Should Schools Monitor Students’ Social Media Accounts?
There has been much discussion over the last few days about whether it is appropriate for schools to actively monitor the social media activities of students (I participated in a HuffPost Live discussion about this issue earlier today). At the center of this recent interest is Glendale Unified School District, which is located in Southern California and has a middle and high school student population of about 14,000. The district has contracted with Geo Listening, (a Hermosa Beach, California-based tech company founded in January) to monitor and keep track of the various things their student body says, posts, shares, and does online (at a cost of $40,500 for the school year).
The company states that it actively looks for anything online that could threaten the safety and well-being of students in the district, including cyberbullying and threats of self-harm. These could be posts that are initiated from school, or not; using school-owned technology, or not. The technology also allows for the flagging and reporting of drug use or class-cutting – or really anything publicly posted by a student that could be viewed as problematic to the school.
Here at the Cyberbullying Research Center, we are contacted fairly regularly by tech companies who have developed some technological “solution” to cyberbullying that they are looking to market to schools. We’ve yet to be swept off our feet by any of these proposed solutions, and what Geo Listening is doing is similarly not very innovative or revolutionary. That said, the question remains: should schools be in the business of actively monitoring what their students are saying online?
Most people would agree that parents have a responsibility to keep tabs on what their kids are doing online. This is best accomplished, in my view, by actively participating in the online activities with them and asking questions about what they are posting and who they are interacting with. Parents frequently ask me, though, whether it is a good idea to install tracking or monitoring software on their child’s computer or cell phone as a way to monitor. This is a tough issue. On the one hand, I am not in a position to tell anyone how to parent their kids. So when responding to this question, I simply explain the potential consequences of going this route. If a parent chooses to surreptitiously monitor the online activities of their kids, eventually they will find something that they will have to confront their child about. When they do, and their child finds out that the parent had been spying on them, it will be extremely difficult to repair the harm done as it relates to encouraging an open and trusting relationship in the future.
In general, if a parent thinks it is necessary to take such a step, then I advise them to make their children aware of it. Parents should tell them why they are installing the software and explain that the primary goal is to protect them. Finally, parents should use this as an opportunity to encourage responsible use by telling their children that as they demonstrate safe and appropriate behaviors online over time, they will gradually earn more privacy. This can be a very effective strategy for early Internet users who are still learning how to navigate the World Wide Web safely. A concern I have is that some parents may fall into a false sense of security when they hear that the school is paying someone to watch over what their kids are doing online and therefore not take the time to do it themselves.
The reality of course is that if a child wants to circumvent tracking and monitoring software, it is pretty easy to do. They will go online from a friend’s house using their device, or log on from another location, such as the public library. I have even had two separate principals in different schools tell me that an 18 year-old senior had picked up a tracfone or other pay-as-you-go device from Walmart to give to their 15 year-old girlfriend, whose mom and dad didn’t even know that she had it. The point is, if you push too hard, teens will go underground which will make it even more difficult to keep up. And finally, research has cast doubt on the effectiveness of monitoring and blocking software in preventing experiences with cyberbullying.
Some argue that schools monitoring social media amounts to a violation of a student’s privacy. I am not particularly convinced of that. Most students I speak with are savvy enough to realize that what they post in public spaces online is open for anyone to see. And they know that schools are looking. Counselors, principals, and school resource officers have been looking for years. The only thing new about this is that a school is contracting with a third party to do the looking.
Most students say that they have their Facebook accounts set to private. Indeed, in our early research into the social media behaviors of students on MySpace (remember that site?), we found that in 2006 less than 40% of students had set their profiles to private. By 2009, 85% of the active users had their profiles restricted. And this was not a survey of students where we asked them to report what they were doing. We randomly selected profiles to carefully review to see how much information was publicly visible. So very early on – over four years ago – students recognized the need to avoid having their profiles open for the whole world to see. Furthermore, more and more teens are moving to ephemeral communication apps like Snapchat that make it more difficult to watch over and track what they are saying.
