Cyberbullying Interventions and Strategies
Advances in technology have radically ramified the way we conduct our affairs in all stages and levels of life. From the good to the bad, technological advances are manifested in nearly every aspect of human living. Much as there have been good outcomes, these advances have also led to adverse outcomes such as modernized crime. Within schools, technology has led to the development of cyberbullying. Bullying refers to acts of aggression leveled against a victim who does not have the capability to defend himself or herself. Bullying is especially prevalent in primary and secondary schools, against students who are considered to be without certain social groups. Cyberbullying therefore occurs when bullying is perpetrated through electronic means. Victims of cyberbullying often employ various coping strategies. Moreover, there is also a variety of wider interventions aimed at curtailing as well as dealing with the vice. These interventions and strategies are discussed in the context of their advantages and disadvantages.
Cyberbullying Interventions and Strategies
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that is executed through electronic means. It is normally regarded as the modern type of bullying. Bullying in itself refers to aggressive intentional acts and behaviors executed by an individual or by a group against a victim who does not have the capability to defend themselves from the said acts (Smith et al., 2008). Some of the traditional forms include physical, verbal, relational and indirect bullying. Indirect bullying occurs where where the culprit(s) spread rumors against their victims. Cyberbullying is executed using mobile phones or over the internet. It manifests itself through name calling, abusive comments and rumor spreading (Völlink et al., 2013) and is spread through channels like instant messengers, chat rooms and emails.
Cyberbullying affects not only the victim, but also its perpetrators. Some of the effects recorded in both the victim and the culprit include depression, loneliness, insecurity, feeling hurt, frustrated and socially inept (Völlink et al., 2013). In the most severe cases, cyberbullying leads the victim to commit suicide. victims of cyberbullying have indicated some forms such as pictures and video clip bullying (Smith et al., 2008) to have greater effects than physical bullying. In this study, (Smith et al., 2008) conducted surveys involving 11-16 year olds within two groups. The first involved 92 pupils drawn from 14 schools and was supplemented by focus groups. The second involved 533 pupils drawn from five schools. This category was meant to assess the generalisability of the findings of the first study (Smith et al., 2008). The study found that cyberbullying, especially phone call and text message bullying, was more common outside school than within the school.
Some of the responses that indicated why cyberbullying was worse included not having friends around for support, the presence of a greater audience online and a greater durability of the act (Smith et al., 2008). There are other factors that intensify the adverse effects of cyberbullying include the anonymity of the culprit. According to (DeHue, Bolman, & Völlink, 2008), visual anonymity exacerbates the influence of group norms and depersonalization. Moreover, cyberbullying lacks physical and social cues and this therefore leads to a lack of personal confrontation with the reactions of their victims and the consequence of harassment. The consequence of this absence is that it “fosters antinormative, uninhibited, aggressive, and impulsive behavior” (DeHue, Bolman, & Völlink, 2008, p. 217). Additionally, the lack of familiarity with modern media amongst parents means that most of them also lack awareness on the involvement of their children in cyberbullying, whether as victims or as perpetrators. Nonetheless, some other forms such as text messages are considered to have a lesser impact than physical bullying (Smith et al., 2008). This is evidence that cyberbullying is a social problem that requires interventions to address it.
In light of the many detrimental effects associated with cyberbullying, it is imperative to mitigate them. The need for interventions to address this vice is underscored by its rapid increase, facilitated by a rise in the use of the internet and other electronic media (Lee et al., 2013). Mitigation can often be achieved through appropriate interventions. Such intervention includes the use of coping strategies. Coping refers to cognitive and behavioral interventions aimed at reducing, mastering or tolerating the demands associated with stressful events (Völlink et al., 2013). Effective coping requires individuals to have certain discrete emotion-based developmental capabilities such as danger recognition and the ability to tolerate frustration. Coping serves two functions which are to regulate emotional effects and to address the outcomes of the person-environment relationship. The impact of coping strategies in addressing cyberbullying is investigated by (Völlink et al., 2013). This is in their study which involved 11 and 12 year olds. The authors investigate how coping strategies affect the depression and health of victims. They also investigate the relationship of these strategies with daily life coping strategies, cyberspecific coping, health complaints and depressive feelings. They find a strong correlation between emotional stress coping and cyberspecific depressive coping.
