Although cyberbullying is topic of concern for many parents, it seems that they largely disagree as to what exactly constitutes cyberbullying, according to a new report. In a poll of approximately 600 parents of adolescents from 13 to 17 , researchers asked parents four questions involving teenagers. Each question had to do with cyberbullying, reports Agata Blaszczak-Boxe, writing for LiveScience, and the data was released Monday as part of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, based at the University of Michigan.
The first question concerned a hypothetical student spreading rumors online about another student who had sex at school. Sixty-five percent of parents said that this situation was definitely cyberbullying. In another question, a student was caught cheating on a test and the news was spread online, and only 43% of parents said that was definitely a case of cyberbullying, according to the report.
The next scenario involved carrying out a social media campaign to elect a certain student to the homecoming court as a mean joke, which garnered 63% of parents’ votes for definite bullying. 43% of parents agreed that sharing a photo of a classmate that had been altered to look fatter was cyberbullying.
“I think there is perhaps an emotional factor” that may explain the differences, Sarah J. Clark, associate director of the poll said. “Perhaps parents perceive that certain things would be more humiliating than other things.”
Somewhere between 30-50% of parent participants said they were not sure whether any of the hypothetical stories were actually examples of cyberbullying, according to researchers. One in five parents said posting rumors about a student having sex at school should be reported to law enforcement. 5% said they felt the same about the online rumor about cheating on a test.
“Recognition of the dangers of bullying has prompted calls for tougher laws and school sanctions, but our poll shows the huge challenge in establishing clear definitions and punishment for cyberbullying, she said in a statement. “”Schools should consider these differing opinions, to avoid criminalizing teen behavior that is hard to define and enforce consistently.”
Clark, an associate research scientist in the department of pediatrics at University of Michigan, says schools need to make sure that situations are dealt with fairly. The Detroit Free Press’ Lori Higgins reports that, in Clark’s opinion, school leaders will have to be insightful and comprehensive. An earlier survey released last month found that among the top 10 most important concerns about children’s health are bullying, internet safety, and sexting. This was the second year that bullying ranked second just behind childhood obesity.
Another interesting finding of the survey was that 73% of moms thought posting the online rumor about sex was cyberbullying, while only 55% of dads thought the same.
The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health is based at the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan, and is in place to measure major health care issues and trends for US children.
The fact that bullying is a concern for parents nationwide is not lost on the federal government, as shown by its efforts at stopbullying.gov. There, cyberbullying is described as using electronic technology to be mean, spread rumors, send embarrassing pictures, videos, or posting fake profiles. The site reports that 9% of students in grades 6 – 12 have experienced cyberbullying.