School Culture is What Matters Most
From my perspective, schools (along with parents, of course) do have an obligation to keep track of what students are doing online. I don’t feel, however, that schools should need to go on fishing expeditions where they scour the Web and social media for inappropriate behaviors. In a perfect world, paying a company to watch over the online interactions of students wouldn’t be necessary. I feel that schools should work to develop a culture where everyone looks out for everyone else and if something of concern arises, someone will step up and take appropriate action. Most of the time, when there is a threat to cause harm—either to one’s self or others—someone sees or hears about it. What do they do at that moment? Are they empowered to take action themselves? Do students feel comfortable talking with an adult at school about what they witnessed or heard about? Do they feel that telling an adult at school or at home would resolve the situation?
There is also the added benefit in that by encouraging and empowering students to come forward with concerns, schools have many more people on the lookout for trouble and are able to access much more potentially problematic information since even private profiles (not accessible to a 3rd party monitoring company) are visible to at least some students.
Consider this contradiction: When you ask a student what they should do if they are being cyberbullied, or if they see it happen, more often than not they will respond with “tell an adult.” Yet, when you ask them if telling an adult would help, they often say no! According to the Youth Voice Project, a survey of nearly 12,000 students from 12 different U.S. states conducted by Stan Davis and Charisse Nixon, only about one-third of the students who were significantly impacted by bullying said that telling an adult made things better (29% said it made things worse!). So perhaps the main problem isn’t so much that schools need to do a better job of paying attention to what is going on online, but instead they need to do a better job thinking about how best to respond (here are some suggestions). If schools are able to respond to bullying and cyberbullying in a way that quickly stops the harassment without further harming or humiliating any of the parties involved, then students will feel much more comfortable going to them for help when problems arise in the future. And the word will spread, encouraging others to also do so. As it is, many are afraid that the school, or their parents, will just make things worse.
So the more important question for me is what do the educators do with the information once they receive it? The company sends the school district a daily report of online chatter that might be important to investigate further. Who is responsible for investigating? Who decides whether something is serious enough to warrant additional scrutiny? Additionally, are schools taking on additional liability by actively patrolling the Internet for problems? What if there is a threat that the school should have seen but didn’t, or if they are made aware of a threat but don’t act quickly enough. Needless to say, there are so many unanswered questions.
Justifiable Use of Resources?
Another question is whether this is a good use of school resources. Where I live in Wisconsin, $40,000 could be used to hire an additional school counselor, at least part-time. At a time when school budgets are shrinking and support staff are routinely being cut, are schools trying to cut corners by relying on a technological solution to a problem? And are they right for doing so? Some schools might use this service as a way to avoid paying for much more comprehensive and effective strategies to prevent online and offline bullying before it happens (e.g., social emotional learning programming). Monitor, respond, repeat. It is always best to prevent these things from happening in the first place, but prevention often costs more up front (even though in the long run it is always much less expensive).
The weight of public opinion seems to be in support of schools paying others to monitor their students online. I’m still not convinced. It makes sense that schools want to be made aware of potentially problematic situations developing online (and the earlier the better). But it remains to be seen whether this tactic will be effective. As a researcher, I would love to evaluate this program. This could make for a valuable research project if a school district would randomly assign schools to participate in this and then follow-up to see if there had been any changes in student perceptions or behaviors. It would also be helpful to know, for example, how many suicides really could be prevented using something like this. Glendale and Geo Listening claim that at least one suicide was thwarted in their pilot test of this last year, but it is uncertain whether someone at the school might have come across the information and reported it without the aid of the service.
We don’t know whether other school districts are also paying others for these services (we’re not aware of any). Geo Listening claims that they expect to be working with more than 3000 schools worldwide by the end of the year. So, this is just the beginning of the discussion we will have. It remains to be seen how this latest experiment in using a technological solution to solve a social problem will work out.
Educating Students about the Consequences of Cyberbullying and Sexting
Quite often when you investigate a cyberbullying or sexting incident, you will come to learn that the “offending” parties didn’t fully understand the consequences of their actions or how what they did could have ever resulted in the trouble that they are now facing. Maybe they didn’t think that what they were doing was that big of a deal or perhaps they felt that no one else would ever find out about it. Sometimes they are genuinely shocked by the fallout. Well, they shouldn’t be. We need to be explicit with students about the possible repercussions associated with these behaviors, so that they are fully informed when making a decision about how they are interacting online.
