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Combatting Cyber Bullies

Adolescent Bullies Turning up on the Internet

UCR researchers find that methods aimed at reducing verbal abuse can limit cyber-bullies as well.

(December 3, 2007)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. —- Bullies still rely on verbal or physical abuse to taunt, tease and terrify other children. But UC Riverside researchers have found a growing number of school-age bullies are going online to harass their victims.

Prevention techniques that work against traditional bullying are likely to be effective against electronic harassment as well, suggests research by Kirk Williams, professor of sociology and co-director of the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies, and Nancy Guerra, professor of psychology. The paper, published in the current issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, is called “Prevalence and Predictors of Internet Bullying.”

Williams and Guerra defined Internet bullying as “the willful use of the Internet as a technological medium through which harm or discomfort is intentionally and repeatedly inflicted through indirect aggression that targets a specific person or group of persons.”

“Over the last decade, interest in understanding and preventing bullying among school children in the U.S. and internationally has surged,” they wrote. “Such interest coincides with a growing awareness of the detrimental consequences of being bullied on children’s well-being as well as the recognition that bullying is a significant problem in schools. … The Internet has become a new arena for social interactions, allowing children and youth to say and do things with a certain degree of anonymity and limited oversight by adult monitors.”

Williams and Guerra studied more than 3,000 Colorado youths in grades 5, 8 and 11 in 78 schools in fall 2005 and nearly 2,300 of those who participated in follow-up surveys at 65 schools in spring 2006. Students were asked if they had engaged in various bullying behaviors, if they had encouraged bullying behavior, if their school fostered respect and held students accountable, and if students their age cared about them or could be trusted.

About one-third of fifth-graders reported engaging in verbal bullying, increasing to more than 78 percent by the eighth grade and 72 percent in the 11th grade. The percentage who said they had physically bullied other students rose from nearly 35 percent in the fifth grade to nearly 45 percent by the eighth grade and nearly 38 in the 11th grade.

More than four percent of fifth-graders said they had used the Internet to bully others, rising to about 13 percent in the eighth grade and about 10 percent in the 11th grade.

Girls and boys were equally likely to perpetrate Internet and verbal bullying, but boys were more than twice as likely as girls to engage in physical bullying.

Two important predictors linked to bullying in both prediction and prevention studies are student perceptions of the acceptability, or moral approval, of bullying and student perceptions that school is an unsupportive context in which peers and adults cannot be trusted, Guerra and Williams wrote.

“For schools, this suggests a ‘whole school’ approach to bullying prevention that facilitates changes in beliefs and behaviors toward greater support, trust, and cohesion,” they said.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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