Many American parents are concerned about cyberbullying, but they have different opinions on how to define it and how it should be punished, a new survey finds.
A national sample of parents of teens aged 13 to 17 was asked opinions about a number of hypothetical cyberbullying situations.
Sixty-three percent said a social media campaign to elect a student for homecoming court as a prank counted as cyberbullying, and nearly two-thirds said posting online rumors that a student had sex at school also qualified as cyberbullying.
However, less than half of parents said sharing a photo altered to make another student look fatter, or posting online rumors that a student was caught cheating on a test was cyberbullying, according to the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.
Mothers were more likely than fathers to say that those scenarios were cyberbullying. Thirty percent to 50 percent of parents were unsure if the four scenarios were cyberbullying, but less than 5 percent said they definitely were not.
“We know that parents are concerned about the harms of cyberbullying, but we wanted to learn if there was a consensus among parents about what actually constitutes cyberbullying,” said lead researcher Sarah Clark, associate director of the National Poll on Children’s Health and associate research scientist in the hospital’s department of pediatrics. “What we found is that parents differ a lot when it comes to defining cyberbullying,” she said in a university news release.
Parents also had mixed opinions about penalties, but recommended the most severe punishments for posting online rumors about a student having sex at school. Twenty-one percent said contacting police was an appropriate response to a sex rumor, but only 5 percent said police should be called for rumors about students cheating on tests.
“Not only are parents unsure about which actions should be considered cyberbullying, they also don’t agree on penalties. Depending on the content of online rumors, for example, parents recommended punishment ranging from making the student apologize to reporting the student to police,” Clark said.
“Growing recognition of the dangers of bullying has prompted calls for tougher laws and school sanctions, but our poll shows the huge challenge in establishing clear definitions and punishments for cyberbullying,” she said.
“Schools should consider these differing opinions, to avoid criminalizing teen behavior that is hard to define and enforce consistently,” Clark concluded.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about cyberbullying.