Even though the vast majority of these kinds of incidents can and should be handled informally (e.g., by calling parents, counseling the bully and target, or expressing condemnation of the behavior), there may be occasions when a formal response from the school is warranted. This is particularly the case in incidents involving serious threats toward another student, if the target no longer feels safe coming to school, or if cyberbullying behaviors continue after informal attempts to stop it have failed. In these cases, detention, suspension, changes of placement, or even expulsion may be necessary. If these extreme measures are warranted, it is important that you clearly demonstrate the negative effect of the incident on the school or student(s) and present evidence that substantiates your disciplinary action.
You can also include an educational component in your response strategy, especially when dealing with first-time violators or those who engaged in relatively minor forms of technology misuse. For example, you could have the student write a paper on the effects of harassment or provide the student with a video camera and help him or her create a public service announcement about cyberbullying that can be used to educate the rest of the student body. Of course, you want to be careful not to bring undue negative attention to the students involved. To be sure, requiring students who were involved in a sexting incident to create a school-wide program about the topic might not be the best option (although it could be done anonymously). Your knowledge of the incident, the students involved, and the extent of awareness by the broader school population will help you to determine the best course of action.
Because every situation is different, you need to take the time to thoroughly investigate to determine the most appropriate response, taking into consideration everything that you know about the students involved and the circumstances surrounding the behaviors. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach when it comes to responding to cyberbullying and sexting and it is therefore best to have a variety of response strategies in your toolkit (more information here). But it is also important that students are made aware of the potential penalties. They need to be put on notice that any online behavior that substantially disrupts the learning environment at school, or that infringes on the rights of other students while they are at school, is subject to strict sanction. This should be made clear to them in the student handbook at the beginning of the school year, as well as through regular reminders throughout the year.
Having tough punishments on the books will have little deterrent effect, especially if students are unaware of them. Better to prevent students from misbehaving in the first place than to have to discipline them after the fact. And beyond school-based sanctions there are other collateral consequences associated with the misuse of technology, including threats to their reputation, employment marketability, and even possible legal penalties. So take the time to educate students about the behaviors you are trying to prevent ahead of time, which should include an honest discussion of the potential academic, social, and legal consequences.
Adapted from School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time (more info here)
Is it Ok for Educators to Connect with Students on Facebook?
Some of you may have seen that we posted a new fact sheet earlier in the week with information for educators and students to keep in mind when connecting via social media. This has been a topic of intense debate on this blog for years and we would love to hear your opinions. So, before we go any further, we have a quick poll for you to tell us how you feel about whether it is appropriate for educators to connect with students:
Now, take some time to look over our fact sheet and let us know what you think. Post your comments below about whether you think it is a good idea for educators to be connected with their students on social media or not. What are your concerns? How could it be valuable? Are you using social media in your schools to connect students with staff?
Remarks to the Minnesota Task Force on the Prevention of Bullying
Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to members of the Minnesota Task Force on the Prevention of Bullying. Members were appointed by Governor Mark Dayton with the charge of recommending a course of action to the governor about how best to prevent and respond to bullying. Below were my comments to the group.
Remarks to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s Task Force on the Prevention of Bullying
May 21, 2012
Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D.
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I am happy to be with you today to talk a little bit about my research and life’s work over the last decade. I have to say that I am not accustomed to writing my comments ahead of time and reading them in this way, but for this particular event I thought it was necessary to make sure I was able to convey as much of the important information as concisely as possible in about 10 minutes to set the stage for our discussion. I am used to presenting a 6 hour workshop for educators and I don’t think anyone here would like it if I went that long. In addition, I will make these remarks, with appropriate citations, available to you all for review following our discussion.
My name is Justin Patchin and I am an Associate Professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. I have just finished my 8th year on campus. Prior to arriving in Eau Claire, I spent 5 years at Michigan State University, completing my graduate work, teaching classes, and conducting research. I did my undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. I grew up in Northern MN, on the Iron Range. My parents still live up there and I frequently visit and spend time in and around the Boundary Waters. Much of my extended family lives here in the metro area.
