What counts?: A qualitative study of adolescents’ lived experience with online victimization and cyberbullying

Research Project: Girl2Girl

Ranney ML, Pittman SK, Riese A, Koehler C, Ybarra ML, Cunningham RM, Spirito A, Rosen RK. What Counts?: A Qualitative Study of Adolescents’ Lived Experience With Online Victimization and Cyberbullying. Acad Pediatr. 2020 May-Jun;20(4):485-492. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2019.11.001. Epub 2019 Nov 8.


Objective: To inform development of cyberbullying interventions that are both accurate and meaningful to all adolescents, this qualitative analysis examines experiences of online peer victimization among a sample of predominately minority and low-income youth.

Methods: Adolescents ages 13 to 17 years who reported past-year cyberbullying on a previously validated survey were recruited from an urban pediatric clinic to complete semistructured interviews. Interview topics included definitions of cyberbullying, prior cyberbullying experiences, and strategies to reduce cyberbullying and its consequences. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Using thematic analysis, study team members applied both structural and emergent codes to transcripts.

Results: Saturation was reached after 23 interviews (mean age 14.8 years; 65% female, 47.8% Hispanic, 35% Black, 74% low socioeconomic status). Four main themes emerged: 1) Teens avoided the term “cyberbullying,” due to its association with suicidality and severe depression; they preferentially described experiences (even those meeting criteria for repetition, power differential, etc.) as “online conflict”. 2) In-person bullying categories (bully, victim, bully victim, bystander) apply to online conflict. Few identify purely as victims. 3) Cyberbullying is part of a larger continuum of peer violence, including physical fights and in-person bullying. 4) Teens want to help victims of cyberbullying; they desire more guidance in so doing.

Conclusions: These youth rarely acknowledge presence of cyberbullying; instead, they describe online conflict as part of a larger spectrum of peer violence. Clinicians may consider prevention of a range of conflict-related behaviors (rather than focusing exclusively on cyberbullying), and may consider engaging adolescent bystanders in prevention of online conflict.

PubMed ID: 31712183

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