The Implications of Cyber Bullying- Part 2
What is Relational Aggression and Who Engages In It?
Cyber bullying — where the aggressor attacks the victim publicly through words of intimidations, rumors and unflattering photos — is a realistic and relevant threat in this electronic age. Words can and do hurt and can leave a mark on the emotional growth of students far worse than a punch on the playground or a bloody nose.
Research by Wade and Beran (2011) found that in a survey of more than 500 male and female students, 21.9% of respondents suffered from at least one incident of cyber bullying in the past three months, with the most common form of cyber bullying being called names, followed by having rumors spread about them (p. 49). Interestingly, Wade and Beran found that of the same group of survey respondents 29.7% were also perpetrators of cyber bullying over the same three-month period (pp. 49-50).
Childnet International (2007) notes that not all RA incidents, such as passing along a photo or joke of a student are malicious and intentional cyber bullying (p. 2). Some students just lack good judgment, and may forward a message about a classmate without considering the consequences or feelings of the victim. Perhaps that is why Burgess-Proctor and Hindja (2006) as cited in Stomfay-Stitz and Wheeler (2007) describe cyber bullying as the “willful and repeated harm inflicted though the medium of electronic text” (p. 308-J). Similarly, Feinberg and Robey (2008) suggest that not all cyber bullies are malicious in their intent, noting that some cyber bullies have different goals. Some do not see themselves as bullies, but rather as vigilantes who are protecting a friend who is under attack. Others intend to exert power through fear…. Some cyberbullies [sic] do not intend to cause harm; they just respond without thinking about the consequences of their actions” (p. 11).
Gomes (2007) suggests “The emotional high of being in control and possessing power over another’s feelings and destiny seems to outweigh the feeling of wanting to understand another’s plight” (p. 513). Goldstein and Tisak (2009) give further insight as to what aggressors consider the acceptable use of RA, discovering students perceived gossip as “very wrong” compared to physical aggression, whereas students viewed acts of exclusion as “somewhat acceptable” (p. 471).
Bloom (2009) reports on a survey performed by Kernaghan of Queen’s University Belfast, noting of almost 500 female respondents ages 9 through 11, 56% reported being bullied at some point in their school career (Bloom, p. 9). About one fifth of the surveyed girls reported typing hurtful comments that they would never say to someone in person; this falls in line with the classic cyber bullying mentality (Bloom, p. 9).
Chat, instant messaging, and texts are some of the most common methods of cyber bullying. It allows real-time conversations with the victim, and due to the nature of many chat rooms and instant messaging programs, the user can create a user name that obscures their identity. Such practices often leaves the victim wondering who said the hurtful words and distrusting other people. Stomfay-Stitz and Wheeler (2007) suggest that the prevalence of cyber bullying has to due with the fact that the messages sent over the electronics leave the aggressor faceless (p. 308-J). When the aggressor is anonymous, she is more likely to be hostile.
Identifying and stopping acts of RA as soon as possible is important for the mental well being of the victim in several aspects. Schaffner (2007) suggests, “when young women are treated with disrespect and aggression, they learn to respond with it” (p. 1235). Leary, Kowalski, Smith and Phillips (2003) as cited in Herrenkohl et al. (2009) warn of the potential risks of retaliation and outward manifestation of the pain the victim experiences (p. 4).
Consider the real-life story of 13-year-old Megan Meier, who was the victim of cyber bullying over her MySpace account. Aggressors created a persona as a 16 year old boy online and became Meier’s friend, later the aggressors turned malicious and told Meier hateful things, such as that she would be better off dead. Meier did tell her mother of the mean things said to her on MySpace, but her mother did not realize the extent of the hurtful things. In Meier’s case, not only did the comments scar her emotionally, but also the messages eventually lead Meier’s suicide just three weeks before her 14th birthday (Megan Meier Foundation, 2011).