While I was in college I started working with delinquent youth in residential and then day treatment in Duluth. I was talked into applying for graduate school and when I got accepted to Michigan State, intended to get a Master’s Degree in criminal justice with an emphasis on juvenile delinquency prevention and then come back to MN to be a juvenile probation office. Well, I just enjoyed MSU so much I stuck around long enough for them to give me a PhD.
In my first days on campus, I met up with Sameer Hinduja, who came to Michigan State to study computer crime. We shared a very small office together and one day just started talking about our respective interests: mine in juvenile delinquency, school violence, and bullying; and his in computer crime, identity theft, and other emerging forms of high-tech crime. We started thinking about the ways that youth were using technology to cause harm to one another. We had heard of the term “cyberbullying” but didn’t know what it really involved. This was around 2001 and no one else was really studying the problem either, so we started to. Since then we have conducted 7 formal surveys of over 12,000 students in over 80 schools from around the United States. We have also surveyed parents, educators, and law enforcement officers on their perspectives of this problem. I want to spend a few brief minutes talking about what we have learned over the last 10 years through these studies, focusing specifically on 3 areas: 1) Research; 2) Legislation; and, 3) Prevention.
Now, we have also asked questions about traditional bullying that happens at school, but there are many other competent researchers who have addressed this problem, so I will focus my comments on cyberbullying. We define cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices” (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009). Admittedly, this is an imperfect definition, which is why when we survey others about this problem, we approach it from two perspectives. First, we instruct respondents that “cyberbullying is when someone repeatedly harasses, mistreats, or makes fun of another person online or while using cell phones or other electronic devices.” We then ask if they have experienced this or done this to others in their lifetime or the previous 30 days. Second, we ask them about particular behaviors they have experienced. Specifically, we ask them if they have experienced or done any of the following:
• posted mean or hurtful comments online
• posted a mean or hurtful picture online
• posted a mean or hurtful video online
• created a mean or hurtful web page
• spread rumors online
• threatened to hurt through a cell phone text message
• threatened to hurt online
• pretended to be me someone else and acted in a way that was mean or hurtful
We also spend a great deal of time trying to keep up with the research that others are doing, both in the U.S., and abroad.
What We Know About Cyberbullying
Estimates of the number of teens who have experienced cyberbullying are all over the map. I can point you to a paper published in a peer-reviewed academic journal that says that 72% of students have been cyberbullied while another published study puts the number at less than 5%. The numbers are similarly varied when it comes to the number of students who have cyberbullied others. So how many teens have been involved? Last summer we reviewed all of the published papers on cyberbullying to try to get a handle on this question. These results were published last year in our book Cyberbullying Prevention and Response: Expert Perspectives, which included contributions from a number of knowledgeable sources from around the United States.
As of the summer of 2011, there had been at least forty-two articles on the topic of cyberbullying published in peer-reviewed journals across a wide variety of academic disciplines. Although there are additional articles being published quite regularly and it is likely that we have missed some published works, this review represents the most comprehensive summary of available research findings at the time of its writing.
Among the thirty-five papers published in peer-reviewed journals prior to the summer of 2011 that included cyberbullying victimization rates, figures ranged from 5.5% to 72% with an average of 24.4%. Most of studies (n=22) estimate that anywhere from 6% to 30% of teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying. These findings are consistent with our own research over the last ten years. The percent of youth who responded to our surveys who have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lifetime ranged from 18.8% to 40.6% in our studies, with an average of 27.3%. Our most recent study based on data collected in the spring of 2010 found that about 21% of youth had been the target of cyberbullying.
Moreover, the number of youth who admit to cyberbullying others at some point in their lives is a bit lower, though quite comparable. Among twenty-seven papers published in peer-reviewed journals that included cyberbullying offending rates, 3% to 44.1% of teens reported cyberbullying others (average of 18%). Across all of our studies, the rates ranged from about 11% to as high as 20% in our most recent study (average 16.8%).
