Study Calls for Cyberbullying Education in Elementary Schools

The Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) has released a cyberbullying study about elementary school students that calls for a change in the way states, districts and schools address online bullying and its prevention.

According to Anne Collier of The Christian Science Monitor, the study is one of the first to research elementary school-aged youth. Collier said she believes that study's results demonstrate the need for social-emotional learning and media literacy education starting in even lower grades.

The MARC surveyed more than 11,700 students in third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in a variety of schools in New England between January 2010 and September 2012.

Most elementary cyberbullying occurred in online games. Over 90% of third graders reported playing interactive games online, while just 35% of subjects reported owning a cellphone — the device most widely-considered to be a major source of digital bullying. Children at the highest risk for repeatedly cyberbullying others were the most likely to report problems on Facebook, email, or through text messaging.

Cyber education needs to begin well before middle school as students begin using a range of mobile and online devices, according to the study.

MARC suggested that elementary cyberbullying education should probably include lessons relevant to online game-playing dynamics. Also, when a child aged 8 to 11 reports a problem on Facebook, email, or messaging, that should be regarded as a possible warning sign of higher-risk online involvement, MARC said.

Data shows that Facebook use is increasing among elementary school-aged students. The use of Facebook increased among third, fourth, and fifth graders between 2010-2012 especially among girls, according to the study. In 2010, 19% of girls were using Facebook and now this number rose to 49% in 2012.

According to MARC, cell phone ownership increased in every grade. Among fourth graders, 26% owned cell phones in 2012 and increased to 35% in 2012. The study found that 52% of fifth graders and 22% of third graders reported owning cell phones by 2012.

In every grade, smartphone ownership increased and non-smartphone ownership decreased between 2010 and 2012.

Owning a smartphone was a significant risk factor for both being a cyberbully and being a cyberbullying victim. 12% of fifth grade non-owners, and 18% of smartphone owners, admitted being a cyberbully. Similarly, 12% of fifth grade non-owners, and 34% of smartphone owners, reported being a cyberbullying victim. Similar numbers were found for third and fourth graders.

MARC suggested that parents who are considering buying their elementary-aged child a smartphone should be educated in both the benefits and the risks associated with children's usage.

According to the study, traditional in-school bullying and cyberbullying both increased across the three years. Being a victim actually decreased from third to fifth grade., but the percentage of children who both bully and are victims increased from 15% in third grade to 21% in grade fifth, MARC found.

According to the study, cyberbullying education seems to be having a positive impact in Massachusetts. The study found that the proportion of children who could not define cyberbullying declined from 24% in 2010 to 10% in 2012.

Non-bullies were more likely than bullies to report that their class had been offered education about bullying and cyberbullying (especially among fifth graders). Children who were repeatedly mean online reported the lowest level of education.

MARC suggested that elementary education and awareness about cyberbullying is necessary for school safety and that it can be implemented successfully.

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