Recognizing the Symptoms
The common nursery rhyme saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is false. Words do hurt, and they take their toll on the victim in various ways. Van der Wal, De Wit and Hirasing (2003) as cited in Herrenkohl et al. (2009) note, “physically and/or relationally aggressive youth were at higher risk for depression, suicidal idealization, and subsequent delinquent behavior” (p. 5). Feinberg and Robey (2008) note that sever cases of cyber bullying may “lead to severe dysfunction, externalized violence and suicide” (p. 11).
Young, Nelson, Hottle, Warburton, and Young (2011) note that the severity of RA effects are proportional to the strength of the prior relationship between the victim and the aggressor. For example, if the aggressor was a close friend of the victim the consequences of the RA incidents may be more severe than if the aggressor was less known to the victim. Remillard and Lamb (2005) suggest that due to the nature of female relationships, the closer the friend the harder the hurt, noting “because adolescent girls’ friendships are so intimate, relational aggression is extremely effective in hurting a girl when it involves a conflict with a close friend” (pp. 226-227). Interestingly, Remillard and Lamb note that RA need not cause the relationship to end between the friends, and may even cause the friendship to become closer after the RA is resolved (p. 227).
Identifying changes in behavior is one of the best ways to determine if a child is suffering from RAs unlike traditional bullying, RA is does not necessarily leave a physical bruise. Feinberg and Robey (2008) suggest that the victim may be hesitant to report cyber bullying for fear that his Internet or phone usage may be restricted (p. 12).
According to Young et al, (2011) common symptoms of RA include “peer rejection, social anxiety,loneliness, depression, a lowered sense of self‑worth, and acting out behaviors. Physical fights at school often follow incidents of relational aggression that occurred between the students” (p. 28). Frequent headaches, stomachaches, increased complaints of not feeling well, and increased absenteeism are all indicators of bully problems, suggests the 2005 Life Science Weekly article “Behavior; Bullying Among Sixth Graders a Daily Occurrence” (¶¶16 & 20).
Authority figures should not wait until the student reports of RA, suggests Young et al. (2011), especially since many aggressors threaten the victim of reporting (p. 28). Teachers and parents alike should look for “changes in behavior— such as withdrawal, sadness, anxiety, or increased aggression” as well as second-hand reports, such as social skill assessments (Young et al., p. 28).
Behavior; Bullying among sixth graders a daily occurrence. (2005). Science Letter, 162. doi: 821655901
Bloom, A. (2009). The cyberbully girls who hide behind false identity. The Times Educational Supplement : TES,(4860), 9. doi: 1894028121
Feinberg, T. & Robey, N. (2008). Cyberbullying. Principal Leadership, 9(1), 10-14. doi: 1555016271
Goldstein, S. & Tisak, M. (2010). Adolescents’ social reasoning about relational aggression. Journal of Child and Family Studies. 19(4) 471-482. doi: 2077338021
Gomes, M. (2007). A concept analysis of relational aggression. Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, 14(5), 510-515. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Herrenkohl, T., Catalano, R., Hemphill, S., & Toumbourou, J. (2009). Longitudinal examination of physical and relational aggression as precursors to later problem behaviors in adolescents. Violence and Victims, 24(1), 3-19. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Megan Meier Foundation. (2011). “Megan meier’s story.”
Remillard, A. & Lamb, S. (2005). Adolescent girls' coping with relational aggression. Sex Roles, 53(3-4), 221-229. doi: 924608391
Schaffner, L. Violence against girls provokes girls' violence: From private injury to public harm. Violence Against Women, 13(12) 1229-1248. doi: 10.1177/1077801207309881
Stomfay-Stitz, A. & Wheeler, E. (2007). Cyberbullying and our middle school girls. Childhood Education, 83(5), 308J-308K. doi: 1295272691
Suffolk Public Schools. (2011). “Mean girls-- Realities of relational aggression.” Retrieved on October 9 from spsk.12.net (link no longer found)
Wade, A. & Beran, T. (2011). Cyberbullying: The new era of bullying. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 26(1), 44-61. doi: 2333968401
Young, E., Nelson, D., Hottle, A., Warburton, B., & Young, B. (2011). Relational Aggression Among Students. The Education Digest, 76(7), 24-29. doi: 2253484481xs