Cyberbullying: an examination of victimization, parent-child communication, collective efficacy and safe behaviors online among young adolescents

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Each year, approximately 10%-40% of adolescents are the victims of cruel online behaviors such as posting embarrassing photos or videos, purposeful exclusion, harassment, even threats of violence, often referred to as cyberbullying. Cyberbully victimization (CBV) during adolescence, a critical time for physical, mental and emotional development, might lead to adverse short and long-term health impacts and teach the adolescent to mistrust others while suggesting that it is appropriate for peers to intentionally harm each other. Numerous studies have reported the negative health impacts associated with CBV including both internalizing problems (i.e. depression, anxiety, loneliness, and low self-esteem) as well as externalizing problems (i.e. self-harm and drug use). CBV has also been linked to suicide. The current study examined suspected protective factors of CBV from a social ecological model including: demographic and Internet behaviors (individual characteristics), parent-child communication about Internet use (Interpersonal or relationships) and collective efficacy (school community). Data were obtained from a convenience sample of 1,249 young adolescents through a web-based survey administered in multiple public-school classrooms. An important feature of this study was a comparison of a multi-item scale of repeated cyberbully behaviors suggesting that 37% of adolescents were CBV with females (38%) and 8th graders (43%) at greatest risk, compared to a binary item that suggested that only 12% of adolescents were victims (females:13% and 8th graders:15% at greatest risk). Several statistically significant correlates of CBV were identified in this study including safe behaviors online and number of hours on the Internet, quality parent-child communication, and school collective efficacy. For our sample, safe behaviors online partially mediated the association between quality parent-child communication and CBV. Research is needed to understand the mechanism by which parent-child communication might protect against CBV. Suggestions for future prevention and intervention strategies for this complex public health challenge are discussed.