UI study shows parents may not know how to deal with cyberbullying

In a study conducted by two UI professors on parental roles in cyberbullying, they found that parents may not know what their children are doing online or how to approach their children about the situation.


Ryan Adams

Professor Rachel Young sits at her desk in Adler Journalism Building on Monday, February 18, 2019. Young recently conducted a study on the parental role in cyberbullying.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

With the advancement of technology, cyberbullying emerged as a new way for children to pick on their peers. A University of Iowa study has shown parents are unsure about how to help their children with this new method of bullying.

Previous studies have looked at the role school administrators should take in cyberbullying situations. This study, conducted by Assistant Professor Rachel Young and Associate Professor Melissa Tully, looked at how parents would handle a cyberbullying situation.

In a study looking at administrator roles in cyberbullying conducted by Young and Tully, the administrators mentioned a lack of parental involvement when it came to the bullying, Young said. Administrators have found that parents aren’t aware of what their children do online; this sparked Young’s interested looking at cyberbullying from the parent perspective, she said.

Parents are the ones who give their children access to technology devices and set the rules for the use of these devices, Young said. Parents also provide support for their child when they’re having an issue and communicate these issues to the school, she said.

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Through the study, the researchers conducted focus groups asking parents to consider different scenarios involving the different roles their child could play in a cyberbullying situation. The researchers hypothetically asked what they would do in each situation, Young said.

“They had a lot of the same ideas of what they would do, mostly about trying to understand the context of what was happening,” Young said. “Because they knew that a lot of times this situations can be fairly complicated.”

The scenarios made parents think about how they would react in the situation in which their children are the aggressors, victims, or bystanders, Tully said. The scenarios allowed parents to objectively look at the situations without having to talk about their own experiences, she said.

The researchers had found that other studies on cyberbullying lacked the parent perspective. The perspective was looked at previously through some surveys conducted but not very much in depth, Tully said.

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Through the focus groups, the researchers looked at the norms expected of parents in cyberbullying, Tully said. They found that there are a lot of factors that go into how a parent will react in certain situations, she said.

“It’s really much more important to understand the individual situations and circumstances, and understanding the certain dynamic in the relationship within families,” Tully said. “So our findings suggest that we need to understand that context more than just saying, ‘Here’s a prescription for how you can deal with these issues.’ ”

Parents function as mentors to their children when it comes to using technology to be their authentic selves, said Devorah Heitner, a childhood development researcher and author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. It’s also important for parents to communicate with their child when they have a negative experience with someone, she said.

Parents should talk to their child about what kind of interactions they’re having with technology, Heitner said. They could try to understand how their child is reacting to issues they’re having online with people they may or may not know.

“There’s no way for kids to know the social wisdom that parents have learned over their lifetime about dealing with conflict, dealing with exclusion, and managing relationship issues,” Heitner said. “Parents didn’t grow up with Snapchat or whatnot, but they can still help their kids a lot.”

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