This week nine young people were indicted in Massachusetts for their alleged involvement in the bullying that drove the 15-year-old Phoebe Prince to commit suicide.

Phoebe Prince - Is it time for a new approach to bullying?

Phoebe Prince - Is it time for a new approach to bullying?

The bullying took place in the school attended by Phoebe, but she could not escape when she went home as the perpetrators continued to bully via text message and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist and Formspring. As the story unfolds it is clear that school officials, through their inaction,  were complicit in the bullying of Phoebe.

Digital technologies are now central to nearly every adolescent’s life. Anne Conway (my wife, the clever one in the family) recently completed a research paper entitled “The Internet Generation: Bullying Has Gone Digital” as part of her Masters in Education at Trinity College, Dublin. This paper outlined a new understanding of the impact of cyber bullying on adolescents with recommendations for a new inclusive approach to dealing with it by policymakers, school officials, parents and students.

Anne has kindly granted me permission to make her research paper available here. If bullying in the digital world concerns you then I suggest you take the time to read it. This is from the summary;

“Children born in the mid-to-late 1980’s and 1990’s have been labelled the “Internet Generation”; the first generation to grow up in a world where the Internet has always been present (Dutton, 2004 cited in Herring, 2008, p.71). The existence of the Internet is all that these adolescents have ever known and is simply part of their lives. Social networking websites and instant messaging are increasingly popular ways for young people to communicate. This is particularly true in today’s society where they can struggle to find suitable physical spaces to “hang out” together and socialise.

The Internet has been shown to facilitate adolescents’ identity formation, providing opportunities for self-definition and self-reflection. Unfortunately, the many benefits associated with adolescent Internet activities cannot be fully experienced when the online environment is aggressive. Through an extensive literature review and interviews with adolescents, the author was able to clarify the important role that the Internet, in particular social networking sites, play in assisting with [adolescent] social and personal development.

Furthermore, this study identified some harmful aspects of cyber bullying that had not been indicated in previous research. These included; the unique sense of isolation felt by victims of cyber bullying, the subtle nature of cyber bullying which can make it hard to identify, the reluctance of social networking sites to act on less obvious bullying, the inability to be certain about a commenter’s intention because one can’t see their facial expressions, and the lack of realisation among some that behaviour they perceive as “cool” could be classified as bullying.

The research also identified that cyber bullying can be even more damaging where it is accompanied by the threat of a perceived over-reaction from parents or teachers to remove access to the sites themselves from the victim; thus increasing their fear of social isolation.

In conclusion, the author calls for policymakers to move away from banning social networking sites as the solution to cyber bullying, and suggests an inclusive approach which sees greater openness and discussion amongst school managers, care workers, teachers, parents and students about how to behave and protect oneself online.”

Download the full research paper here: The Internet Generation – Bullying Has Gone Digital – Anne Conway (.pdf 3.7mb file –  Right-click on the link and select SAVE LINK AS or SAVE TARGET AS)