Examining Key Populations in the Context of Implementing Cyberbullying Prevention and Intervention Initiatives
Literature Review on the Role of the Family
Table of contents
- Role of families in cyberbullying prevention and intervention
- Cyberbullying awareness, knowledge and understanding
- Families as protective factors for cyberbullying behaviour among children and youth
- Families as risk factors for cyberbullying behaviour among children and youth
- Family involvement in cyberbullying prevention and intervention programs
- Appendix A: Programs with a family component
- Appendix B: Programs without a family component
by Eva Maxwell, Nishad Khanna, Dr. Wendy Craig
This report reviewed and synthesized the literature on the role/involvement of families in the context of cyberbullying among children, youth and young adults. Using a priori inclusion and exclusion criteria and keywords to scan academic databases and sources of grey literature, a total of 162 articles were analyzed. The research is quite new, with the majority of articles dating from 2016 to 2021 and only 21% are longitudinal studies. The research has a largely Western focus, possibly related to the review concentrating on English articles. The literature focused on how family traits and interactions can either be positively or negatively associated with the prevalence of cyberbullying and found that the family also often plays an indirect role in cyberbullying prevalence, prevention, and intervention. Key themes in this report include caregiver-child relationships and family dynamics; parental mediation; parenting styles; broader social structures; family demographics; parental awareness, knowledge and understanding; and family-related risk and protective factors. With regards to family involvement in cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives, this research found that there are currently no programs specifically designed for/focused on families; the majority of evidence-based interventions are school-based; none of the studies evaluated the unique effects of the family component; and family components in programs are overall minor. This report recommends the conduct of supplementary research to address research opportunities and gaps; the development of family-specific interventions; the development of a strategy to support, enable and educate families on this topic; and leveraging existing partnerships and networks to support family-oriented strategies.
The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Public Safety Canada. Correspondence concerning this report should be addressed to:
Public Safety Canada
340 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0P8
The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Dr. Jennifer Martin, Dr. Andrea Slane, Reem Atallah, Inass Doukha, Emma May Liptrot, and Eugénie Mandon.
The main intent 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 among children, youth and young adults. A previous literature review conducted for Public Safety Canada entitled “Cyberbullying Research in Canada: A Systematic Review” (2019) revealed that there is a gap in knowledge in this area. Thus, the primary objective of this review is to focus on the cyberbullying literature on the following topics: how families are understood as risk factors and protective factors; the role families play in key initiatives; the types of initiatives involving families that currently exist; and how family-specific components have been examined/measured to date. This report will present a systematic review of academic literature and grey literature, from Canada and abroad, on the topic.
Cyberbullying has been defined as “any behaviour performed through electronic or digital media by individuals or groups that repeatedly communicates hostile or aggressive messages intended to inflict harm or discomfort to others” (Tokunaga, 2010, p. 278) and thus refers to willful and repeated harm, done through the use of electronic devices (cellphones, computers, etc.; Hinduja & Patchin, 2015). This definition is changing with the ever-evolving nature of online activities and interactions, however; cyberbullying behaviours can take many forms (e.g., harassment, cyberstalking, outing/doxing, trolling, exclusion, fake profiles, etc.). Indeed, another definition of cyberbullying refers to “using information and communication technologies (ICT) to repeatedly and intentionally harm, harass, hurt and/or embarrass a target” (Peter & Petermann, 2018, p. 358). Some of the differences between online and offline bullying include anonymity, greater social dissemination, lack of supervision, and greater accessibility.
Unfortunately, cyberbullying is a common occurrence among children, youth and young adults and can occur between peer groups or within school groups/communities, as well as between acquaintances or strangers online. Of note, in 2014, the General Social Survey on Victimization in Canada found that approximately “17% of the Canadian population aged 15 to 29 that accessed the Internet at some point between 2009 and 2014, reported they had experienced cyberbullying or cyberstalking” (Hango, 2016). The recent Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children study published by the Public Health Agency of Canada also provides statistics about bullying and cyberbullying incidences among youth, noting for example, “young people commented on the effects of cyberbullying and how easy it is to bully people online because of the anonymity and being removed from the situation. They felt like this was something that is going to continue to increase over time” (PHAC, 2020).
Cyberbullying is particularly harmful to those who are victimized. Some researchers suggest that online bullying can, in some cases, have more serious consequences than traditional victimization. Victims of cyberbullying may experience various emotional, social, and academic problems (e.g., anxiety, depression, self-denigration, poor relationships, isolation, aggression, etc.) and consequences (e.g., decreased academic performance, poor concentration, etc.). They may also suffer from reminders and revictimization every time they go online. Indeed, there is a continuum of harm with cyberbullying, and, in some cases, severe consequences may include suicide and suicidal ideation (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010). Cyberbullying is particularly difficult to address due to the issues of anonymity; widespread access to Internet/social media, particularly in urban contextsFootnote 1; the potential for behaviours to “go viral”; private/inaccessible platforms, apps and websites; the difficulty of removing offensive material; the dissemination of private information and photographs and the legal framing thereof; youth possession of sensitive images, etc.
