The Cyber Bullying project: How cyber technology is affecting relational aggression and teenage health
With the growth of virtual technology, 'covert' relational aggression is taking on a new form of identity with broad social, emotional and mental health implications particularly among teenagers. Data emerging from Australia and the UK are showing alarming trends in the extent to which young people are using e-mail, mobile phone text messaging, mobile phone calls, mobile phone cameras, chat rooms, and websites to bully their peers, and for the short and long term implications for those who are bullied or who bully others.
Despite these trends, well-grounded research on how to deal with the problem is virtually absent. Moreover, while much research has been carried out over the past decade by our research team at the Child Health Promotion Research Centre (CHPRC) at Edith Cowan University into whole school interventions addressing traditional face-to-face bullying, covert bullying using technology (otherwise known as 'cyberbullying') generally occurs outside the school environment, and may require a different response.
This comprehensive formative project aimed to improve our knowledge and understanding of the key determinants, mediators, causal pathways and outcomes of digital technology and relational aggression on teenage mental health, to identify effective strategies for preventing and dealing with the problem of cyberbullying. To complete the research, a four-phase design was conducted, involving clarification of issues pertinent to the research; scoping of existing national and international research; focus group discussions with students and telephone interviews with parents and teachers; and synthesis of data to identify best practice interventions to prevent and reduce anti-social behaviour by adolescents in the use of technology for peer relational aggression.
This study has identified some key differences between cyber bullying and traditional face-to-face bulling, the nature and effects of cyber bullying, its impacts on health as well as the paucity of evidence based research to address this growing problem. As a result of this formative study, the CHPRC research team has secured four other major research grants:
- the Covert Bullying Project: Its nature and prevalence in Australian schools (2007-2008) funded by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations;
- the Cyber Friendly Schools Project (2008 to 2010) incorporating the Cyber Friendly Student Summit (2008) funded by the Public Education Endowment Trust (PEET);
- the Cyber Friendly Parents’ Intervention Trial (2008 to 2010) funded by the Telstra Foundation; and
- Review of Existing Australian and International Cyber-Safety Research (2009) funded by the Commonwealth Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. These further studies continued to build on our understanding of this issue and have led to the CHPRC team becoming recognised as one of the leading cyber bullying research teams in Australia and internationally.