Teens who think their parents are loving and supportive less likely to engage in cyberbullying, study reveals
Asked if their parents are loving, youth who said 'almost never' were over 6 times more likely to engage in high levels of cyberbullying than those who answered that their parents are 'almost always' loving
Studies of bullying among youth usually focus on those who are bullied. Understanding the factors that affect youth who exhibit bullying behaviors is equally important and such information can increase the effectiveness of prevention and interventions at the individual, family, school, and community levels, say experts. Focusing on this aspect, researchers found that teenagers who perceive their parents to be loving and supportive are less likely to engage in cyberbullying.
When asked if their parents are loving, youth who said “almost never,” were over six times more likely to engage in high levels of cyberbullying than those who answered that their parent is “almost always” loving. Other types of emotional support, including how much teens feel their parents help and understand them, also contributed to the likelihood of whether young people engaged in cyberbullying behavior.
According to Laura Grunin, the study’s lead author, while the report does not prove that a lack of parental support directly causes cyberbullying, it suggests that children’s relationships with their parents might influence their bullying behaviors. The findings point to the importance of parental emotional support as a factor that may influence whether teens cyberbully and more importantly, it is how teens perceive the support they receive from their parents, explains Grunin, a doctoral student at New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing, which conducted the analysis. These relationships should be considered when developing interventions to prevent cyberbullying, she suggests.
“Our study demonstrates that there is a statistically significant association between a teen’s perception of the emotional support they receive from their parents and the likelihood of engaging in cyberbullying behaviors. It is our hope that identifying this relationship will help move health, education, social service, and other professionals one step closer towards developing targeted interventions preventing cyberbullying and bring this new finding to the attention of parents,” Grunin told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).
The findings, published in the International Journal of Bullying Prevention, are especially relevant given changes in family life created by the Covid-19 pandemic, emphasizes the team. “With remote learning replacing classroom instruction for many young people, and cell phones, and social media standing in for face-to-face interaction with friends, there are more opportunities for cyberbullying to occur. New family dynamics and home stressors are also at play, thanks to higher unemployment rates and more parents working from home,” says Grunin.
What did the researchers find?
More than half of US teens report having experience with cyberbullying, or online behavior that may involve harassment, insults, threats, or spreading rumors, write authors. Knowing the factors associated with bullying behaviors can be useful in designing effective programs to prevent bullying, intervene when it occurs, and work with youth involved in bullying incidents, they explain. Accordingly, using data from the 2009-2010 World Health Organization (WHO) Health Behavior in School-Aged Children survey -- the most recent WHO data collected in the US -- the team analyzed responses from 12,642 US pre-teens and teens (ages 11 to 15 years old) from over 300 schools across the country. The adolescents were asked about their bullying behaviors, as well as their perceptions of certain family characteristics, including their relationship with their parents.
The investigators found that the more adolescents perceived their parents as loving, the less likely they were to engage in cyberbullying. According to them, a significant finding of the study involved students who perceived their parent/guardian as “sometimes” loving. These adolescents have over 2.5 times the odds of engaging in high cyberbullying behavior compared to the reference group of participants who report their parents as “almost always” loving. “To further punctuate the importance of feeling loved, if an adolescent ‘almost never’ perceived their parent/ guardian as loving, their odds ratio increased dramatically to more than six times as likely of falling into the high cyberbullying class,” says the analysis.
Among other findings, children who felt their parents did not let them do things they like tended to engage in moderate or high cyberbullying behavior. In contrast, children who felt that their parents “almost always” allowed them to do things they like were more likely to fall in the category of engaging in no bullying at all. “Students who reported that their parent/guardian ‘almost always’ treated them like a baby had high cyberbullying behaviors. In general, the positive parental support variables, such as children who reported feeling loved and supported by their parents or guardian, tended to be associated with a low cyberbullying element, if any bullying at all. Conversely, and yet consistent with the results, children who reported a negative parental impact, such as being treated like a baby or feeling controlled, tended to engage in bullying behaviors with a higher cyberbullying element,” the findings state.
Certain demographic factors were also related to teenagers’ likelihood of cyberbullying. Girls were much less likely than boys to exhibit high levels of cyberbullying. Race also played a role: Asian American adolescents were the least likely to be cyberbullying, while African American teens were less likely than White teens to engage in lower levels of cyberbullying and more likely to engage in higher levels.
Consider family dynamics, say experts
The researchers suggest that educators, health professionals, social media experts, and others working in youth development should take family dynamics into account when creating programs to address cyberbullying. These results are useful for developing interventions to prevent cyberbullying, especially when working with youth who have low perceptions of parental emotional support and their family’s socio-demographic characteristics, they explain.
The study says that parents should strive to discern their teen’s perception of parental emotional support as it might be associated with youth cyberbullying behavior. “Our study highlights to parents the importance of listening to their children. In relation to cyberbullying, parents providing emotional support to their teens may not be the whole story. Parents need to go one step further to find out what their child’s perception of the emotional support from their parents may be,” Grunin told MEAWW. “Just recently Covid-19 has changed the landscape of our daily lives, including the exponential growth of a teen’s technology use, allowing for more opportunities to cyberbully. Teachers, guidance counselors, and other school staff should also be aware that a relationship between cyberbullying and their students who express a lack of parental emotional support exists to help identify youth most at risk,” recommends the author.