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Cyber bullying is a new phenomenon that is affecting students in many school settings. The advent of technology in the modern day world has led to the occurrence of significant changes in the way people interact on a daily basis. This has especially been enabled by the advent of social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Bebo, which have taken communication to the other level. The appeal that this type of communication is intrinsic to the young generation is more compared to adults. This is especially the case among higher learning and secondary level education students, who tend to rely on the social networking sites for their daily communication needs. As a result, cyber bullying has developed as a new concept of bullying, which is affecting students in the school setting. According to Dixon “cyber bullying describes forms of bullying using electronic devices, mainly mobile phones and the internet”[1]. In this regard, the paper intends to analyze the impact of cyber bullying on education outcomes of individual students.

Defining Cyber bullying

Cyber bullying is essentially a form of bullying that takes place in a virtual setting; hence, it lacks the contemporary attributes that are normally associated with the normal forms of bullying. There are several forms of cyber bullying depending on the context in which the event takes place. The forms of cyber bullying include a text message bullying, picture/video clip bullying, phone call bullying, email bullying and website bullying[2]. These forms of bullying are rarely noticed in a real life because they lack the characteristic of physical aggression that is normally associated with normal bullying. Dixon observes that cyber bullying continues to change a form as the technology continues to develop, and this phenomenon has been observed in many counties such as England[3].

Traditional bullying is usually accompanied by aggressive behavior, which is intentional and involves a critical imbalance in the strength or power of the participants[4]. In case of cyber bullying, there is still an existence of power and strength as factors; however, it focuses on completely different aspects. For instance, it may take the form of social status or power among children[5]. Additionally, similar to traditional bullying, for cyber bullying to be effective, the actions must be repetitive over a specific period of time unless a single incident is implemented with significant intensity.

Cyber bullying takes place in a virtual setting where it is difficult to monitor or notice what is going on. As a result, it has been challenging to define the parameters of cyber bullying because the communication technologies used to implement it vary; hence, it is not easy to establish at whom and who affect[6]. Cyber bullying also has an element of ambiguity because of the multiple personalities involved. This implies that to some extent cyber bullying may lack interpersonal attributes, which are important in confirming the occurrence of bullying.

Defining the Social Network Arena

The social network arena refers to the current online communication portals provided by websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Yahoo mail, and other professional sites such as LinkedIn. These platforms normally require a subscription for members to join. When members join, they are given capabilities to reach out to each other using tools such as texting, chatting, pictures, and video calls. The social network arena has recently become very popular in most settings such as education institutions, where they are used to form extensive networks. These networks enable members to maintain mutual associations and promote common virtues.

Presently, social networking sites have been growing in popularity, but it is still not clear whether their attractiveness will last[7]. Nevertheless, since they rely extensively on the existence of a functional technology framework, social networking sites will have the most influence in the student life. Walz remarks that few studies have been conducted on the benefits of social networking sites, especially focusing on issues such as sense of belonging and usage[8]. In this regard, there is a need to conduct further research to establish the impact of social networking sites on students in learning institutions.

There is an element of profiling when it comes to the use of social networking sites such that most of the users tend to be young people in ages between 14 and 25 years. Another research observes that college students make up the largest attendance of social networking sites because they put more value on the element of belongingness[9]. It is also important to note that it is highly possible that there are some hidden motives of joining social networking sites, for example, they may provide a good avenue to antagonize others. Therefore, this makes the concept of cyber bullying in relation to social networking sites.

Characteristics of Cyber bullying in the social network sites arena

Cyber bullying in the social arena takes place in different forms. One researcher, Neil Tippett, conducted a study to establish characteristics of cyber bullying that takes place through modern communication portals. First, cyber bullying in the social networking arena lacks the attribute of time and place[10]. This implies that people who are victimized may not be able to hide from a possible attack; hence, they can be targeted regardless of their location or time. This is a unique attribute, which traditional bullying lacks, and it makes cyber bullying attract more attention in the school setting.

Secondly, cyber bullying may involve a multitude of participants in the social arena, some of whom may end up being innocent victims. Normally, the person conducting the bullying is not able to see the reactions of his or her audience[11]. Hence, someone may release a potentially harmful video to the internet, but they are unaware of the expected reception. Usually, video clips circulated in the social internet sites may not pass through an evaluation system when their content ascertained not to be harmless. But, if they do, the impact can be very damaging, especially, taking into account the availability of functions, which enable a user to tag others in order to enhance circulation.

