Most research on cyberbullying has focused on adolescents. But a new study that examined
cell phone ownership among children in third to fifth grades finds they may be particularly
vulnerable to cyberbullying.
The study abstract, “Cell Phone Ownership and Cyberbullying in 8-11 Year Olds: New
Research,” will be presented Monday, Sept. 18 at the American Academy of Pediatrics
National Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.
Researchers collected survey data on 4,584 students in grades 3, 4 and 5 between 2014
and 2016. Overall, 9.5 percent of children reported being a victim of cyberbullying.
Children who owned cell phones were significantly more likely to report being a victim
of cyberbullying, especially in grades 3 and 4.
“Parents often cite the benefits of giving their child a cell phone, but our research
suggests that giving young children these devices may have unforeseen risks as well,”
said Elizabeth K. Englander, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Bridgewater State
University in Bridgewater, Mass.
Across all three grades, 49.6 of students reported owning a cell phone. The older
the student, the more likely to report cell phone ownership: 59.8 percent of fifth
graders, 50.6 percent of fourth graders, and 39.5 percent of third graders reported
owning their own cell phone. Cell phone owners in grades three and four were more
likely to report being a victim of cyberbullying. Across all three grades, more cell
phone owners admitted they have been a cyberbully themselves.
According to the researchers, the increased risk of cyberbullying related to phone
ownership could be tied to increased opportunity and vulnerability. Continuous access
to social media and texting increases online interactions, provides more opportunities
to engage both positively and negatively with peers, and increases the chance of an
impulsive response to peers’ postings and messages.
Englander suggests that this research is a reminder for parents to consider the risks
as well as the benefits when deciding whether to provide their elementary school-aged
child with a cell phone.
“At the very least, parents can engage in discussions and education with their child
about the responsibilities inherent in owning a mobile device, and the general rules
for communicating in the social sphere,” Englander said.