Coping styles differ from one individual to another. There are a variety of coping methods such as productive coping, non-productive coping and reference to others. Productive coping styles include problem-solving, relaxing physical activity and positive focus (Paul, Smith, & Blumberg, 2012). Nonproductive responses include wishful thinking, worrying and self-blame. Finally, reference to others is manifested through seeking social support, seeking professional help and seeking social guidance. These responses have been investigated under the Adolescent Coping Scale (ACS). Another scale used to produce a standardized measure of coping strategies is the Self-Report Coping Measure (SCRM). This scale indicates individual coping strategies such as social support seeking, distancing and self-reliance/problem solving (Paul, Smith, & Blumberg, 2012). It also includes internalizing and externalizing behaviors. The role of these strategies in dealing with cyberbullying is addressed by (Paul, Smith, & Blumberg, 2012). This is in their study comparing the perceptions of students on the different coping strategies and school interventions for both cyber and traditional bullying. The research found that the most preferred coping mechanism was seeking help and advice while the least preferred were externalizing and internalizing problems.
Bullies and their victims, as well as bully/victims have been shown to use different coping mechanisms in order to address psychological distress (Paul, Smith, & Blumberg, 2012). It has been seen that both the bullies and their victims suffer adverse outcomes due to bullying activities. Victims of cyberbullying will normally respond in a variety of ways. The most preferred responses were to block the culprit, remove them from the one’s list of friends, staying offline, ignore them, take no action and finally, changing account details (Paul, Smith, & Blumberg, 2012). Most of these interventions aim to reduce contact with the bully.
Different participants of the cyberbullying process use different strategies to cope. In particular, Völlink et al., (2013) find that for three groups of individuals (victims, bully-victims and non-participants); there are significant differences in three coping strategies. These three are emotional expression, depressive coping and palliative coping. Bully-victims tend to be more emotional, victims use depressive coping and bully-victims use less palliative coping than the other two groups. Emotional response in bully-victims means that this cohort responds aggressively to instances of cyberbullying. This response is carried over to other stressful situations. This is worrying owing to the fact that aggression in childhood is a strong predictor of aggression in adulthood (Völlink et al., 2013). This underscores the need for strategies to avoid such outcomes. (Völlink et al., 2013) point to the encouragement of children self-reflection, emotional regulation and the utilization of problem-focused coping strategies as a response towards stress. These types of strategies have the advantage of alleviating aggressive outcomes earlier on in an individual’s life.
One of the most common and most prevalent coping strategies is emotion-focused coping. These strategies are used more prevalently by victims of cyberbullying (Völlink et al., 2013). The authors go on to suggest that this prevalence is possibly a consequence of a perception among victims that cyberbullying could not be changed. They thereby use these strategies to address the stress arising from cyberbullying. Emotion-focused coping strategies have a disadvantage since they lead to indirect effects on the psychological and physical well-being of the victims. Depressive coping is a form of emotion-focused coping, along with avoidance coping and emotional expression.
For victims of cyberbullying, the most commonly employed strategy was depressive coping. Here, the victims internalize the problem. Internalizing in victims is manifested by truancy, avoidance behavior, distress and crying, and detachment (Smith et al., 2008). They also feel worthless and powerless after the bullying act. In their study involving 1,211 (this is the number of) final-year primary school pupils and first year pupils at all secondary school levels, DeHue, Bolman, & Völlink, (2008) found that the most common reactions to cyberbullying are pretending to ignore the act, actually ignoring the act and bullying the culprit. However, these types of strategies are ineffective methods since they do not solve the problem. Rather, they only solve the problem for a while and this leaves the victim vulnerable to more bullying and abuse (Völlink et al., 2013). Another demerit of this method is that it leads to a vicious cycle whereby passive coping leads to more bullying which leads to passive coping and so on. Depressive coping is also associated with greater depression and health complaints. Going by the fact that this strategy was the most commonly used by victims, it is evidence of a gap in the area of appropriate strategies.
However, other studies have indicated that depressive coping was the least commonly undertaken strategy. According (Paul, Smith, & Blumberg, 2012), the highest rated coping strategies were seeking help and advice followed by an independent approach and avoiding the problem. The major point of difference is however on the use of seeking help and advice, since strategies such as those of ignoring the act and retaliating can be considered individualized responses. Findings by (Smith et al., 2008) corroborate communicating the instance of cyberbullying as an effective means of coping with it. This finding was corroborated in both of their study groups. This is a strong indication that for children, they perceive talking to someone about the instance of cyberbullying to be one of the most effective ways of dealing with cyberbullying. Another strong contradiction to the findings by (Völlink et al., 2013) is the indication by (Paul, Smith, & Blumberg, 2012) that students reported the lowest rating for internalization of the problem through the direction of negative emotions towards oneself. The latter two studies covered a greater range of schools and thus the information obtained from them can be said to be more generalizable than that obtained from (Völlink et al., 2013). Indeed, (Völlink et al., 2013) note that one of the limitations of their study was the limited number of participants, namely 90. Thus, seeking help and advice is considered the most effective means of addressing cyberbullying.
