in bullying (Dooley, Gradinger, Strohmeier, Cross, & Spiel, 2010). This is because the presence of empathy allows for pro-social behavior and inhibits antisocial behaviors such as bullying. Various studies have also proposed that student bullies are less empathetic of their victims’ feelings (Jing, Iannotti, Luk, & Nansel, 2010).
Clearly, numerous factors influence bullying within the school system. The factors range from school characteristics to parenting and this presents a challenge in addressing the problem within the school system. The ubiquity and anonymity afforded by the use of electronic devices further complicates the challenges faced in managing bullying within the public school system.
Cyber bullying differs from conventional modes of bullying with respect to the influential variables. The inherent anonymity offered by electronic forms of communication creates an environment where the students feel that they are less socially accountable and thereby making it easier for them to engage in hostile and aggressive acts. The cyberspace allows the bullies to separate themselves from the act of bullying since they lose their identities when using screen names and phone numbers. In addition to the anonymity, impulsivity by adolescents may also be influential on cyber bullying (Ford, 2009). Teenagers are at greater risk of acting without considering the ramifications of their actions of self and the victims (Ford, 2009).
Impulsivity can be attributed to cyber bullying acts that are hastily undertaken to retaliate or avenge for a problem (whether real or imagined) (Ford, 2009). In general, students believe that they are anonymous when using electronic forms of communication (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). However, this is a faulty perception since every action in an online or electronic media reflects on the students permanently. Another issue that has been highlighted to be influential on the frequency of cyber bullying is the use of internet among teenagers and adolescents. Though students may access online sites for information, they generally access the internet for chat rooms and social networking.
In the United States, young people and teenagers record an overall 87% rate of internet usage (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). As of 2009, the rate of internet usage among 12 to 17 year-olds had risen to 93%, with nearly 63% reporting multiple uses of internet within a day (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). It is, however, worth noting that these are not the only factors behind the increase in the rate of cyber bullying. Studies on cyber bullying show that it is propagated by a myriad of factors within the school system and in the society (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012; Ford, 2009). In addition to the common causes of others forms of bullying, the challenges faced in dealing with cyber bullying has led to suggestions that there are some causative factors such as anonymity, availability, and ease of use that are unique to cyber bullying (Pornari & Wood, 2010).
A critical analysis of the existing knowledge in the study area reveals a number of gaps that ought to be addressed. Even though most studies involve both students and teachers, little has been done to gain insight into the students’ perception of the efficacy and relevance of the strategies being used. In any social setting, inclusive problem- solving techniques are associated with higher success levels. Without adequately including students and understanding their perception of the strategies that are currently being used, the mitigating strategies face a higher risk of failure. This assertion is further supported by studies showing that the failures of current anti-bullying strategies can be attributed to the fact that bullying has been ingrained into school culture and can therefore not been addressed by the use of policy level strategies only (Willard, 2011).
Understanding students’ perception of the strategies being employed can also provide important information into aspects that may need to be improved. Understanding the factors that encourage students to engage in cyber bullying can also help support a proactive approach to addressing the problem. Another issue that has been highlighted in most studies is the uniqueness of cyber bullying in terms of ubiquity.
However, the challenges that are unique to managing cyber bullying have yet to be explored from both students’ and teachers’ perspectives. These issues will be addressed by the study and contribute to addressing the challenges faced in dealing with cyber bullying and other forms of bullying within the American public schools.
The following research questions will guide the study:
- What are the challenges faced in managing bullying that are unique to cyber bullying within East Baton Rouge Parish district public schools?
- What are the factors that promote or encourage students to engage in cyber bullying in the East Baton Rouge Parish District public schools?
- What are students’ views on the efficiency and relevance of the strategies being used to reduce cyber bullying East Baton Rouge Parish District public schools?
- Based on the in-depth knowledge base derived from the above, what recommendations can be made to decrease the number of cases of cyber bullying in the target school district?