Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Excessive texting increases risk of cyberbullying; sexual minorities face higher school violence risk

Nearly half of Los Angeles middle schoolers send more than 50 text messages a day, which increased their risk of being a victim or perpetrator of cyberbullying, according to researchers who presented today at a session about violence and bullying in schools.

Other reports have shown that up to 28 percent of middle school students are perpetrators of cyberbullying, while up to 34 percent are cyberbullying victims, said presenter Robin Petering, of the University of Southern California School of Social Work.

“Cyberbullying is different from traditional bullying in a couple of ways: It can be anonymous, you can be victimized in your own home, it can come across in various different platforms, and it can have a larger audience,” Petering said.

Researchers analyzed a survey of 1,285 students in grades sixth through eighth in the Los Angeles Unified School District. They also found that 70 percent of the students have cell phones, 53 percent have smartphones, 27 percent use the Internet three times or more a day, and 54 percent have Internet rules at home.

The most likely way to be bullied was via Facebook, at 63 percent, followed by texting at 29 percent. Thirty-seven percent of students were bullied in more than one venue.

“We found cyberbullying is really more of a female-oriented phenomenon, which is different from what we know about traditional bullying,” Petering said.

Sexual minority students are also at increased risk for cyberbullying, as well as traditional bullying. As shown in session presenter Emily Olsen’s study, sexual minority students were consistently more likely to feel threatened, bullied or afraid to go to school than their heterosexual counterparts.

“We know that victims of school violence and bullying are a lot less comfortable attending school; they feel unsafe, less connected, perform poorly academically and are more likely to drop out of school than their nonvictimized counterparts,” Olsen said.

Olsen, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, used the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey to study 71,950 students in 10 states and 44,199 students in 10 districts and cities.

In the districts, 26 percent of bisexual males and 25 percent of gay males had been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, compared with 9 percent of heterosexual males. Fifteen percent of lesbians and 11 percent of bisexual females in the districts experienced threats or injuries, compared with 5 percent of heterosexual females.

Nine percent or more of sexual minority students stayed home from school at least one day in the past month because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to school. Furthermore, sexual minority males were three times more likely than heterosexual males to miss school because of fear.

“Sexual minority students are routinely experiencing these increased risks for school violence and bullying, and that puts them at increased risk for suicide and other mental health problems, multiple other health risk behaviors, as well as poor academic performance,” Olsen said. “These indirect risks have the potential to be, over the course of their life, really detrimental.”

Olsen shared three evidence-based strategies schools can implement to help prevent bullying among sexual minority students:

•    Implement school anti-bullying policies with language that includes prohibition of harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or identity.
•    Create a student gay-straight alliance.
•    Institute small-scale interventions, such as having teachers supervise hallways and having an adult advocate who is well known for being supportive of sexual minority students.

To learn more about the connections between school environments and health, visit APHA’s Center for School, Health and Education.  

— M.P.

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