by Robin M. Kowalski, Ph.D., Susan P. Limber, Ph.D., and Patricia W. Agatston, Ph.D. Malden, Mass., Blackwell, 2008, 224 pp., $79.95.
Cyber Bullying is a useful introduction to the growing problem of electronic harassment among children. The first half of the book describes both traditional and cyber bullying. The second half contains a practical guide for parents and educators that offers specific suggestions for preventing bullying. Traditional bullying is defined as intentional, repetitive, and aggressive behavior perpetrated by a more powerful individual against someone weaker. The authors affiliation that traditional bullying occurs mainly in schools and that the public has become more aware of its occurrence since the killings at Columbine High School. The authors describe the age, gender and racial demographics of bullying. Children are more likely to be bullied in elementary and middle school and more likely to bully others during early and mid-adolescence. Boys tend to engage in direct physical bullying, while girls express their aggression indirectly through rumors and sexually disparaging comments. The authors also profile both the perpetrators and victims of bullying, noting that victims often report debilitating symptoms including depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, poor concentration, a sense of helplessness, and low self-esteem.
Cyber bullying is defined as “bullying through the use of technology such as the Internet and cellular phones.” The authors describe the different types of cyber bullying, the profiles and motivations of children who cyber bully, and the communication modalities they use to harass victims, including instant messaging, e-mail, text messaging, social networking sites, chat rooms, and blogs. The most notable finding is that girls cyber bully more than boys. The authors (and others) have suggested that anonymity—like that found on the Internet—produces disinhibition, which can lead people to be more aggressive than they normally would be if they were confronting their victims in person (1). The chapter on cyber bullying research reviews a number of survey studies but adds little additional useful information. The authors fail to adequately summarize and analyze the data from the various studies, many of which appear on Internet web sites rather than in peer-reviewed journals. The few tables of data are uninformative and presented without statistical analysis. It is difficult to estimate the prevalence of cyber bullying from the data in the book, but others have estimated that 9%–34% of adolescents are victims of bullying and 4%–21% of adolescents are perpetrators (2).
The chapters providing advice to parents and educators are quite helpful. They discuss options for preventing bullying, including recommendations on when to seek legal aid, how to intervene in the bullying process, how to teach children to protect themselves, and similar issues. In that sense, the book is far more effective as a practical manual for the lay public than a scholarly treatise.
One of the authors’ main points is that cyber bullying is simply an electronic version of traditional bullying rather than a separate phenomenon. Yet, it differs from traditional bullying in several ways, some of which have been affiliationd by the authors and other investigators (3). First, cyber bullies are not necessarily more powerful than their victims; they simply hide behind the anonymity of the Internet. Second, their aggressive behavior does not need to be repetitive to have the desired effect. A single posting of derogatory information about a victim on a web site is sufficient to repeatedly injure that individual, because the information is widely disseminated. Third, in cyber bullying the communication is usually in writing and transmitted in one direction, from aggressor to victim. Finally, the participants are physically separated and the communication is often delayed, rather than live or in “real time,” as it is in traditional bullying. These differences mean that aggressors do not receive verbal or nonverbal communications from their victims that might moderate their aggressive behavior. It also means that many victims feel helpless to respond to cyber bullying because they cannot identify and adequately respond to their attacker.
In sum, there is a significant restriction in the type, amount, direction, and timeliness of information exchanged in cyber versus traditional bullying. This suggests that cyber bullying is a separate phenomenon that has more in common with the electronic harassment seen in sectors of society beyond schools than with traditional bullying (4).
1.Bandura A, Underwood B, Fromson ME: Disinhibition of aggression through diffusion of responsibility and dehumanization of victims. J Res Pers 1975; 9:253–269
2.David-Ferdon C, Hertz MF: Electronic media, violence, and adolescents: an emerging public health problem. J Adolesc Health 2007; 41(suppl 1):S1–S5
3.Wolak J, Mitchell KJ, Finkelhor D: Does online harassment constitute bullying? an exploration of online harassment by known peers and online-only contacts. J Adolesc Health 2007; 41(suppl 1):S51–S58
4.Southworth C, Finn J, Dawson S, Fraser C, Tucker S: Intimate partner violence, technology, and stalking. Violence Against Women 2007; 13:842–856
Book review accepted for publication February 2008 (doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2008.08020226).
Reprints are not available; however, Book Forum reviews can be downloaded at http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org.