Research Summary: Examining Key Populations in the Context of Implementing Cyberbullying Prevention and Intervention Initiatives
Literature review on the role of the family in the context of cyberbullying prevalence, prevention and intervention.
The primary goal of this report is to review and synthesize the literature on the role/involvement of families in the context of implementing cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives. A previous literature review conducted for Public Safety Canada entitled “Cyberbullying Research in Canada: A Systematic Review” (Farrington et al., 2019) revealed that there is a gap in knowledge in this area. Thus, this cyberbullying review focused on the literature on how families are understood as risk factors and protective factors; the role they play in cyberbullying initiatives; the types of initiatives involving families that currently exist; and how family-specific components have been examined and measured to date. This report will present a systematic review of academic literature and grey literature, from Canada and abroad, on the topic.
This literature review is limited to literature written in English available through web searches from the early 2000s to present, appearing in electronic databases (academic journal articles and peer reviewed articles) and in select sources of grey literature (e.g., government publications), and does not include consultations or interviews. The search included Canadian and international literature.A total of 162 articles focusing on the role of families in cyberbullying prevalence, prevention and intervention were analyzed. Articles dated from 2004 to 2021 (majority of articles dating from 2018 to 2021) and spanned 61 countries (greatest representation is from the United States). In addition, 69 articles were found discussing a total of 40 cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives. Of these, 22 initiatives included family components.
The literature on the role of families in cyberbullying is relatively new, with a very recent growth in the number of published articles. This literature review identified several key constructs in the research on the role of families in cyberbullying including caregiver-child relationships and family dynamics; parental mediation; parenting styles; broader social structures; and family demographics. Findings related to these constructs identify the risk and protective factors.
With respect to the most researched area - caregiver-child relationships and family dynamics – it was found that poor or turbulent family relationships and environments are positively associated with both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration. In particular, family violence, dysfunction, conflict, neglect, rejection, and abuse have indirect relationships with cyberperpetration. Difficult home environments and poor or abusive relationships with caregivers lead children and youth to either develop anxious, vulnerable, and insecure peer attachments; to mimic the violence they see at home; or to act out in online settings to regain the power and attention they lack at home. In contrast, positive attachments to family, cohesion, and expressiveness in the home are negatively associated with cyberbullying. In positive family environments, children and youth feel heard, supported, and are guided to develop the positive individual traits and prosocial skills. Parental training on the development of healthy relationships in their children and youth would be a key area to target in cyberbullying prevention and intervention programs. Furthermore, targeting and supporting families at risk for engaging in violent and aggressive behaviours in the home may reduce cyberperpetration. Finally, enhancing caregivers' self-awareness of their own social behaviours and interactions and highlighting the critical role that they play in modelling both positive and negative behaviours that may serve to decrease the likelihood of involvement in cyberperpetration or enhance it.
A second area to target in prevention and intervention programs are parental mediation strategies. The research on parental mediation strategies, overall, illuminates the negative association between instructive mediation (discussing online content and strategies/management with children and youth; co-developing and setting rules about usage; setting expectations and providing guidance on appropriate online behaviours) and cybervictimization and cyberperpetration. Providing caregivers with these evidence-based mediational strategies will be essential in preventing and intervening in harmful online interactions and relationships.
A third area to target in prevention and intervention programs relates to parental knowledge and awareness of their children and youths' online behaviours. Caregivers tend to have inaccurate information about their children and youths' online behaviours or overestimate the problems. Enhancing their knowledge and awareness may enable families to adapt or ameliorate their mediation strategies and improvements.
A fourth area to target in family programs to address cyberbullying is parenting styles. Generally, the research shows positive associations between authoritarian and laissez-faire parenting styles and cybervictimization and cyberperpetration and a negative association between authoritative parenting styles and cybervictimization and cyberperpetrationFootnote1. Enabling caregivers to develop supportive parenting strategies that set appropriate boundaries for both offline and online behaviours will reduce the risk of engaging in cyberbullying.
