Research has suggested a strong connection between experiences with cyberbullying and traditional schoolyard bullying. While it is difficult to determine whether traditional bullying occurs before cyberbullying or vice versa, or if they tend to occur at the same time, there is a clear link between the two. In one of our earlier studies, we found that youth who reported bullying others in real life in the previous six months were more than 2.5 times as likely to report bullying others online. Similarly, youth who were victims of traditional bullying in the previous six months were more than 2.5 times as likely to be victims of cyberbullying.
We also noticed the overlap among a sample of about 650 middle-school students we surveyed earlier in 2014. As expected, most students (54%) had neither been bullied at school nor online in the previous 30 days of our survey. However, nearly 80% of those who had been cyberbullied had also been bullied at school. Whatever makes someone a good target for bullying at school apparently also makes them a good target for bullying online. It is also true that many of the students who admitted to us that they had recently bullied others at school also bullied others online. It seems likely that irrespective of the environment in which it takes place, the causes of meanness and cruelty among teens are similar. That is, whatever moves a student to bully online will undoubtedly also lead them them to bully somewhere else.
Most people often assume that cyberbullying is occurring with more frequency than traditional bullying. Perhaps this is because most of what we hear about in the news are cases of cyberbullying (especially those related to suicide) or because technology is so much more widespread among teens than ever before. The reality, however, is that most bullying is still happening primarily where it has always occurred—at school. For example, 44% of the middle-schoolers from our 2014 survey said they were bullied at school, compared to 13% who said they were bullied online (and again, most of those who were bullied online were also bullied at school).
These findings do raise some intriguing follow-up questions for additional study: Are there certain characteristics unique to the group of students who specialize in only one form of bullying? Are interventions that reduce bullying in general also effective at reducing cyberbullying (or vice versa)? Are there certain features of schools (or web environments) that make them more or less inviting of different types of bullying?