To coincide with Safer Internet Day today, anti-bullying charity, Beatbullying has published an in-depth study of the state of cyberbullying amongst children, young people and teachers in the UK.
The report, entitled ‘Virtual Violence II: Progress and Challenges in the Fight against Cyberbullying’, has been commissioned by Nominet Trust in association with the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT). It reveals that cyberbullying, as a weapon of choice amongst the nation's youth, is showing no signs of dissipating, with 350,222 children – or 1 in 13 – experiencing persistent and intentional cyberbullying, with just under a quarter (23%) reporting that the bullying lasted for a year or more, and two in five (40%) saying that it lasted for months or weeks. These findings closely mirror Beatbullying's first Virtual Violence study which was published in 2009.
Looking at the long-term effects of cyberbullying, Virtual Violence II reveals the detrimental impact this kind of abuse can have on a young person's wellbeing, with 20 per cent of children and young people indicating that fear of cyberbullies made them reluctant to go to school and one in five (19%) reporting they experienced reduced confidence and self-esteem, with 14 per cent living in fear for their safety. Disturbingly, 5 per cent of those surveyed said that they had resorted to self-harm and 3 per cent reported an attempt of suicide as a direct result of cyberbullying.
One 16 year old female respondent reported:
“Through this bullying which was not just on the internet, I tried to commit suicide, ended up going to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and stopped going to school. The only reason it has improved is because I left school.”
The rise of hand-held internet and mobile technologies in classrooms and the widespread use of social networking and rating platforms such as RateMyTeachers.com have meant that teachers are becoming as common a victim of cyberbullying as children and young people. Virtual Violence II uncovers the increasing vulnerability of teachers, with 1 in 10 teachers stating they've experienced harassment through a technological medium and 48 per cent witnessing or hearing about it happening to their colleagues. The effects of cyberbullying on teachers are just as serious with 15 per cent reporting that they have felt afraid for their safety or that of their family, and 3 per cent contemplating leaving the profession, 3 per cent resigning altogether.
The report also highlights the financial strain cyberbullying places upon the education system, with teachers spending an average of six hours a week dealing with cases of cyberbullying and an estimated £18 million of the education budget being spent dealing with cases of cyberbullying per annum.
Speaking about the study, Emma-Jane Cross, Chief Executive of Beatbullying, commented:
“Cyberbullying continues to be a dangerous problem for a significant number of young people and we must not ignore its complex and often devastating effects. We as a society need to take responsibility for both preventing such harmful and anti-social behaviour, and dealing effectively with incidents of virtual violence when they occur. An integrated approach where we see Government, schools, parents, Internet Service Providers and charities like Beatbullying all working together to keep our most vulnerable safe.”
“Emphasis also needs to be placed on the safety and well being of our teachers, their job is to educate and not spend endless hours a week dealing with cyber bullying.
“CyberMentors is dealing with cyberbullying on the front line, but working together in partnership with service providers, we can create a culture in which any form of bullying, on or off-line, is seen as unacceptable. This is how we will make a real difference to young people's lives.”
Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the NAHT, added:
“The benefits of new communications technologies in education are hard to overstate but we know that when they are abused, life can be made a misery for pupils and teachers alike. We also know that victims of bullying whether on or off-line have been driven to suicide by such misery.
“This report brings home the necessity of taking steps to deal with pernicious virtual violence, not only to protect those who could and should be taking advantage of all the positive aspects of these exciting technologies but to send a clear message to those who might believe otherwise, that abuse conducted online is still abuse and is not immune from consequences.
“We welcome this report for highlighting these issues and are proud to support Beatbullying in its attempts to provide a common sense response to cyber violence.”
“This new research is extremely worrying. A kneejerk reaction would be to lock and block the internet, but this would negate its vast potential for supporting young people's learning and development. Instead, we need to equip young people and their parents with the skills to use the internet safely and responsibly so they can take advantage of the opportunities that digital technology presents for positive discovery, collaboration and participation.”