Beyond mean and cruel behavior on social network sites, the more serious issue of bullying among youth has garnered increased attention in the U.S. in recent years. In March and September of this year, the White House convened special conferences on bullying prevention, and schools across the country have stepped up efforts to address bullying through strict policies and educational programs.
Yet, new research suggests that the rhetoric adults use to talk about bullying may not align with the language teens use to describe the same kinds of behavior. As such, reported instances of “bullying” may not be capturing the full picture of the sustained and hurtful harassment that is happening among youth.
Our construction of “mean and cruel” online behavior in this survey attempts to get at some of these behavioral distinctions captured by Marwick and boyd’s concept of “drama.” But neither our question language nor the term “drama” cover the entire landscape of teens’ social experiences online. For a subset of teens, bullying is a very real and very hurtful phenomenon, and that is why we asked both the “mean and cruel” and bullying questions in this survey.
Overall, 19% of teens report that they have been bullied in the last 12 months under at least one of the four scenarios we queried in our survey –in person, by phone, text messaging, or online. And within that 19% who have been bullied, 50% of these teens say they were just bullied through one mode, while 50% said they were bullied in more than one place.
When teens were asked directly about instances of bullying over the past 12 months, the most common type of harassment reported was in-person. Some 12% of all teens ages 12-17 say they have been bullied face-to-face in the past year. Younger teens ages 12-13 are more likely than older teens ages 14-17 to say that they have experienced in-person bullying in the last year (17% vs. 10%). Looking more closely at variations by age, 12-year-olds stand out as reporting the most in-person harassment, with 22% saying they had to deal with bullying in the last year.
When younger teens and older teens are grouped together, there are no significant differences by gender and reported incidences of in-person bullying. There is a gap but not one that is large enough to be statistically significant: 9% of all boys ages 12-17 say they have experienced some form of in-person harassment in the past 12 months, compared with 15% of girls. However, when older and younger teens are sorted by gender, older teen boys ages 14-17 do stand out for being significantly less likely to say they have endured in-person bullying in the past year (only 5% report this compared with 15% of older teen girls).
Fewer than one in ten teens report being bullied by phone, text, or online.
While the vast majority of teens, 87%, say they haven’t experienced in-person bullying over the past year, harassment that occurs through other communications channels can be equally hurtful. Overall, 9% of teens ages 12-17 say that they have endured bullying via text messaging. Another 8% say they have experienced some form of online bullying – such as through email, a social network site, or IM. And 7% say they have been bullied over the phone.
Surprisingly, although younger teens are more likely to experience in-person bullying, they are no more likely than older teens to report bullying in any other situation – via text messaging, online, or by phone. The situation with gender is just the opposite; while the gender differences with in-person bullying were not quite large enough to be significant, they are statistically significant for every form of technology-mediated bullying. Girls are more likely than boys to report bullying in every case. Teen girls are more likely than boys to report being bullied by text messaging (13% vs. 5%), online (12% vs. 4%), and by phone (11% vs. 4%).