A couple of other broad generalizations can be made about cyberbullying, based on the extant literature:
• Adolescent girls are just as likely, if not more likely than boys to experience cyberbullying (as a victim and offender) (Kowalski et al., 2008; Hinduja & Patchin, 2009)
• Cyberbullying is related to low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, anger, frustration, and a variety of other emotional and psychological problems (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010; Patchin & Hinduja, 2010; Patchin & Hinduja, 2011)
• Cyberbullying is related to other issues in the ‘real world’ including school problems, antisocial behavior, substance use, and delinquency (Hinduja & Patchin, 2007; Hinduja & Patchin, 2008)
• Traditional bullying is still more common than cyberbullying (Lenhart, 2007; Smith et al., 2008)
• Traditional bullying and cyberbullying are closely related: those who are bullied at school are bullied online and those who bully at school bully online (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009; Ybarra, Diener-West, & Leaf, 2007)
Of course more research is necessary. We do not have any good longitudinal research on cyberbullying. We also do not have any good evaluations of programs that target online safety or cyberbullying. The Olweus Prevention program has demonstrated some success with respect to bullying at school, especially internationally, but even that program could benefit from more sophisticated process and outcome evaluations. Such endeavors are costly and take time, but would be well worth the money in the long run.
Forty-nine states now have bullying laws in place or scheduled to be implemented in 2012. Minnesota law requires schools to have a bullying policy that seemingly includes “electronic forms and forms involving Internet use” but does not explicitly refer to cyberbullying or include guidance for responding to off-campus incidents of bullying. Educators are particularly challenged by this last issue; that is, knowing whether or not they can discipline students for cyberbullying when the behaviors largely occur away from school. Thankfully, caselaw provides much guidance on this question.
In the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) the Supreme Court stated: “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate…” and that only speech or behavior which “materially and substantially interfere(s) with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school” are subject to discipline. Barr v. Lafon (2007) clarified that schools need not wait for a disruption to occur before intervening and that if they can articulate a clear and imminent threat to the order of the school then appropriate action can be taken.
We know from Thomas v. Board of Education, Granville Central School District (1979) that student speech that occurs away from school is generally more protected than the speech that occurs at school, but several recent cases have demonstrated that off campus behaviors and speech are subject to school discipline, if the behavior or speech: (1) substantially or materially disrupts the learning environment at school; (2) interferes with the educational process or school discipline; or (3) threatens or otherwise infringes on the rights of other students (see J.S. v. Bethlehem Area School District, 2000; Wisniewski v. Board of Education of the Weedsport Central School District, 2007; and especially Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools, 2011).
The key issue that has been addressed in many cases is that the behavior that occurs away from school results in (or has a likelihood of resulting in) a substantial disruption at school (see Layshock v. Hermitage School District and Blue Mountain School District v. J.S. which were both recently reviewed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ). In short, if one student is being harassed or threatened repeatedly by another student, whether online or at school, there is little question that the ability of that student to learn is being disrupted. Moreover, a target’s right “to be secure and to be let alone” (also from Tinker) is being violated. As such, it is important that any state bullying law includes this information so that schools know that they do in fact have the authority to respond. It is also important that schools include this information in their policies because students need to be notified that their off campus conduct is subject to school sanction, within the above-discussed parameters.
Specifically, I urge the legislature to adopt a modified version of New Hampshire’s recently-passed bullying law (HB 1523):
“Schools have the authority and responsibility to apply reasonable and educationally-based discipline, consistent with a pupil’s constitutionally granted privileges, to bullying that: (a) Occurs on, or is delivered to, school property or a school-sponsored activity or event on or off school property; or (b) Occurs off of school property or outside of a school-sponsored activity or event, if the conduct interferes with a pupil’s educational opportunities, creates a hostile environment for that pupil or others, or substantially disrupts the orderly operations of the school or school-sponsored activity or event.”
Similar language has also been adopted in New Jersey and Connecticut law recently. I have modified it minimally to ensure that a student’s constitutionally protected speech is not infringed upon by threatening to discipline a student who is exercising protected speech. As Tinker clearly stated, students have free speech rights, but they are not free to disrupt the learning environment at school (create a disruption, threaten or infringe on the rights of others, etc.).