Thirdly, people who commit cyber bullying, usually take an advantage of the protection provided by the terms of use. In most cases, there is a discretion statement that is provided to ensure to remove liability from the site. As a result, students who impart cyber bullying messages or videos on others are relatively protected because of the anonymity statements contained in the electronic forms[12]. This implies that regardless of the seriousness of the offences that they commit, they may end up escaping without being subjected to punitive measures.

Relationship between Cyber bullying and Education

The phenomenon of cyber bullying in the America’s education setting reached its peak after it led to the occurrence of serious historical occurrences. According to Kowalski, Limber, and Agatson “cyber bullying among students exploded in the American media in the wake of the tragic shootings at Columbine High School”[13].This incident brought into focus the depth to which the problem of bullying had reached. It became apparent that cyber bullying can actually lead to the physical aggression among the affected victims.

Despite the measures that were taken to guard students against other potential incidents of cyber bullying, the efforts were soon declared obsolete with the progression of technology. In a study that was carried out by two researchers, Rivers and Noret, 11000 pupils were sampled between 2002 and 2005, and it was discovered that the trend was incremental with 5.5% in 2002, 5.9% in 2003, 7.4% in 2004, and 7.0 % in 2005[14]. This brings into focus the complex nature of cyber bullying because it is impossible to control the progression of technology. Similarly, it is impossible to control the manner in which students use technology.

In essence, it is important to note that the concept of cyber bullying has taken a new dimension because it affects students in various academic levels now. Parents are also increasingly acknowledging the need for stricter regulation mechanisms to protect students against incidents of cyber bullying. According to Shariff “emerging litigations against schools indicates that victims and their parents are prepared to sue schools for failing to protect them from bullying and cyber bullying”[15]. It puts the school administration in the centre of the entire debate. This is because of parents’ expectations that their children will be protected from cyber bullying by their affiliate institutions. However, they fail to understand that administrators of institutions are a separate entity from administrators of the social networking sites.

As much as the use of the internet in the school setting may be subjected to stringent regulations, the level of safety may not be effective enough to counter the threats posed by changing technology of electronic devices[16]. This implies that students in the modern day education institutions are under the highest risk of experiencing problems from cyber bullying, which may have a significant impact on the learning process. Additionally, the implications go beyond learning experiences to include other important aspects.

Behavioral and Emotional Impacts of Cyber Bullying on students

Victims of cyber bullying may experience unique emotional and behavioral changes, which may significantly impair their learning process. Recent research carried out focusing on the internet use among adolescents and how it affects their emotional reactions shows that cyber bullying may lead to the occurrence of negative emotions[17]. These negative emotions are easy to notice among students that have already been affected. Another research also reveals that cyber bullying causes victims to become frustrated, angry, scared, and embarrassed[18].

Emotional feelings such as fear may cause students to seek for protective measures on their own. Hinguja and Patchin suggested that, in the event, a victim is scared going to school because of an incident of cyber bullying. He may be tempted to carry a weapon to school in order to protect himself from a possible harm[19]. Hence, this could lead to the occurrence of an incident similar to that one that took place at Columbine High School. Indeed, the fear instilled in the affected victims can cause to undergo serious changes in the normal behavior. Additionally, low self esteem may also manifest among individuals who experience online aggression[20].

The behavioral outcomes of cyber bullying should also be taken into perspective.

A study carried out by Mitchell (2004) showed the existence of significant profiling among cyber bullies. In this study, he established that students who cyber bullied others were more likely to be targets of traditional bullying, and they were also more likely to portray aggressive behavior such as damaging property or physical assault[21]. This shows how cyber bullying can cause victims to exhibit potentially dangerous behavior even when they are out of the online environment.

Psychological Impacts of Cyber bullying on students

Psychological impacts form the main manifestation of cyber bullying. In most cases involving cyber bullying, the individuals’ cognitive capacity becomes impaired such that they become incensed with the particular event. Wankel observes that the psychological impacts of cyber bullying are worse in instances where the victims have previously expressed traditional bullying[22]. In such situations, the victim is already predisposed to the impacts of the incident despite the fact that it takes place in an online setting. As a result, they exhibit similar psychological traits of victims who suffered from traditional bullying. Additionally, the counter-effect created from previous experiences makes them suffer more from the effects.

Cyber bullying heightens the stress levels of the victims such that the trust level they have to the outside world decreases significantly. The victims may also suffer from severe depression and self pity[23]. The depression is partly driven by the fact that they may be uncertain about future events depending on the extent of cyber bullying. For example, the threat given in the event is an extreme one, and the victim may contemplate worse options such as committing suicide.

