Methods: Qualitative data were drawn from a three-year longitudinal, mixed methods study on cyberbullying among students in grades 4, 7, and 10, their parents and teachers, in a large urban school board in Canada. The larger study employed stratified random sampling to select participants across socio-economic divisions. Qualitative data were collected during years one and three. In-depth interviews with students and their matched parents and teachers during years one (students:13, parents:13 and teachers:13) and three (students:13, parents:13) were analyzed. Four team members coded the data through a cyclical, ongoing process of open, axial, and selective coding. Inter-coder reliability was tested through regular team meetings.
Findings: Overall, parents, teachers and students reported similar understanding of cyberbullying. Parents and teachers stated that youth often do not tell adults about cyberbullying experiences. Parents however, didn’t know the extent to which their own children kept bullying experiences from them. The process of deciding whether to tell was complex and often entailed minimizing the severity. A ubiquitous finding is that students did not tell unless it was “really serious”. Youth told friends rather than adults. Telling adults was the last resort. Students were adamant that they do not want to make a big deal; they want to, or think they should, handle it on their own. It emerged that telling was not related to the quality of their relationship with parents. An expressed reason for not telling was to protect parents by not adding to their worries. Other reasons for not telling included fear of getting into trouble, shame, and feeling they were victimized due to a flaw or weakness.
When talking about the consequences of cyberbullying, students, parents and teachers referred to two highly publicized tragedies in Canada. These examples were not clear cases of cyberbullying, however, as they included other serious criminal components. Analysis indicated that the student and adult participants used these extreme examples as benchmarks of cyberbullying, which inevitably contributed to minimizing the severity of the students’ experiences.
Conclusions and Implications: The student, parent and teacher participants considered cyberbullying a serious problem that must be addressed. A major theme that emerged however was that few students had told an adult after they experienced or witnessed cyberbullying, which is consistent with research findings. Education is necessary to help students and adults recognize cyberbullying in students’ relationships. The student perceptions of barriers to disclosing cyberbullying experiences must be addressed in order to inform prevention and intervention efforts in school settings in a manner that encourages disclosure by youth and effective responses.