I also encourage the legislature to provide resources to schools so that they can effectively implement the recommendations and/or requirements included in the law. Schools want to prevent and adequately respond to all forms of bullying and harassment and are simply looking for resources that they can use to assist in such efforts. For instance, legislation should provide staff development and training resources to the Department of Education or other state educational training service providers in order for school officials to learn about the law and about how to prevent and respond to cyberbullying more effectively.
The Importance of School Climate
The benefits of a positive school climate have been identified through much research over the last thirty years. It contributes to more consistent attendance, higher student achievement, and other desirable student outcomes. Though limited, the research done on school climate and traditional bullying also underscores its importance in preventing peer conflict. Existing research has consistently identified an inverse relationship between specific components of school climate and bullying among students (e.g., Gottfredson & Gottfredson, 1985; Malecki & Demaray, 2004; Rigby, 1996; Whitney & Smith, 1993). Our recently published book: School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time argues that the impact of a positive climate extend beyond the classroom walls.
For example, our research has shown that students who experienced cyberbullying (both those who were victims and those who admitted to cyberbullying others) perceived a poorer climate at their school than those who had not experienced cyberbullying. Youth were asked whether they “enjoy going to school,” “feel safe at school,” “feel that teachers at their school really try to help them succeed,” and “feel that teachers at their school care about them.” Those who admitted to cyberbullying others or who were the target of cyberbullying were less likely to report feeling safe and cared about at school. The better the climate, the fewer problematic online behaviors were reported by students (cyberbullying and sexting).
We also found that teachers who talk about these issues with their students are making a difference. Even though almost half (46 percent) of students said their teacher never talked to them about being safe on the computer and 69 percent of students said their teacher never talked to them about using a cell phone responsibly, when these conversations happen, they seem to have a positive impact. Students who told us that a teacher had talked to them about being safe on the computer were significantly less likely to report that they had cyberbullied others in the previous 30 days.
Finally students from schools with a better climate were more likely to report that they felt as though their school was likely to respond to incidents of cyberbullying when it was reported to a teacher or other educator at school. In short, educators who do establish a nurturing and caring classroom and school climate will make great strides in preventing a whole host of problematic behaviors, both at school and online.
In conclusion, I would like to advocate for three specific areas of focus as you move forward with your work. First, more research is necessary. We need to know more about all forms of bullying, and especially what works in the areas of prevention and response. Second, we need legislation that is prescriptive, thoughtful, evidence-based, and supported with adequate resources. If legislators are serious about doing something to stop bullying, they must move beyond the rhetoric and provide appropriate resources for schools, parents, law enforcement, and other community institutions to tackle this problem. Third, focusing on improving the climate at school can have a significant impact on a host of problematic behaviors. If students believe that they are cared about at school, and they value those relationships with their teachers, counselors, and administrators, they will in turn refrain from engaging in behaviors that would risk damaging those relationships. That said, bullying and cyberbullying are not just school problems, they are societal problems. Everyone has a role and responsibility to do something, and it can start right here with us today.
Gottfredson, G. D., & Gottfredson, D. G. (1985). Victimization in schools. New York: Plenum Press.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2007). Offline consequences of online victimization: School violence and delinquency. Journal of School Violence, 6(3), 89-112.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2008). Cyberbullying: An exploratory analysis of factors related to offending and victimization. Deviant Behavior, 29(2), 129-156.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2009). Bullying beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications (ISBN: 9781412966894).
Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2010). Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide. Archives of Suicide Research, 14(3).
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2012). School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Kowalski, R. M., Limber, S. P., & Agatston, P. W. (2008). Cyber bullying: Bullying in the digital age. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Lenhart, A. (2007). Cyberbullying and Online Teens. Retrieved June 27, 2007, from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP%20Cyberbullying%20Memo.pdf
Malecki, C. K., & Demaray, M. K. (2004). The role of social support in the lives of bullies, victims, and bully-victims. In D. L. Espelage & S. M. Swearer (Eds.), Bullying in American schools (pp. 211-225). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Patchin, J. W. & Hinduja, S. (2010). Cyberbullying and self-esteem. Journal of School Health, 80(12), 614-621.
Patchin, J. W. & Hinduja, S. (2011). Traditional and nontraditional bullying among youth: A test of general strain theory. Youth and Society, 43(2), 727-751.
