Female Cyberbullying: Causes and Prevention Strategies

By Lori O. Favela
2010, Vol. 2 No. 11 | pg. 1/1

In recent months, the epidemic of bullying in the United States has received widespread attention in the news media. Though bullying can be defined in many ways, researchers lean toward a definition that includes “aggression, intention, repetition and an imbalance of between the aggressor and the victim” and also point out that bullying may be “direct, verbal, and indirect or relational,” with well-known long-term effects on those involved (Athanasiades and Deliyanni-Kouimtzis, 2010). Although some claim that female aggression is on the decline and that the attention given recently to female cyberbullying is a “hoax” that is causing “panic,” (Males and Meda-Chesney, 2010), the truth is that female violence is a real and tangible concern that must be addressed. Girls, traditionally, have not been thought of as bullies in the definitional sense, although society is now becoming aware of the serious role of girls in bullying, their special characteristics, and unique methods of bullying, including the recent addition of cyberbullying to the already dangerous methods of relational bullying among females. A recent study by Hinduja and Patchin (2010) found that 25.8% of girls report having been cyberbullied, compared to only 16.8% of boys. An alarming 21.1% of girls report cyberbullying others, while only 18.3% of boys report the same. Werner, Bumpus, and Rock (2010) report that girls who are involved in relational bullying offline are more likely to participate in online bullying or to be victims of cyberbullying themselves. Girls are clearly at the forefront of this technological disaster (Hinduja and Patchin, 2010).

Anthropologists have determined that bullying among males is a means of establishing a hierarchy and that bullying provides a sort of rite of passage to the males in the society (Goddard, 2008). Goddard also notes that girls, though, also participate in bullying, but to gain male attention (2008). Think of the movie Mean girls (Waters, 2004); those beautiful girls with the most social power are the ones most into bullying in the school society. According to Goddard, psychologist Anthony Pellegrini states, “Bullying is a form of aggression and one that is used to deliberately secure resources” (2008). Typically, these “resources” are social status and peer adoration, of both the same and the opposite gender. Add to the mix the actual necessity of being technologically literate in 2010, and the concoction becomes lethal for girls: girls bully in more relational and indirect ways (Athanasiades and Deliyanni-Kouimtzis, 2010), and electronic communication makes this stealthy bullying even easier.

The venues for female cyberbullying are numerous. MySpace, Facebook, texting, IMing, and email are all common and easily accessible methods for covert bullying for both genders. Girls seem to be more drawn to these methods of bullying for several reasons: girls are not as concerned with establishing their dominance physically(Athanasiades and Deliyanni-Kouimtzis, 2010), girls prefer to utilize relational aggression (rumors, ostracizing one member, exclusion, etc..) as it fits better with female societal expectations, and girls prefer use over other types of aggression, with is conducive to electronic means that rely on language use as the primary vehicle for the behavior (Chisholm, 2006). ). “Mean Girls” is in fact a sub-grouping of cyberbullies identified by Chisholm (2006) as specifically a group of females “targeting a victim.”

Examples of cyberbullying are as numerous as they are astounding. Recent examples of cyberbullying included the case of Megan Meier, who hanged herself after being bullied repeatedly on MySpace (Megan Taylor Meier- The Story, 2009). Cyberbullies created an inflammatory webpage to terrorize Jodi Plumb, 15 (Cyber bullies target girl, 2003). On the site, she was criticized and threatened until she reported the page and it was removed. Most recently, Phoebe Prince, also 15, hanged herself after being cyberbullied on an amazing array of cyber venues, including even Twitter, and Craigslist (Kennedy, 2010). The list of cyberbullied teens is long and agonizing and the cyberbullying, while often created by girls, isn’t always directed only at females. Even males experience intense and debilitating cyberbullying.

The experience of cyberbullying is possibly intensified from the experience of the playground bully for several reasons: the target’s experience appears to be intensified because the perpetrator can hide behind a screen name, and can act without fear of punishment. In addition, the audience is not merely the playground inhabitants, but is impossibly huge, spanning states, countries, cultures, and even time (Chisholm, 2006).

It is not enough to know the definition of cyberbullying, nor is it enough to know who perpetrates cyberbullying and how the aggression is committed. Prevention and protection of the innocent is the goal of this article.

So, what can schools do about cyberbullying, particularly among female students? The following outline suggests practical and usable ideas and strategies that address at least some of the cyberbullying attacks that seem to be most common.

1. An Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for internet, blogs, podcasts and social networking sites should be crafted and signed by all stakeholders. Although most districts and schools already have such policies, care should be taken to ensure that there is also a provision that no student should post information about other students, especially malicious and false information. Finally, schools should ensure that there is also a provision against student posting of any information that allows others to identify a student or his/her location (Fredrick, 2009).

2. Telling a trusted adult is a common idea for a solution, but, often, this track makes the situation worse (Wagner, 2008). Several researchers have noted that cyberbullying causes distraction in all students, victims, perpetrators, and by-standers alike, as well as in teachers and administrators, taking minds from valuable class time (Wagner, 2008 and Chisholm, 2006). Involving even more people in the cyberbullying adds fuel to an already dangerous fire. Teaching students to respond to the bullying with humor, or by ignoring the attack, may be a better option, according to Mary Muscari of Binghamton University (Wagner, 2008). Psychologist Izzy Kalman also endorses staying away from getting the bully in “trouble” with police or school administrators, which often makes the bullying worse (Wagner, 2008). Kalman advises to follow the biblical principles of “turning the other cheek” or “treating others as you would like to be treated”… especially over the internet. Kalman says that “Being nice to others is the best guarantee that people will be nice to you” (Wagner, 2008). “Netiquette” should be taught, in specific terms, to all users of the internet (Chisholm, 2006).

