Cyber-Bullying in Western Canada

A Darker Side of Our Technological Culture

Amanda Todd’s suicide and the online harassment that led up to it shone a spotlight on the issue of cyber-bullying, not because it is a new problem, but because it is becoming more and more widespread.

In the two rounds of polling Insights West and 6S Marketing have done on the topic, it emerges that, in both BC and Alberta, almost a quarter (23%) of parents with teens report their teen has been cyber-bullied. And those are only the cases that parents know about: research done directly with teens could very well reveal even higher incidence figures.

At the same time, over half of parents with teens report their teen has experienced “traditional” bullying.

Cyber-Bullying and Traditional Bullying Make a Devastating Combination.

There are several striking aspects to cyber-bullying that have emerged in the many discussions it has prompted.  Consider the facts that:

  • teens tend to be technologically adept at using social media, and yet are arguably the least-equipped to make sensible decisions about using technology prudently;
  • often the harassment that teens experience and/or inflict on each other seems to be of a sexual nature, making it psychologically harder for teens to get their parents involved even if things spiral out of control;
  • the two different types of bullying reinforce each other.  Technology makes it easier for people to bully others in person, and in-person bullying adds a new layer of pain, threat, and humiliation to the already-potent “anytime, anywhere” cyber-bullying.

Our study clearly shows that Western Canadians (whether they are parents of teens or not) believe the solution lies with parents and teens. When asked which groups should play primary roles in addressing cyber-bullying, between 6 and 7 out of 10 said that parents should take a primary role, and about 6 out of 10 said teens should do so, with supporting roles generally seen as appropriate for police, schools, and government.

But what exactly should be done?  In the past several years, parents and schools have taken steps to prevent bullying in general, with awareness-raising and declarations of “zero tolerance”—and this is good.  Cyber-bullying raises the stakes, however.  And the research we have done so far raises even more questions.

Research Can Help Illumine the Way Ahead

Issues such as parental control and monitoring of teens’ online activities; awareness (and possibly development) of safeguards or tools that might help do this; or assisting in the development of resources to support victims—these are all areas of great interest to Insights West in future research.

Insights West will continue to monitor the issues that are important to our society, focusing particularly on how our culture is evolving as it weaves technology more tightly into its fabric.