Patchin, J. W. & Hinduja, S. (2012). Cyberbullying Prevention and Response: Expert Perspectives. New York: Routledge (ISBN: 978-0415892377).
Rigby, K. (1996). Bullying in schools: And what to do about it. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Smith, P. K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., & Tippett, N. (2008). Cyberbullying: its nature and impact in secondary school pupils. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(4), 376-385.
Whitney, I., & Smith, P. K. (1993). A survey of the nature and extent of bullying in junior/middle and secondary schools. Educational Research, 31(1), 3-25.
Ybarra, M. L., Diener-West, M., & Leaf, P. J. (2007). Examining the Overlap in Internet Harassment and School Bullying: Implications for School Intervention. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, S42-S50.
160,000 Students Stay Home from School Every Day Because of Bullying. Really?
At the Cyberbullying Research Center we strive to approach the issue of teen technology use and misuse from a data-informed perspective. Just to be clear, data doesn’t just mean bar charts. Over the last ten years we have formally surveyed over 12,000 middle and high school students, so yes, we have a lot of bar charts. But we have also spoken to thousands of teens in schools all around the United States (and abroad). We get emails and phone calls daily from teens, parents, educators, and others who care about the online behaviors of young people. We have done focused interviews with small groups of students. We also review research articles written by other scholars (both published and unpublished). All of these are valuable sources of data. Taken together, we can start to develop a more comprehensive understanding of what is really going on.
Some data sources are definitely better than others, and we take into consideration the quality of the source and the sophistication of the methodology when interpreting results. Randomly selecting participants from a known sample is much better, for example, than arbitrarily selecting people who happen to be at a particular place and time.
To illustrate, I was recently at a school where a teacher told me that *every* student at her school that she had talked to had “either seen or engaged in sexting.” When pressed, she admitted that this wasn’t a “scientific survey,” just a questioning of a few of the students coming out of the cafeteria one day. So she extrapolated that to estimate that “everyone” at her school was in some way involved in sexting. Of course this is ridiculous. I haven’t seen a sexting study report prevalence rates higher than 31% for receiving a “sext” and most studies put the rate in the teens. In fact the Crimes Against Children Research Center recently reported that only 7.1% of students between the ages of 10 and 17 had received a “sext” (and this was a nationally representative survey – about as good as you can get methodologically).
So whenever I find a particular statistic cited, the first thing I do is attempt to uncover the original source and then review the methodology. What was the sample? How were participants selected to be in that sample? What specific questions were asked? Take once again the issue of sexting. How exactly is “sexting” defined? If you ask teens whether they have *ever* seen a nude or semi-nude image of another person on a cell phone, the number who say yes will likely be very high (if they are being truthful). If you ask them, on the other hand, if they had seen a nude or semi-nude image of another student from their school in the last 30 days, the number will be much lower. This is the question that we asked in our research, but even it can be misinterpreted. I mean, what exactly is “semi-nude?”
This brings me to the original point of this post. I have seen too many times to count the statistic that “over 160,000 students stay home every school day due to bullying.” Here are some representative examples:
I have also seen it twice in the last week in summaries for bullying prevention programs being offered by experts. I even found it in a 1993 article in the New York Times. Interestingly, I see it most commonly cited in news reports and governmental reports. Do a Google search for that statistic and you will see it thousands of times. But where did it come from? It has been attributed to many different sources (ABC News, National Education Association, and several books). Most commonly, it is credited to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At least one CDC report cites a book written in 1998 (Real boys: Rescuing our sons form the myths of boyhood by William Pollack). That book attributes the statistic to the National Association of School Psychologists, but doesn’t provide a specific citation to a specific study or source. So where did it come from? I have put the question to some of the brightest minds in the area of bullying prevention and research and nobody knows. So if anyone out there has a specific study that includes this statistic, I would love to see it.
There is no question that too many students stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying. The exact number is difficult to really know. But it does this field a disservice to mis-cite or simply report statistics without being able to substantiate them. Bullying *is* a serious problem that warrants our attention. But the case can be made for this using reliable and valid statistics, not hyperbole.