3. If deemed appropriate and necessary, reporting of cyberviolence can be done in several ways:

  • CyberTipline: Unsolicited, obscene materials and/or threats can be reported to http://www.missingkids.com/cybertip/ or by calling 1-800-843-5678.
  • ISP: Report harassment to the bully’s internet provider service and request that the offender’s account be suspended or blocked. (Chisholm, 2006).Violations can also be reported to www.whois.com (Goddard, 2008).
  • Police Contact and report cyberbullying to local police, especially if the bully threatens violence or abduction
  • School Report cyberbullying to school, especially when any school-related content in involved (Chisholm, 2006).

4. Although some researchers have found that parental control of students’ internet use has little effect on cyberbullying (Fredrick, 2009), it still makes sense to instruct parents to keep an eye on their children’s internet use patterns. Even a little precaution can go a long way. Instruct kids to keep personal information private, and to keep passwords private (except from parents). Teach children to refrain from sharing secrets, photos, or anything embarrassing. Inform students to avoid sending messages when they are angry to avoid regret, and teach kids to be good “cyberfriends” by refraining from sending emails or IMs written by a friend to anyone else without permission (Chisholm, 2006).

5. Finally, individual schools need to address more complex issues at their own institutions. Ronald Jacobson, a researcher at the University of Washington proposes that schools might be able to help the bully no longer want to bully (Goddard, 2008). The idea is that the bully and the victim lack the social skills for peaceful coexistence.

Programs for individual schools that address these more global issues are available at several websites, and the program Teen Talking Circles has been chosen as an example program that is appropriate to address cyberbullying in that school’s particular context. Creating avenues for girls to learn and practice appropriate communication can help (McVicker, 2010).

  • Teen Talking Circles have the objectives of “educating, inspiring, and empowering young women… fostering partnerships among genders, generations and cultures, and by providing support for youth in positive self-expression and social action for a just, compassionate and sustainable world” (Teen talking circles, 2008). These objectives meet exactly the needs of the Academy in that the prevention of cyberbullying is best accomplished by meeting the specific needs of the institution (Goddard, 2008
  • Other suggestions include teaching the adults to be aware of their own relational aggression (eye-rolling, facial expressions, etc…); girls pick up on these cues quote readily (McVicker, 2010). Other suggestions include providing and encouraging physical activity to support body image and self-esteem, and to provide many opportunities for all manners of healthy female relationships.

References

Athanasiades, C., & Deliyanni-Kouimtzis, V. (2010). The experience of bullying among secondary school students. Psychology in the Schools, 47(4), 328-339. doi: 10.1002/pits.20473

Chisolm, J. F. (2006). Cyberspace violence against girls and adolescent females. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1087(1), 74-89. Retrieved June 4, 2010, from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=24595804&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Cyber bullies target girl. (2003, May 24). BBC NEWS | News Front Page. Retrieved July 07, 2010, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/nottinghamshire/2933894.stm

Fredrick, K. (2009). Mean girls (and boys): Cyberbullying and what can be done about it. School Library Media Activities Monthly, XXV(8), 44-45.

Goddard, C. (2008). Cyberworld bullying. Digest, 73(7), 4-9. Retrieved June 17, 2010, from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=31203799&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2010). Resources. Cyberbullying Research Center - findings, stories, cases, downloads, fact sheets, tips and strategies, news headlines, a blog, and other helpful resources. Retrieved June 19, 2010, from http://cyberbullying.us

How to help students cope with girl-on-girl social aggression. (n.d.). Teaching strategies and tips for secondary educators — Inside the School. Retrieved June 17, 2010, from http://www.insidetheschool.com

Kennedy, H. (2010, March 29). Phoebe Prince, South Hadley High School's 'new girl,' driven to suicide by teenage cyber bullies. NYDailyNews.com. Retrieved July 07, 2010, from http://www.nydailynews.com

Males, M., & Lind, M. (2010, April 2). The myth of mean girls. New York Times, p. 23. Retrieved June 19, 2010.

McVicker, C. S. (2010, February 19). How to avoid bullying, aggression in young girls. The Herald News. Retrieved June 17, 2010, from http://www.heraldnews.com/features/x1487802878/How-to-avoid-bullying-aggression-in-young-girls

Megan Taylor Meier - The Story. (2009). The Megan Meier Foundation - Preventing Bullying and Cyber-Bullying. Retrieved July 07, 2010, from http://www.meganmeierfoundation.org/story/

Moss, P. (2010). Girl fighting and your child: what to do when your daughter is being bullied by other girls. Empowering parents: Straight talk, real results. Retrieved July 07, 2010, from http://www.empoweringparents.com/mean-girls-bullying.php#

O'Neil, R. (2008). It's not easy to stand up to cyberbullies, but we must. Chronicle of Higher Education, 54(44), A23-A23. Retrieved June 19, 2010, from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=33225710&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Teen talking circles. (2008). Teen Talking Circles Home. Retrieved June 3, 2010, from http://www.teentalkingcircles.org

Wagner, C. (2008). Beating the cyberbullies. Futurist, 42(5), 14-15. Retrieved June 19, 2010, from http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=33306339&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Waters, M. (Director). (2004). Mean Girls [Motion picture]. USA: Paramount Pictures.

Werner, N. E., Bumpus, M. F., & Rock, D. (2010). Involvement in internet aggression during early adolescence [Abstract]. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(6).

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