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National School Safety Week: Helping youth define 'normal' online

October 16, 2012

The Canada Safety Council's National School Safety Week is October 17 - 23.

Electronic devices such as smartphones can make communication faster and more efficient, but can also easily become channels for aggressive, hurtful or harassing behaviours. In February 2011, the Canada Safety Council partnered with the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet) to survey Canadian students, Grades 5-11, and gain insight into online behaviours among youth.

Researchers, parents, and teacher tend to assume that youth are more likely to morally disengage from their behaviour online. We assume youth think that saying and doing mean things online is less hurtful or meaningful because of the medium. However, results from the survey actually indicate that young Canadians show more positive beliefs about moral behaviour online than we would have expected, according to Ashley Murphy, a clinical psychology doctoral student working with PREVNet.

But cyber bullying is still occurring, and has negative impacts on targeted youth. Furthermore, there are a large number of youth who believe that everyone is doing mean things online, indicating that what youth believe about moral behaviour and what they think others are doing may not match up. Therefore, helping young people, parents and educators understand the true scope of cyber bullying, along with positive online behaviours, can change youths' views on what is normal behaviour online. This can be a starting point for cyber bullying prevention and intervention.

Concerning results

The study, titled Electronic Behavior: The Good, the Bad, and the Harm, reveals that five per cent of the youth surveyed admit to having bullied someone online. Twenty-two per cent report having been victimized online. Over three quarters indicate they were not bullied online within the previous four weeks, while just over eight per cent report having been the target of cyber bullying two or more times each week.

Common forms of electronic aggression include negative comments on pictures and websites, or honest but hurtful comments via honesty boxes on websites or social media. Youth also report engaging in socially aggressive digital behaviour by using texts and instant messaging, and spreading rumours online.

Much like when bullying occurs in the schoolyard, there are usually onlookers to online bullying. This is referred to in the study as Secondary Electronic Aggression - youth aren't directly engaged in the bullying, but instead spectate by visiting a website with negative content, promote the website for others to visit, or publicize that they approve of the cyber-bullying site by signing an online guestbook. The study found it was more likely, however, for youth to engage in electronic secondary aggression if their activity was not easily traceable online.

Youth have strong emotional reactions to experiences online. Youth were given situations that occur online and those that occur in school or at home and asked to rate how ashamed and guilty they felt in response to these potentially mean or hurtful situations. Youth reported more shame and guilt online than at home or school. This may mean that youth are having strong emotional reactions online, which may be contributing to the problem of cyber bullying by allowing conflict to escalate online.

Positive points

The survey's good news is that positive electronic behaviours are very common, much more so than the negative behaviours. Many youth use their online experiences for good by engaging in kindness and sharing behaviours, such as staying in touch with friends and families living far away (65 per cent) and saying nice things online that they would not say in person (40 per cent). Having online communication channels provides opportunities for young people who are shy to take their time to find the words and express themselves. This is apparent in other positive behaviours, such as telling friends that they are cared about (33 per cent) and sharing videos and pictures to cheer people up.

The survey reveals that young people offer a strong support system for their peers experiencing cyber bullying. Twenty-eight per cent of young people report comforting a targeted person, and 24 per cent say they provide supportive comments to people who have been cyber bullied. Youth are less likely (19 per cent), however, to encourage their peers to talk to an adult about the bullying. This should be concerning to parents and teachers because adults can help in these situations, but the only way for them to truly know what is happening is for youth to feel comfortable enough to share their experiences.

For recommendations on how to combat cyber bullying, please visit

For more information contact:
Catherine Benesch
Communications/Media Program Coordinator
Canada Safety Council
Phone: (613) 739-1535 (ext. 228)

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