Peer involvement in traditional and electronic bullying
McCuaig Edge, Heather Johanna
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Bullying continues to be a significant problem for children and adolescents. Peers are often involved in bullying as bystanders. Through their actions or inactions, bystanders can support the bullying, or can stop it by defending the person who is victimized. The increasing use and availability of digital communications technology has provided an avenue for electronic bullying. Little is known about the role of peers in electronic bullying, nor about how peers behave across traditional and electronic bullying. Using a developmental contextualism framework to examine how the peer group context and environmental contexts of bullying influence adolescent interactions, this group of studies aimed to identify and explore peer roles in electronic bullying, and to compare peer roles across traditional and electronic bullying contexts. The first study developed and validated an assessment of peer roles in electronic bullying, the Electronic Bullying Roles Questionnaire (EBRQ), based on the traditional bullying roles identified by Salmivalli and colleagues (Salmivalli, Lagerspetz, Björkqvist, Österman, & Kaukiainen, 1996). The second study examined the correspondence between peer bystander roles across traditional and electronic bullying environments. The third study examined peers who intervene in traditional and electronic bullying, by examining whether perceptions of the harmfulness of bullying would influence subsequent defending behaviours. Overall, our findings confirmed that peers are involved in electronic bullying, and that these electronic roles parallel the behaviours and characteristics associated with traditional peer roles. However, our findings also suggest that the unique features of the electronic environment can lead to inconsistencies in adolescent bystander behaviours across bullying contexts. This research has implications for understanding how the peer group behaves when witnessing bullying in both bullying contexts. In addition, this research illuminates some of the similarities and differences between traditional and electronic bullying. It is our hope that this research leads to a greater understanding of the factors related to peer participant roles in both bullying contexts. Understanding traditional and electronic peer roles may help to provide insight into the peer processes involved in bullying, which may in turn inform intervention efforts to encourage adolescents to defend others when confronted with bullying, no matter the context.