The largest ever study into bullying among teenagers in England suggests that concerns about cyberbullying may be overblown, with traditional real-world bullying still hugely outstripping it.
The study, carried out by two professors from the University of Oxford, provides an evidence-based look at a sensitive area that has, in the past, been sensationalised. The coauthors, who call for “interventions that holistically target both forms bullying in adolescence”, highlight that their findings are “in stark contrast to media reports”. They point specifically to a January report in the Mirror that claimed nearly half of parents believed their children were more likely to be bullied online than in the playground. But the new study, published in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, finds this is not the case.The survey reported in the Mirror was problematic, firstly because it was based on parents' perceptions of their children’s safety, not necessarily the reality, and secondly because it was conducted by Symantec, a firm that sells Norton security software for families. A blog post penned by one of Symantec’s own staff on the topic begins with the individual sharing his own fatherly experiences, emphatically flagging up the most serious concerns (“cyberbullying is a growing problem on the internet and one that as a parent you may underestimate”) before listing the best defence strategies - and corresponding Norton software.
Andrew Przybylski, a co-author on the new paper, calls the Mirror article’s claims “pretty disturbing” and points to the “implausibly high numbers” quoted in the press when it comes to online bullying.
“People are rightly taking cyberbullying quite seriously, but we must hold cyberbullying to the same standards as traditional [bullying],” he tells WIRED. “We wanted to get an accurate measure of what was going on.”