8 May 2009: One in four school children has experienced cyberbullying, according to research carried out at Australian Catholic University's (ACU) Canberra Campus.
The research also showed that some victims were not reporting incidences to their teachers, for fear of losing access to new technologies.
Chief researcher, Associate Professor Catherine McLoughlin, who coordinates the University’s National Centre for Science, ICT, Mathematics for Rural and Regional Australia, ACT (SIMERR), said that for this reason teachers may underestimate the amount of cyberbullying taking place.
“Cyberbullying is carried out through mobile phone and computer technology and can include written fights online, sending gossip or untrue stories about another or impersonating others,” she said. “As with traditional physical and emotional bullying, it can also involve harassment and denigration, sometimes over long periods of time.”
The study, which involved nearly 700 students in Years 7 to 10 and more than 160 teachers, took place over 13 months.
ACU Education lecturer Jill Burgess, whose research expertise includes challenging behaviours, said cyberbullying generally focused on the repetition of cruel and hostile behaviour towards others, and an imbalance of power.
“Unfortunately, cyberbullying may have a negative impact on students’ emotional wellbeing and psycho-social stability,” she said.
“Girls were found to be most at risk, and chat rooms, emails and mobile phones were the most common media, but social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo also seemed to be a prime place for cyber bullying.
“The safe use of technology needs to be implemented across the curriculum. Students are taught how to use computer technology for word processing, essay writing and research, but often not protocols and e-safety strategies.”
The participants in the survey indicated that the safety strategies they were using were generally learnt from their parents and friends, rather than from their schools.
Associate Professor McLoughlin said there was an ongoing need for Australian schools to introduce or update policies, e-safety frameworks and programs, and to educate trainee and practicing teachers on protective behaviours that young people can apply online.
“Simply banning social networking sites and setting up filters is not a long term solution,” she said. “Adolescents need to be supported and educated in protective online behaviours and critical media literacy skills.”