Moreover, the psychological disturbances that the victims’ experience may cause them to isolate themselves from others because of they feel humiliated. This isolation may create feelings of loneliness and insecurity[24]. In cases where the cyber bullying is extended to other areas such as text messages, the victims’ uncertainty increases. In addition, it is also important to note that individuals may exhibit psychological factors as a result of other factors other than cyber bulling.

Effects of Cyber bullying on Individual Education Performance Outcomes

Individual education performance may be seriously impacted by the occurrence of cyber bullying. The impact occurs in two dimensions: first, it affects the perpetrators of cyber bullying, and secondly, it affects the victims of cyber bullying. Since cyber bullying requires individuals to spend a significant amount of their time in an online setting, chances are that these individuals may have less time dedicated for learning purposes. As a result, their attendance and dedication to the designated class program reduces. These individuals will often be found in class monitoring how effective their activities are, for example, in a class environment, a student may be monitoring the responses received from a video posted. In essence, these individuals tend to derive self gratification from their activities.

The fact that education institutions may block access to certain social networking sites in the college setting to avoid effects, may provoke a negative impact, because it dramatically changes the school climate; hence, may affect individual performance[25]. Those who actively participate in cyber bullying may use threats to jeopardize the normal operation of the school during the exam time, which may consequently affect student concentration and performance. In most situations, such individuals aim at creating unnecessary anxiety in the school setting so that they can divert people’s focus on the routine activities. This method has been used by cyber bullies in many school settings and is one of the major causes of poor students’ performance. For example, the individual may create a cautionary message and circulate it to the school network existing on a social site such as Facebook. When other students receive the message, their concentration reduces, and it affects the performance of some bright students.

Whenever investigations are conducted to ascertain victims who have been involved in cyber bullying in the school, the punitive measures recommended may be strict such that some of the affected victims may prefer dropping out of school. Whenever this happens, it deals a major blow to the education institution, because the goal of education is to retain as many learners as possible to the end of the period but with good outcomes. Hence, when the affected victim supported by the state or federal education funds to access their studying give it up , it implies that the funds were a mere waste.

Cyber bullying also affects the progressive development of technology framework in schools, especially, with regard to the adoption of technology guided learning strategies. This is because as students become slowly accustomed to the new system, the presence of cyber bullying will prove difficult to monitor, and it may also increase the costs of running the schools because of the possible litigations. In essence, social networking sites may be used to achieve admirable learning milestones; however, the school authority’s awareness over its harmful effects may discourage its use, which may lead to the occurrence of distress among students because the environment created feels extremely restrictive. This may cause them not to concentrate in class, and, as a result, poor performance may manifest itself.

Recommendations

First, there is a need to design an education program that will be used to educate teachers, learners, and parents on important issues regarding cyber bullying and how to avoid them. Hinduja and Patchin support that “it almost goes without saying that school districts must educate both students and staff about the harmful nature of online aggression”[26] Secondly, there is a need to implement an effective cyber bullying assessment framework that will be used to detect or reduce the impacts of cyber bullying in the school and college setting. Thirdly, there is a need to establish whether the individual school setting has a dedicated response mechanism to address a cyber bullying incident[27]. The presence of an immediate response mechanism using available personnel will provide a significant benefit. Fourthly, there is a need to determine whether the cyber bully threat posed can lead to a significant event to the affected individual. Fifthly, there is a need to design a mechanism for evaluating the existence of relationships and issues that lead to the occurrence of cyber bullying in a specific school setting[28]. The first point would be to examine the membership portal of the social network site designated for the school; however, this may not be possible to access limitations present on a particular network or node. Normally, in the school setting, there are groups, which students use to identify people with similar interests. Sixthly, there is a need to control nuisance activities among students, especially those directed at certain groups of the administration[29]. This is because such nuisance activities are highly correlated with cyber bullying, specifically because they encourage deviant behavior. Finally, there is a need for the school administration to define limits of using social networking sites within the school setting through clear policy guidelines with which all students must be acquainted. This will enable a school to avoid possible litigations in case there is a cyber bullying event. The provision of an internal structure to address such issues will be of major importance.

The paper brings into light cyber bullying as an emerging problem in the modern education setting, which not only affects students in high schools, but also those attending institutions of higher learning. In this regard, the paper analyses how the social networking arena is being used in the school setting to promote cyber bulling. Emotional, behavioral, and psychological factors of cyber bullying are also examined with an aim of establishing the extent to which they are comparable to similar effects arising from traditional bullying. In the end, a concise solution framework is provided that can be used to avert future problems arising from cyber bullying in the school setting.

 

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