Not according to public health researcher
Michele Ybarra, who outlined why, in general,
there is little cause for alarm.
BY TORI DEANGELIS
Young people are using new technologies at ever- increasing rates, with 93 percent of young people now online, 73 percent on MySpace or Facebook, and 75
percent owning cell phones, up from 63 percent who owned
cellphones in 2006, according to data from the Pew Internet
American Life Project.
With this increased access comes greater worry for parents,
teachers and counselors, whose anxiety is fueled by media
reports of young people engaging in “sexting”— sending
provocative photos of themselves to others via cell phone —
and concerns that new technologies might create more avenues
for bullying and harassment.
But are these fears realistic? No, said APA 2011 Annual
Convention invited speaker Michele Ybarra, PhD, a public
health and child mental health researcher who is president and
research director of the nonprofit research organization Internet
Solutions for Kids. Citing data from two ongoing studies,
Ybarra said it’s time to calm our nerves, save perhaps for a small
group of young people who report being distressed by bullying
and an even smaller number who “sext” and simultaneously
report engaging in other forms of sexual activity.
“We need to better identify youth who are struggling and
likely need individual help,” said Ybarra. But at the same time,
she said, we should refuse to give in to fear-mongering and
hyperbolic statements about technology because the data
simply don’t support the idea that technology is changing or
encouraging bullying, sexting or other types of harassment.
To examine how new technologies may be changing behaviors,
including bullying and harassment, Ybarra tracked about
1,600 young people from 2006 to 2008 as part of the ongoing
longitudinal Growing up with Media study funded by the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She asked young
people ages 10 to 15 about levels of bullying — defined as
ongoing, repetitive peer aggression or victimization that is
marked by a power differential between bully and victim —
and harassment, a larger umbrella term that encompasses mean
and rude comments, threatening and aggressive behaviors,
spreading rumors and other annoying or hurtful behaviors.
Despite media reports suggesting an increase in the amount
and intensity of online bullying, it’s no more common or
distressing than it was three years ago, Ybarra’s data show.
And many young people escape cyberbullying and harassment
altogether: About 62 percent are not victims each year,
compared with 24 percent who are harassed but not bullied, 13
percent who are both harassed and bullied, and 1 percent who
are bullied only, she found.
Data on where and how bullying takes place also suggest
inflated concerns about technology’s impact, Ybarra said. About
40 percent of bullying still takes place in person, compared with
10 percent through phone calls, 14 percent by text messages, 17
percent online and 10 percent in some other way.
For many youngsters, bullying is also limited to a single
place and communication type, her data also show: 21
percent who reported bullying said it happened only through
one mode, while 11 percent said they were bullied via two
modes, for example in person and online. When asked about
distressing experiences, twice as many young people said they
were very or extremely upset by the bullying that occurred at
school compared to online. The one technological arena where
bullying may be increasing is text messaging, but more tracking
is needed to see if that is an actual trend, Ybarra said.
A small group of youngsters is cause for concern, however,
she said: Twelve percent of those surveyed said they were bullied
in several places and through several modes — in person,
online and by phone, for example. In addition, about one in
four study participants aged 12 to 15 who reported any bullying