TEENAGERS developing problem behaviour, depression or low self esteem in high school are more likely to engage in or be victims of cyber bullying by the time they reach year 11, a Murdoch University study has found.
Researchers at Murdoch’s School of Psychology surveyed 1,364 year 8 students from 39 WA high schools using questionnaires to assess their self esteem, mood and involvement in problem behaviour over three years.
In year 11, participants were asked how often they had used the internet to “tell lies or make fun of” other students, or how often anyone had done it to them.
The study found students whose problem behaviour increased or self esteem decreased between years 8-11 were much more likely to become victims or perpetrators of cyber bullying, with steeper changes predicting more intense bullying.
Increases in depressed mood appeared to have no effect on the likelihood of cyber bullying. However, those more depressed in year 8 were at greater risk regardless, as was also the case for the other indicators, because they stand out early as easy targets for bullies.
Murdoch psychology lecturer Kathryn Modecki says the study is the first to measure the rate of changes in key cyber bullying predictors by tracking the development of participants over time, which the research indicates gives the best projection of the likelihood and intensity of both victimisation and perpetration.
“It’s not just about taking a snapshot, you need to see the developmental growth and how it relates to later behaviour,” Dr Modecki says.
She says the results also indicate cyber bullying levels the playing field by allowing teenagers less capacity for traditional bullying – those who are not as confident or physically strong – to attack from behind their computer screens, even anonymously, including victims retaliating against their schoolyard tormentors.
It also means students can be sidelined by shifting alliances within their social group as their peers spend more time interacting with each other online.
The study found a moderate correlation between perpetrators and victims, showing that while the two constructs are distinct, cyber bullying increases overlap and is caused by the same precursors.
She says intervention strategies need to target these underlying causes to fend off the development of multi-finality situations where bullying becomes overwhelmingly likely.
“People try to reinvent the wheel but I would prefer to see known and proven strategies against problem behaviour, depression and low self-esteem used because I haven’t seen a consistently effective strategy against cyber bullying itself.”