Apart from the variety of coping strategies that exist to address cyberbullying, the vice can also be addressed through a variety of widely based interventions. These interventions are undertaken on a larger scale, such as the school level. Most of these strategies have however been used to deal mainly with traditional bullying. Here, schools enact guidelines to deal with instances of indiscipline, including cases of cyberbullying. Apart from these reactive strategies, schools also engage in proactive activities. These activities are meant to minimize the occurrence of instances of bullying. When it comes to cyberbullying, no elaborate procedures have yet been established that would suffice to address the problem of cyberbullying. Yet it is important for schools to address the problem of cyberbullying, especially when it is brought to their light, since schools that fail to do so can be held legally accountable (Stauffer et al., 2012). At the same time, the drafting and implementation of these strategies must be carefully executed, to avoid breaching the rights of the first amendment.
At the end of the day however, Stauffer et al., (2012) argue that the development and implementation of preemptive policies that mitigate bullying is necessary and is in the interests of both the student and of the school. Paul, Smith, & Blumberg (2012) suggest that schools can address cyberbullying by employing some of the strategies that are used to address traditional bullying. Some of the approaches that are considered as successful interventions in addressing bullying include the involvement of a wide variety of stakeholders namely parents, pupils, the wider community and support services in efforts to prevent bullying. Additionally, evaluating and updating approaches regularly; and celebrating success in antibullying efforts as a means of raising the profile of such works are also considered effective strategies (Paul, Smith, & Blumberg, 2012). Many of these strategies are proactive, being aimed at preventing the acts of bullying before they actually occur. The advantage of proactive measures is that they deal with the acts of bullying before victimization occurs, and they therefore prevent adverse effects from reaching potential targets.
School stakeholders are better positioned to address the vice. According to Diamanduros, Downs, & Jenkins, (2008), some of the school staff and faculty are better positioned to address cyberbullying. One particular set of stakeholders who have an important role to play within the school setting is the teachers. This is because teachers have a high level of interaction with students, and this translates into a correspondingly higher level of interaction between them and potential bullies or victims. Surprisingly enough, some teachers do not consider cyberbullying to have serious negative consequences, and they in fact argue that the vice prepares students for life on outside (Stauffer et al., 2012). This is from a study by Stauffer et al. (2012). They conducted a survey to collect perceptions of high school teachers on cyberbullying. The teachers answered a number of questions related to the prevalence, effects and most appropriate interventions for cyberbullying. Some of the responses indicated by teachers included reporting the incidents, convening talks with the cyberbully as well as negative reinforcement by taking away the cyberbully’s privileges (Stauffer et al., 2012). One notes a similarity with the coping strategies in children, whereby victims prefer to report the incident to someone. However, for teachers, reporting might be a response that is aimed at adhering to school guidelines.
There are a number of school interventions which are classified into five sets of four interventions each. These sets are informal approaches, support approaches, school sanctions, disciplinary action and circular approaches (Paul, Smith, & Blumberg, 2012). Research findings indicate that the most preferred approaches are school sanctions and disciplinary action while the least preferred are support and circular approaches. This is according to students’ perceptions collected by (Paul, Smith, & Blumberg, 2012). Some of the school sanction interventions include family meetings, and telephone call homes while disciplinary action approaches are such as loss of personal time and internal exclusion. Another recommended intervention is to ban mobile phones or private internet in schools and this is according to student opinions collected by (Smith et al., 2008), on effective means of curtailing cyberbullying. Nonetheless, going by the fact that much of the bullying occurs away from school (Smith et al., 2008), this suggestion may not be very effective. Another suggestion is to proactively engage the student in the prevention of cyberbullying. Under this proposal, mentoring is used whereby older students mentor the younger ones on responsible internet use (Diamanduros, Downs, & Jenkins, 2008). Yet another approach takes on the use of drama. It recommends the development of school plays which address respect and inclusion among other themes. As noted, proactive measures such as these have the advantage of forestalling effects on the victim.
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that occurs through electronic media. It is a new form of bullying, but one which has rapidly been accelerated by the increased use of electronic communication channels such as the internet, mms and sms. The effects of cyberbullying are sometimes considered worse that the effects of traditional bullying. This is especially where there is a larger online audience, and because victims do not have a friend around who can provide support. Cyberbullying has many adverse effects on both the bully and the victim, such as anxiety, depression, sadness and anger. Both victims and bullies use various coping strategies. Victims have been reported to use depressive coping, which is dangerous since it can lead to a vicious cycle of bullying. Other approaches include reporting the incident to an authority. Strategies for addressing cyberbullying can also be undertaken at the school level. This involves teachers dealing with incidences of bullying by reporting the same to school administrators. Teachers can also talk to the victim or bully, and withdraw the bully’s privileges, as a negative reinforcement strategy. Other interventions involve actively engaging the student through programs such as mentorship programs and simulated plays.
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