Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Understanding and Responding to Adolescent Girls' Online Cruelty/Comprendre la Cruauté En Ligne Des Adolescentes et Y Réagir

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy (Online)

Understanding and Responding to Adolescent Girls' Online Cruelty/Comprendre la Cruauté En Ligne Des Adolescentes et Y Réagir

Article excerpt

Over the past 20 years, perceptions of school bullying have changed from bullying being a natural part of school ,settings to it being perceived as a ,serious societal issue (Campbell, 2005). During that same time, evolving technology, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and wikis, has provided a new venue through which bullying may occur. While some school counsellors feel confident in their responses to face-to-face bullying, fewer report being trained and confident in their approaches for dealing with "cyber-bullying" (Zacker, 2009). Cyber-bullying is characterized by situations of perceived unequal power where a bully repeatedly uses cyber-space (e.g., telephones, computers, blogs, text messages) to harm a victim in social-emotional ways (Bhat, 2008).

While relatively little is conclusive in the burgeoning literature on cyber-bullying, Migliore (2003) showed that boys and girls cyber-bully differently. Girls are more likely to use instant messaging, online conversations, and e-mail to cyberbully, whereas boys are more likely to create webpages that target victims or to use online threats. Cyber-bullying in adolescent girls is of special concern, however, given that girls prefer to use cyber-bullying over other forms of bullying (Nelson, 2003 cited in Li, 2010), incidences of cyber-bullying in school-age children are on the rise (Bhat, 2008), and adolescent girls are increasingly emerging as instigators (Owens, Shute, & Slee, 2000; Shariff, 2009). Moreover, it is during adolescence, a time when many young people are first permitted by their parents to participate in online communities, that young women may be especially vulnerable to this type of interaction. Espelage (2002) showed that adolescence is a developmental point when young women turn to their peers as the main support network through which to discuss problems, feelings, fears, and doubts. It is, therefore, essential that female adolescents receive supports from additional sources when offline friendships are affected by online behaviours such as cyber-bullying.

Despite this need, a number of issues have converged, leading many school counsellors to feel frustration and inadequacy in dealing with cyber-bullying situations. These issues include the lack of a clear definition of cyber-bullying, the inability to determine who is the victim and who is the bully in cyber-bullying situations, uncertainty about whether best practices for addressing face-to-face bullying also apply to cyber-bullying .situations, the insidious nature of cyberbullying and the veil of silence that surrounds it, and confusion about what the laws instruct and allow school counsellors to do in response to allegations of cyber-bullying.

Given the many challenges of addressing cyber-bullying as well as the vulnerability that adolescent girls might exhibit during this stage of development, it is essential that counselling approaches are based on best practice and a firm grounding in empirical support. Despite limitations, the research literature does provide some direction on the programmatic components that are required to effectively address these behaviours.

The discussion will begin with an exploration of a new model for understanding the nature of cyber-bullying from the unique perspective of adolescent girls. It will be followed by a discussion of the challenges counsellors meet when addressing cyber-bullying situations. Finally, recommendations for the essential components of programming intended to address female adolescent online cruelty will be presented.

FEMALE ADOLESCENT PERSPECTIVES ON CYBER-BULLYING

The most effective approaches to addressing cyber-bullying and online social cruelty require an understanding of the lived cyber-experiences of those affected by them. Research has shown that young people and adults perceive Internet communications and technology differently from one another (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006; Turnbridge, 1995), making understanding young girls' perceptions of cyberbullying difficult for the adults who are trying to support these students. …

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