Cyberbullying of online communication over the past few decades

Cyberbullying has become a newly common form of violent behaviour particularly among younger adolescents in the context of online communication over the past few decades in line with the growth of electronics and communication technologies (Weber and Pelfrey, 2014: 26). As asserted by Betts (2016: 12), bullying characterises a deliberate act that is recurrent and that there is a discrepancy of power between the intended target and perpetrator of the act who are age-mates or peers.

Cyberbullying defined by Parks (2013: 6) as the deliberate use of communication and information technologies to sustain repetitive, hostile and planned conduct directed at a group or an individual. The victims of cyberbullies are harassed by the perpetrators with rude text messages, degraded with online posts which can deteriorate their reputations and impersonated by creating fake pages or messages on social networks (Patchin and Hinduja, 2012: 7). Some definitions of cyberbullying have focused on the harassment behaviour in cyberbullies and categorised this behaviour into the subsection of online victimisation as claimed by Stauffer (2012: 41). In this sense, cyberbullying is distinguished from traditional means of harassment in terms of age or generation difference between the perpetrator and the victim. A recent research about cyberbullying conducted by Kowalski et al. (2014: 37) pointed out that the definitions of cyberbullying involved four diverse components such as repetitive activity, deliberate aggressive behaviour, mediated by electronic devices and the inequality in power between victim and perpetrator.

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The implications of cyberbullying on victims are classified by Ovejero et al., (2016: 9) under three groups such as psychosomatic and psychiatric, psychological and emotional, and school related effects. As indicated by Marczak and Coyne (2010) psychosomatic and psychiatric effects include conduct problems, tiredness, drunkenness and frequent smoking, hyperactivity, sleeping disorders, repetitive abdominal pain, headache, perception difficulties and low prosocial behaviour. It is suggested by Chadwick (2014: 22) that cyberbullying associates potential psychological and emotional conclusions such as symptoms of depression, anxiety, fear, loneliness, stress, low self-esteem, loneliness, more frequent ideas of suicide, poor mental health, hopelessness, isolation and peer rejection. Finally, school related negative consequences of cyberbullying involve reduction in school motivation, isolation, suicidal ideation, feelings of powerlessness, a desire to change schools, consistency in school attendance, and academic success (Smith et al., 2008; Festl et al., 2015; Willard, 2007).

2. Relationship between Cyberbullying and School Climate

The impacts of different characteristics of school and school climate on cyberbullying have been increasingly gaining attention from researchers since the use of social media and mobile devices have grown over the past decade (Bayar and Uçanok, 2012a: 2353).In these studies, higher prevalence of bullying within the school setting is mainly associated with negative peer interactions, safety problems, low levels of supervision within school settings, disorganized and high-conflict schools, poor commitment to school and disciplinary harshness (Varjas et al., 2009: Bauman et al., 2013; Tural and Ye?ilova, 2015; Chadwick, 2014).

Li et al., (2012: 94) suggested that peer relationships is one of the main factors that can amplify bullying though validation and encouragement. In line with this, Weber and Pelfrey (2014: 12) indicated that supportive social climate and social connectedness to school and peers improves trust, belonging and acceptance and in turn reduces the tendency to be victimised by cyberbullies. These findings also consistent with the results of Williams and Guerra (2007: 17)’s work which reports the role of positive school climate and connectedness to school in reduction of the likeliness of cyberbullying and bullying others in high school context. Bayar and Uçanok, (2012a: 2353) argued that cyberbullies’ perception of peers as helpful, trustable and sympathetic was negatively correlated with involvement of cyberbullying against peers in schools. Therefore, school climate that encourages peer support plays a dual role in both reinforcing bullying and preventing victimisation.

Beale and Hall (2007: 9) asserts that as with conventional bullying most of the cyberbullying cases are observed in middle school years and tend to decline in high school. They also classify the main subjects in cyberbullying as issues related with physical appearance, disabilities, emotional sensitivities and learning difficulties. However, in practice cyberbullying seems to potentially target all students regardless of any particular characteristics or behaviour possessed by victims. Although many studies focused on definition of potential characteristics of cyberbullying victims, much of them concluded that parental monitoring, perceived support, social intelligence, school safety and school climate were among the factors that protected students from experiencing cyberbullying in schools (Kowalski et al., 2014: 39).

