Cyberbullying and Young People: Behaviours, Experiences and Resolutions
Institution: School of Public Health, UCC
Supervisors: Professor Ella Arensman, National Suicide Research Foundation, Ms Mary Cronin, School of Public Health, UCC and Dr Sarah Meaney, National Perinatal Epidemiology Centre, UCC
Cyberbullying is a complex and multifaceted public health issue among young people. Research indicates deleterious effect on the mental health and wellbeing of victims which warrants action to address this issue. Adults do not have first-hand experience of cyberbullying in their youth and so the development of prevention and intervention strategies can benefit from the engagement of young people’s perspectives. However, young people’s voices are largely absent from the current discourse. This thesis aims to explore the nature, causes, and consequences of cyberbullying from the perspective of young people with a view to informing the development of evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies.
The research was framed by the Medical Research Council guidelines for intervention development. Qualitative and participatory research methods were employed. In the first instance a systematic review and meta-ethnographic synthesis of qualitative studies related to young people’s conceptualisations of cyberbullying was conducted. Secondly, a rights-based model was developed to facilitate the active involvement of young people in the research process. A Young Person’s Advisory Group was purposefully formed to collaborate in the design, conduct, and interpretation of a qualitative study of young people’s perspectives on cyberbullying as well as in priority setting for intervention development. Young People’s involvement in the Advisory Group was evaluated to determine the effectiveness off the model in facilitating young people’s participation in the research process and the acceptability of the approach. The co-designed qualitative study comprised focus groups with secondary school students which were conducted in the school setting. Data were analysed thematically.
The meta-ethnography highlighted that the fundamental role of cyber technology in young people’s lives and the complexity and ambiguity of the cyber world in which they connect are inherent to young people’s conceptualisations of cyberbullying. The participatory evaluation
of young people’s involvement in the research process indicated that the elements necessary for the effective realisation of young people’s participation rights were present in this study. Based on their interpretation of preliminary findings from the qualitative study, Advisory Group Members identified the non-consensual distribution of nude images and the mental health impact of cybervictimisation as serious concerns for young people and priorities for intervention development. Findings indicate that non-consensual distribution involves a complex process that is produced by, and reinforces, gender power dynamics. Young males, under pressure to conform to societal constructs of masculinity, coerce females to send explicit images which are screenshot and intentionally distributed, without consent, to male peers in exchange for social kudos. Regarding the mental health impact, cyberbullying was described as more psychological in nature and impact than traditional bullying with increased deleterious effect on the mental health and wellbeing of victims. Analysis identified several barriers which prevent victims from seeking social support and participants’ perception that suicide is a viable escape route for young victims defeated and entrapped by cybervictimisation.
This research makes a valuable contribution to the existing knowledge base in that it privileges youth voice on the nature, causes, and consequences of the phenomenon and highlights young people’s priorities regarding intervention development. In response to research findings and suggestions from the Young Person’s Advisory Group several recommendations, which are grounded in young people’s experiences, values, and norms, are made in relation to research, policy, and practice.