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Third and Fourth Graders Who Own Cell Phones are More Likely to be Cyberbullied

9/15/2017

Research to be presented at the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition finds that they are also likely to be bullies too.

CHICAGO – 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.

Englander will present the abstract, available below, on Monday, Sept.18, from 5:10 p.m. to 6 p.m. CT in McCormick Place West, Room S106.  To request an interview with Dr. Englander, contact eenglander@bridgew.edu or 508-531-1784.

Please note: only the abstract is being presented at the meeting. In some cases, the researcher may have more data available to share with media, or may be preparing a longer article for submission to a journal. 

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.

 

Abstract Title: Cell Phone Ownership and Cyberbullying in 8-11 Year Olds: New Research

The study of cyberbullying has most often focused on adolescents. This study examined survey data on 4,584 students in grades 3, 4 and 5, gathered between late 2014 and 2016, as schools opted to survey their students about bullying and cyberbullying. Most, but not all, schools participating were in Massachusetts. Altogether, 49.6% of students reported owning their own cell phone. Older students were significantly more likely to report ownership; 59.8% of fifth graders, 50.6% of fourth graders, and 39.5% of third graders reported owning their own cell phone. Younger children were less able to define the term "cyberbullying" correctly, but 9.5% of all children reported being a victim of cyberbullying. Cell phone owners were significantly more likely to report being a victim of cyberbullying, but this was only true for children in Grades 3 and 4. Although fewer students overall (5.8%) admitted to cyberbullying their peers, more cell phone owners admitted to cyberbullying, and this was true for all three grades (3, 4 and 5). When bullying in school was studied, only the third graders were significantly more likely to be bullied in school if they were cell phone owners, although both third and fourth grade cell phone owners were more likely to admit to bullying. Overall, cell phone ownership was more strongly related to cyberbullying (vs. traditional bullying) and the observed relationships were stronger among younger subjects (those in fourth, and especially third, grade).