This review highlighted that it is not sufficient to only work with caregivers and families to address cyberbullying. A social ecological approach is required. Prevention and intervention programs need to include the social contexts (e.g., school, community) that the child or youth lives, learns, and works in, as well as all the social relationships that are central in their development, such as peers and teachers. The broader social structure goes beyond “family,” but has been included in this review as an important mediator in the relationship between family factors and cyberbullying, as the research often showed links between these factors. In general, the research found that poor peer relationships and/or having peers who cyberbully were a mechanism that partially accounted for the relationship between family dynamics, parental mediation, and parenting styles and cyberperpetration. In contrast, positive and supportive peer relationships and school environments were a protective mechanism in the relationship between family dynamics, parental mediation, and parenting styles and cyberperpetration and cybervictimization. Some studies have also noted the importance of peers for teaching and socializing key coping mechanisms. Thus, prevention and intervention programs to address cyberbullying require a social ecological approach, and the family is only one critical context that requires support.
Another key area of the research was family demographics. Overall, the research found associations between family demographics and cybervictimization, with only a couple of studies examining cyberperpetration. Positive associations were found between stepfamilies, single-parent families, divorced families, and low-income families and cybervictimization, suggesting that the demographic makeup of families may have a role in the prevalence of cybervictimization. These associations highlight who may be at risk for involvement in cyberbullying and identify key populations that may require increased support in prevention or intervention programs. These preliminary findings indicate a need for further research on the relationship between family demographics and cyberbullying, which may prove to be useful for the design and development of targeted interventions.
This review highlighted several family-related protective factors that could help children and youth increase their resilience and coping strategies with regards to cyberbullying, as well as risk factors that could increase the likelihood of cyberbullying behaviours. These protective and risk factors provide useful directions for areas to target in future cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives. Key protective factors for both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration included parental awareness of online behaviours; perception of support from families and broader social structures; instructive mediation (parental monitoring, online guardianship); positive parental attachments; and authoritative parenting styles.
Overall, risk factors for both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration included inconsistent or lack of parental mediation; family violence and conflict; poor parental attachment/family loneliness; low social support; authoritarian and laissez-faire parenting styles; and low-income families or single-parent or stepfamilies.
Finally, this literature review found that cyberbullying prevention and intervention programs have been implemented exclusively in schools with little to no parental involvement. None of the programs found in this literature review were specifically focused on or designed for families. Family components mostly can be characterized as passive family involvement, focusing on knowledge and awareness building activities. No study evaluated the unique effects of the family component, so it is not possible to assess the efficacy of the family component in these programs. The review of the literature highlights the critical role that families play in cyberbullying, yet to date there are no evidence-based prevention or intervention studies that focus on families or that evaluate the additive effects of having a family component.
This literature highlights the direct and indirect roles of families on cyberbullying in the context of the ever-present and increasing digital world. What arises prominently from the research is literature on the main areas of parenting and family functioning that are related to involvement in cyberbullying and the related risk and protective factors that family prevention and intervention programs should target.
The literature also points out the gaps in families' general awareness and understanding of cyberbullying behaviours, and the lack of current and proposed initiatives and strategies to actively involve families in the prevention and intervention of cyberbullying. At this point, the prevention and intervention programs that do exist are not specifically designed to recognize the central role that families play and consequently are limited to very passive activities such as caregiver workshops, pamphlets, etc.
This review also highlighted that there are common and specific risk factors for cyberperpetration and cybervictimization. By targeting the common risk and protective factors, both problematic behaviours may be reduced.
Maxwell, E., Khanna, N., & Craig, W. (2021). Examining Key Populations in the Context of Implementing Cyberbullying Prevention and Intervention Initiatives. Literature Review on the Role of the Family (2023-R005). Public Safety Canada.
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Research Summaries are produced for the Crime Prevention Branch, Public Safety Canada. The summary herein reflects interpretations of the report authors' findings and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Public Safety Canada.
Authoritarian parenting refers to parenting styles that are high on strictness and supervision and low on acceptance and involvement, while authoritative parenting refers to parenting styles that are high on strictness, supervision, acceptance and involvement.
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