The Foundation and the University of Buckingham were proud to launch the findings of research into the experiences of cyberagression and cyberbullying among adolescents in the UK at the Institute of Directors on 19th October 2017.

The report “Beyond the school gates” provides a comprehensive overview of the cyberagression and cyberbullying and identifies a multi-level, multi-stakeholder approach to addressing the issue.

Understanding and tackling cyberbullying closely aligns with the Foundation’s strategy to improve pupil motivation, behaviour and achievement. It is also highly relevant in the Foundation’s role as sole Trustee to two London schools. The research findings and recommendations look to identify the best ways to encourage and support children and young people’s attainment and help them engage with, and stay in, education – a core focus for the work of the Foundation.

The Foundation has evolved over its more than 250-year history to become one of the leading independent education charities in the UK and continues to explore new and often challenging topics faced by young people, professionals and the wider education sector. This was a key driver in the decision to partner with the expert researchers at the University of Buckingham to understand the issues faced in the 21st Century classroom.

With Facebook recently announcing plans to spend £1million in the UK to train thousands of schoolchildren on cyberbullying, and the Culture Secretary Karen Bradley launching the Government’s Internet Safety Green Paper with a commitment to making Britain the safest place in the world to be online, the Foundation is delighted to launch the findings of Dr Masa Popovac’s research at such a crucial time.

Press Release from the University of Buckingham

Almost half of teenagers have been victims of cyber-bullying but parents are ignorant about teenagers’ online behaviour

Disturbing new research by the University of Buckingham and Sir John Cass’s Foundation reveals that almost half (43%) of teenagers have been the victims of cyberbullying and that adults are worryingly ignorant about their children’s online behaviour and experiences.

The report, Beyond the school gates, shows that parents significantly underestimate the extent to which their children are bullies or bullied online. More than half of teenagers (53%) reported that they had their picture posted online to embarrass them, but only a fifth (22.1%) of parents believed their child had this experience online, the report by University of Buckingham psychologist Dr Masa Popovac shows.

The research was based on detailed interviews with 320 teenagers aged 13-18 years and 130 of their parents. Dr Popovac said: “This shows a wide discrepancy between teenagers’ online behaviours and parental awareness. Parents, and adults generally, tend to be removed from children’s online experience and teenagers do not confide in them – they may not think that adults will react appropriately to the situation or might fear that their access to technology will be restricted as a result of reporting an incident.”

Nearly one in five (17%) reported being threatened online, whilst fewer than 10% (7.2%) of parents believed this had happened to their child. One in five (17.8%) admitted spreading rumours about someone online, but only 7% of parents thought their child had engaged in such behaviour. Furthermore, two-thirds (66.4%) of teenagers said that could do anything they wanted online without anyone checking up on them, but only 42% of their parents said this was the case.

Teenagers do not trust adults to act appropriately when they tell them which may explain why most don’t confide in parents, the report reveals. Some (49%) tell their friends but a worrying (16%) tell no-one at all. This is in spite of the fact that a fifth (18%) didn’t know what to do when faced with a dangerous situation online. Dr Popovac added: “Rather than implying that parents do not wish to implement monitoring strategies, these approaches may just be ineffective or inconsistent. Since teenagers are often more proficient in technology than parents, it can be particularly challenging to know which approaches work.”

The study also showed that experiences of cyberbullying and face-to-face bullying are linked, with a third (35.3%) having experienced bullying both online and offline. More than a quarter of adolescents (27.7%) reported that they did not want to go to school on some days due to something that was said or done to them online. Drop-out rates are higher among the cyber-bullied and they also reported higher levels of chronic stress, revealing the serious educational outcomes that can result.

Victims of cyberbullying also report a range of psychological consequences relating to anxiety, depression, self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Many reported feeling worthless and symptoms of depression and isolation. Almost a third (31.9%) felt scared or worried about something said online.

Dr Popovac said: “Victimisation and perpetration of online aggression are linked – victims also tend to be perpetrators in almost half (44.7%) of cases. Apart from direct experiences, most teenagers (77%) reported witnessing cyberbullying often while online. Young people, therefore, have complex experiences with online aggression and bullying as victims, perpetrators and witnesses.

“This report on the experiences of cyber-aggression and cyberbullying among adolescents in the UK is an important step in starting a dialogue to address the issue of online safety among stakeholders in this area. Bullying online can be much harsher due to less fear of consequences by perpetrators. There is also a much larger audience online and it is more relentless – it can happen day or night.”

The report advocates a multi-level approach to tackling cyberaggression, including the government. The aim is to place the issue of online safety higher on the public agenda so that it forms part of broader anti-bullying and violence prevention efforts and helps to bring about funding of development of evidence-based intervention and prevention efforts. These include: resilience, educating parents and training teachers, enhancing school policies, reporting mechanisms and building anti-bullying and online safety messages into the curriculum, support from external support services, organisations and funding bodies, addressing key laws and policies and developing educational media campaigns to enhance public awareness.

Dr Popovac said: “We need to take action to address online safety by equipping children and adolescents with digital skills and building resilience so that they can learn to navigate the online environment and the risks they may encounter. We also need to include parents in online safety efforts and work with schools to ensure a coordinated approach going forward.”

Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, added: “Cyber-aggression and cyber-bullying have resulted in untold distress among the young and, at its worst, in suicide. This report is badly needed because it is grounded on serious research into this vital area. The numbers affected by this abuse are alarmingly high. Cyber-bullying is less common than bullying face to face. This finding surprised me. From my own experience, the anonymity of cyber-bullying encourages its use. The bully can hide behind the shelter, inflicting hurt and pain without compromising their own identity, or witnessing the distress they are causing face to face. It is the very remoteness of cyber-space that can bring out the very worst in human nature. We now have the evidence about the seriousness of this issue. As the report says we need to act with a real sense of urgency.”

Dr Kevin Everett, Treasurer and Chairman of Sir John Cass’s Foundation, said: “We are sadly all too familiar with the impact bullying can have on a young person’s educational attainment, level of attendance and general wellbeing. What we are less familiar with is understanding how these impacts change, worsen or lengthen with the move away from the school environment to an often hidden and 24/7 form of online bullying. What was once largely contained to the classroom, the playground or the school gates is now following students, and in some circumstances teachers, home. Young people’s access to personal devices means these new types of online behaviours can happen at the weekend, in the school holidays, and even whilst sitting next to mum or dad in what should be the safety of their home surroundings. Understanding and tackling cyberbullying is in close alignment with the Foundation’s strategy to improve pupil motivation, behaviour and achievement.”

Founded in 1748 by City of London politician and philanthropist Sir John Cass, the Foundation has a history of supporting pioneering initiatives to promote participation and achievement for the most disadvantaged young people in the capital. The Foundation has become one of the UK’s leading independent education charities. It offers funding to schools, organisations and individuals in need across inner London and establishes innovative partnerships with educational bodies to improve attainment and access to opportunity for young Londoners, with a focus on how successful interventions can be scaled at a national level.