As Varjas et al. (2009: 162) suggests while administrators and teachers lack of control over the family and personal factors which facilitate the inclination to cyberbully, such problems can be significantly prevented or at least decreased by intervention and supervision of school climate. Kartal and Bilgin (2009: 220) identifies positive school climate where students feel themselves secure, accepted, connected, valued, wanted and comfortable and associate it with the degree to peers’ connectivity with each other, administrators and teachers.  Nevertheless, it is vital to realise the difference between traditional ways of bullying which is more likely to appear in forms of physical victimisation and cyberbullying which is directed through verbal and relational bullying (Huang and Chou, 2010: 1589). Such a difference may also change the role of school climate and administrators and provides limitation to measures that can be taken to reduce cyberbullying within the school context. On the other hand, as Festl et al., (2014: 542) point out, the high risk of cyberbullies turn into individual victimisation can be prevented through constructive interventions by policy makers, teachers and administrators to improve school climate. This leads us to take a look at the impacts of teachers’ awareness of cyberbullying in preventing cyberbullying in school environment.

3. Relationship between Cyberbullying and Teachers’ Awareness of Cyberbullying

In order to support students and school administrations to develop useful strategies to prevent cyberbullying, teachers’ understanding and perception of cyberbullying with its fundamental causes and major dynamics plays a crucial role (Young et al., 2016: 2). Although teachers approach cyberbullying as a common challenge facing their students encounter, the studies analysing the awareness of teachers in cyberbullying show that they are frequently unaware or unsure of the appropriate efforts or reaction to prevent or intervene cyberbullying (DeSmet et al., 2015: 194). As Chadwick (2014: 14) reports, intervention efforts of teachers are so important for victims because they often find it difficult to voice cyberbullying due to perceived shame related with echoes among the peers and the previous experiences occurred in the school environment. Therefore, the comprehensive knowledge and appropriate perception of teachers about cyberbullying is likely for them to understand students and encourage them to report cyberbullying incidents without hesitation (Willard, 2007: 585).

Many teachers believe that anti-cyberbullying strategies in general involve interventions through punishment for aggressors and use of power which have been adopted in different forms in traditional and cyberbullying cases (Kartal and Bilgin, 2009: 220). Besides, many school adopted zero tolerance policies to prevent cyberbullying but none of these has reportedly resulted in improvements in school safety or school climate by preventing cyberbullying (Hinduja and Patchin, 2010: 212). Instead of intervention practices that require the use of power and authority, improvements in educators’ perception on cyberbullying should be reconsidered to adopt restorative policies in preventing cyberbullying in schools as emphasized by Willard (2007: 585). Thus, as acknowledged by Bauman et al. (2013: 347), the broad perspective gained by teachers and school staff is only way to help preventing or reducing the negative impacts of cyberbullying in schools and depriving the victims of cyberbullying to learn more positive behaviours against this problem.

4. Previous Research in Cyberbullying

The previous studies analysing cyberbullying in school setting have mainly focused on various issues such as to distinguish between traditional and cyberbullying; the role of school climate in preventing cyberbullying; impacts of cyberbullying on school safety and victimisation; association between peer perception and cyberbullying; and cyberbullying awareness of teachers and its effects on school climate.

Although the experience of students with cyberbullying has been documented by few research the work of Kowalski et al. (2014) exhibited that prevalence of cyberbullying was larger than previously recorded. The study found that 11 percent of boys and 25 percent of girls encountered with cyberbullying in a two months period.

The findings of Bayar and Ucanok (2012b)’s research showed that positive school climate was negatively correlated with the prevalence of cyberbullying and victimisation in schools both for girls and boys. The results indicated that the effectiveness of school climate on reducing the prevalence of cyberbullying was closely associated with peer perception. Similarly, the work of Hinduja and Patchin (2013) proposed that cyberbullying behaviour is encouraged by like-minded peers and family members. Whereas, young adults who believe that their adults would punish such actions are less likely to involve while more tend to report cyberbullying in schools.

The research by Huang and Chou (2010) suggests that cyberbullying was most likely to be done by male students and it was not affected by the academic success of the victim or the perpetrator. Finally, in the context of teachers’ awareness of cyberbullying, Marczak and Coyne (2010) recommend good intervention practices which is considered as one of the appropriate pathways and frameworks in the UK’s high school setting. These involve improving the understanding of cyberbullying concept by school staff, updating existing practices and policies, encouraging students to report cyberbullying and promoting the constructive use of technology.

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