How Prevalent is Cyber Bullying?

New research presented at the American Psychological Association‘s annual meeting suggests that a teen spreading false, embarrassing or hostile information online about a peer isn’t really as prevalent as all the attention might suggest. Despite all the hype, traditional bullying is far more common than cyberbullying.

Most young people aren’t victims of cyberbullying, finds a study by Michele Ybarra, research director at the non-profit Center for Innovative Public Health Research in San Clemente, Calif. In two unpublished nationally representative studies — one of 1,158 youths and the other of 3,777 adolescents — 17% said they’ve been bullied on the Internet in the past year; 83% said they had not.

Psychologist Dorothy Espelage, of the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, has been studying bullying for 18 years, including the old-fashioned face-to-face bullying and the online variety. She says her research about cyberbullying found the same 17% figure.  Parental monitoring of their children’s computer use makes a real difference in whether kids bully.  “They may be less likely to engage in perpetration in school and in perpetration online,” Espelage says. “We know in criminology and sociology, the No. 1 predictor of any involvement in at-risk behavior is parental monitoring. It seems to be showing up confirmed in the face-to-face (bullying) and seems to be important in the online context.”

Another study she co-authored that was also presented at the meeting found that those who are victimized are more likely to be perpetrators themselves. The researchers found that kids who were victimized face-to-face by peers at school were more likely to go online and engage in cyberbullying, to retaliate against what was happening at school.