A new study that examined cellphone ownership among children in third to fifth grades finds they may be particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying.

For the study, researchers collected data on 4,584 students in grades three, four, and five between 2014 and 2016. Overall, 9.5 percent of children reported being a victim of cyberbullying. Children who owned cellphones were significantly more likely to report being a victim of cyberbullying, especially in grades three and four, according to the researchers.

“Parents often cite the benefits of giving their child a cellphone, but our research suggests that giving young children these devices may have unforeseen risks as well,” said Elizabeth K. Englander, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

The study found that across all three grades, 49.6 percent of students reported owning a cellphone. The older the student, the more likely to report cellphone ownership, according to the findings: 59.8 percent of fifth graders, 50.6 percent of fourth graders, and 39.5 percent of third graders reported owning their own cellphone.

The study also discovered that cellphone owners in grades three and four were more likely to report being a victim of cyberbullying.

Across all three grades, more cellphone owners admitted they have been a cyberbully themselves, the researchers discovered.

The increased risk of cyberbullying related to phone ownership could be tied to increased opportunity and vulnerability, according to the researchers.

Continuous access to social media and texting increases online interactions, provides more opportunities to engage both positively and negatively with peers, and increases the chance of an impulsive response to peers’ postings and messages.

The study’s findings are a reminder for parents to consider the risks, as well as the benefits, when deciding whether to provide their elementary school-aged child with a cellphone, Englander said.

“At the very least, parents can engage in discussions and education with their child about the responsibilities inherent in owning a mobile device, and the general rules for communicating in the social sphere,” Englander said.

The study was presented at the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics 

 
Photo: Cell phone owners are more likely to be bullies. Credit: AAP and Dr. Englander.