Apparently, it is not solely an American phenomenon: A new European research effort suggests cyber bullying is becoming increasingly common among teenagers.
Research by the University of Valencia (UV) in Spain, based on a study carried out in the region, shows that between 25 percent and 29 percent of all teenagers have been bullied via their mobile phone or the Internet over the past year.
“The data from our study shows that technological bullying affects 24.6 percent of teenagers in the case of mobile telephony, and 29 percent with regard to the internet. In the large majority of cases, this abuse lasts for a month or less,” said Sofía Buelga, Ph.D., co-author of the study.
The research, published in the latest issue of the journal Psicothema, was based on a survey in 11 secondary schools in 2009, with 2,101 teenagers between the ages of 11 and 17 responding, 1,098 of whom were boys and 1,003 were girls.
The cyber bullying lasted for less than a month for most teenagers. Out of the total surveyed, 17.4 percent were bullied via their mobile phones and 22.5 percent on the Internet.
Although cyber bullying is a short-lived problem for most adolescents, there is a “relatively small, but significant” percentage of teenagers who have been subject to bullying of moderate (less than one attack per week) and severe intensity (more than one attack per week) over the course of more than three months, 4 percent between 3 and 6 months and 3 percent for more than a year.
In cases where bullying is moderate and lasts for more than three months, the most commonly used means for it is the mobile phone.
“This could be explained by the availability and central importance that mobile phones have in life. Previous studies have shown that teenagers aged between 12 and 14 have had an average of three mobile phones, and 63 percent of them never switch them off,” Buelga said.
“More cyber bullying tends to take place in the first years at school than in the last ones, both by mobile and Internet,” she said. The study showed that girls suffer more bullying than boys in most cases, particularly verbal bullying, invasions of privacy, spreading of rumors and social exclusion.
“It is very important to raise young people’s awareness, since they are often not aware of the repercussions of their actions,” Buelga added.
Still, an important caveat is the mixed experience between countries. “There are large methodological differences between countries and studies into the prevalence of cyber bullying. These imbalances explain why the rate of bullying reported in studies varies between 5 percent and 34 percent, Buelga said.
The report, EU Kids online, produced this year in 25 European countries, shows that Spain is “slightly below” the European average in terms of Internet bullying. The average rate of Internet bullying in Europe is 5 percent. Estonia and Romania reported the highest incidence of this phenomenon.
Meanwhile, the latest Report of the Ombudsman concluded in 2007 that the electronic bullying rate among secondary school pupils in Spain was 5.5 percent.
“Technology is taking on ever greater importance in daily life. This is why we need measures to teach people how to use it responsibly and positively,” Buelga said.