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An empirical trial to reduce cyber-bullying in adolescents

Cyber-bullying is a psychologically damaging form of covert bullying used primarily by adolescents to inflict harm on others through electronic and digital media, such as: emails, chat-rooms, mobile phones, websites, web-cams. International research suggests that the incidence of cyber bullying is rising. Globally cyber-bullying prevalence is as high as 30% of adolescents. Australian data collected by this team suggest that approximately 7% of students in Years 4 to 9 are cyber bullied every few weeks or more often. Both perpetrators and victims of cyber bullying are found to have greater involvement in drinking and smoking, and a higher incidence of depression, social anxiety and lower self esteem, while victims were also more likely to be absent from school and eight times more likely than other students to have carried a weapon to school in the 30 days prior to taking the survey.

This proposed group randomised control trial is a world first. To the best of our knowledge all cyber bullying research to-date has focused on early stage prevalence assessment rather than more downstream intervention development and testing. It also builds on four large formative studies conducted by this team of researchers which involved two large prevalence studies of cyber bullying in 2007 and 2008 (n=7,500 Australian students; n=3,000 WA students) as well as conduct widespread consultation with students, parents and teachers via focus groups and interviews, to understand their many concerns and needs in this area; as well as develop and pilot test our proposed interventions during 2009. 

This three-year group randomised controlled trial will test the effectiveness of an innovative school cyber bullying prevention program that actively engages young people in its development and implementation. The intervention will provide whole-school policy and practice to ameliorate the harms associated with this form of bullying and will be implemented with a trained group of Year 10 student leaders in cooperation with trained pastoral care / IT teams within schools supported by online and written materials and training for teachers (and parents). This research will help to develop effective interventions in the area of cyber bullying, an identified national priority for young people’s health, and help to translate these research findings into policy and practice to increase their public health impact and enhance prevention and early intervention. 

Objectives

Primary outcome objective - Year 8 student cohort

  • To reduce by at least 4%, over a two-year period, the proportion of intervention students who self-report they were cyber bullied last term at school, relative to the comparison students who receive the standard WA secondary school bullying management program.

Secondary outcome objectives - Year 8 student cohort

  • To reduce over a two-year period the prevalence of frequent cyber bullying behaviour (cyber bullying others and/or being bullied every few weeks or more often) among the intervention students, relative to the comparison students who receive the standard WA secondary school bullying (including cyber bullying) management program;
  • To reduce over a two-year period the prevalence of frequent face-to-face bullying behaviour (bullying others and/or being bullied every few weeks or more often) among the intervention students, relative to the comparison students who receive the standard WA secondary school bullying (including cyber bullying) management program;
  • To increase over a two year period the proportion of intervention students who report positive perceptions of social support and satisfaction with peer relations relative to the study’s comparison students;
  • To increase over a two year period the proportion of intervention students who feel connected to the school relative to the study’s comparison students; and
  • To increase the proportion of intervention students who talk with someone to get help if they are cyber bullied relative to the comparison group of students.

Secondary outcome objectives - School staff

  • To build the knowledge, attitudes, skills and self-efficacy of intervention school staff relative to comparison school staff to implement strategies that reduce cyber and other forms of bullying.

Translation into policy and practice

Findings from the study will be disseminated via five key strategies: 

  • Young People’s Cyber Advisory Committee;
  • Advisory committee representing state and national health and education stakeholders formed in the early stages of this project will also guide the dissemination of the project;
  • Findings will be disseminated to each study school ideally through a student-led seminar with the school leadership’s support; 
  • Outcomes disseminated via partnership with the Department of Education and Training and the Department for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), the WA Secondary Principals Association, AISWA and CEO schools as well as non-government, commercial and professional organisations such as the Australian Council for Health Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER); and
  • Publication of the results through the scientific literature in both peer-reviewed journal articles and conference presentations. The results of the study will also be disseminated nationally to all interested schools, as well as via public forums, local media, conference presentations, and project reports. The results will also be disseminated nationally through the Bullying No Way Website and the National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB).

For further information about this project contact Kate Hadwen at k.hadwen@ecu.edu.au or Patricia Cardoso at p.cardoso@ecu.edu.au.

Project duration

2010-2012

Funding body

Healthway


Researchers

Professor Donna Cross
Curtin University, Associate Professor Clare Roberts
Flinders University, Professor Phillip Slee
Dr Julian Dooley

Associate Investigators

Queensland University of Technology, Dr Marilyn Campbell
Ms Thérèse Shaw
Dr Lydia Hearn
Associate Professor Stacey Waters
Ms Patricia Williams
Ms Jeanette Hasleby
Dr Debora Brown
Dr Sharyn Burns

Staff

Ms Patricia Cardoso
Ms Kate Hadwen
Dr Laura Thomas

Child Health Promotion Research Centre
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