In this light, the role of families (i.e., parents, caregivers, and legal guardians) in preventing and intervening against cyberbullying may be substantial. For instance, the systematic review previously conducted by Zych et al., 2019 for Public Safety Canada found “that private access to computers and smartphones, and the number of hours per day spent on these devices, are risk factors. This suggests that supervision by caregivers of young people's internet use may contribute to reducing cyberbullying and cybervictimization” (Zych et al., 2019, p.2). This literature review seeks to shed greater light on the current and potential role and involvement of families; the types of initiatives that consider family involvement; and the effectiveness of family involvement.
Public Safety Canada seeks to further understand the best practices and keep abreast of the latest knowledge and research relating to cyberbullying. In this regard, Public Safety Canada has conducted an environmental scan of programs and a literature review on cyberbullying and is interested in learning more about the gaps that were highlighted as key areas of focus. Thus, this literature review takes a deeper look at the role of families (parents, caregivers, and legal guardians) in the context of cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives, with a view to informing future policy and program design for Canadian federal government programming aimed at reducing cyberbullying. This effort will contribute to Public Safety Canada/the Government of Canada's broader priorities and agenda focusing on reducing crime and enhancing community safety through prevention, policing, and corrections.
Objective and Research Questions
The primary objective of this work is to provide a comprehensive report on recent advances in cyberbullying research and knowledge, with a specific emphasis on the role and involvement of families in cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives in Canada, and internationally. This report explores:
- How families are understood in the literature as (1) a risk factor and (2) a protective factor for cyberbullying behaviour (both perpetration and victimization) among youth and young adults;
- The role that families play in cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives (e.g., awareness, action, prevention, intervention, etc.);
- The main types of cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives that have been proposed and/or that currently exist involving families;
- How family-specific components of cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives have been examined and/or measured for effectiveness; and
- The remaining gaps in research and understanding in relation to the role of families in cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives.
Scope of Research and Search Parameters
This review is limited to literature written in English available through web searches from the early 2000s to the 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.
Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria
Documents were screened according to the following inclusion and exclusion criteria:
- Studies were included if cyberbullying was explicitly measured through a specific instrument (scale, observation, peer nominations, etc.).
- Studies were included if they present quantitative or qualitative results about cyberbullying in Canada and internationally.
- Research published in English were included.
- Research that appears in a peer review article or government report was included.
- Studies were included if they involved children, youth, and/or young adults (8 – 25 years of age).
- Empirical studies (i.e. studies that include original research results) were included.
- Studies where cyberbullying was mentioned, but not measured, were excluded.
- Review studies (i.e. studies that include reviews of other studies, without original research results) were excluded.
- This literature review focuses specifically on cyberbullying. Thus, cyberbullying was analyzed as a separate variable, not as a part of general bullying. Papers that measured cyberbullying as a part of bullying and treated bullying and cyberbullying as a single variable were excluded.
Data collection and search strategy: The data collection began with a scan of databases and all other relevant sources of literature (e.g., online/web scans) using the list of keywords found under the subsection entitled “Keywords.” Articles found within the date range (2000s to present) were compiled into a common database (Zotero). Subsequently, all articles were reviewed with a view to sorting and prioritizing the most relevant sources. Sources were checked for validity and reliability, ensuring that they were supported by rigorous methodology, containing findings that were relevant for this study. As per Figure 1 below, exclusion and inclusion criteria were applied to arrive at a final sample. Of particular interest were sources that addressed or answered the research questions and objectives identified above.
Figure 1: Article Selection Process
|Selection Step||Exclusion Step|
|Step 1||Literature search via databases|
|Step 2||Duplicates removed|
|Step 3||Titles and abstracts read||Articles excluded based on exclusion criteria|
|Step 4||Articles read||Additional articles excluded based on exclusion criteria|
|Step 5||Reference lists examined for additional research|
|Step 6||Final sample|
A matrix was used to capture summary data from each of the sources, for comparability and synthesis of findings. MS Excel was used to facilitate the analysis, allowing for filtering, key searches, and pivot table data summaries. The table captured the following fields:
- Article title
- Date of publication
- Location (country) of research
- Sample (number of participants, age range of participants, ethnicity)
- Design (longitudinal/cross sectional; Qualitative or quantitative; mixed methods)
- Key constructs measured (name of scales and reference)
- Key findings
Additionally, a table was used to gather and summarize data on the prevention and intervention initiatives. The table captured the following fields:
- Article title
- Date of publication
- Location (country) of research
- Sample (number of participants, age range of participants, ethnicity, gender)
- Prevention/ intervention?
- Name of program
- Type of treatment (individual/group/whole school)
- Theory of change, if mentioned
- Length of treatment
- Design (longitudinal/cross sectional; qualitative or quantitative)
- What was assessed (measures and reference)
- Effect size (if applicable)
- Key results
- Role of family in initiative (e.g. type of intervention/prevention)
- Family specific component evaluated? (yes/no)
Analysis: Texts were analyzed qualitatively using a content analysis approach (i.e., qualitative, inductive content analysis of both manifest and latent content), through which patterns, themes, tendencies, and trends that are present in the sources were identified. During this process, all sources were reviewed to determine emerging key themes and code words.
Next, all literature was processed, applying codes to the text. These codes were grouped thematically in a process of decontextualization (breaking down the texts into smaller meaning units) and eventual recontextualization and categorization (identification of themes, categories in order to arrive at findings). The principal intent of content analysis was to interpret the patterns, themes, and categories arising from the literature to arrive at a set of overall findings, aligned with the research questions and objectives.
Conclusions were drawn from the coded data (e.g., the principal themes and patterns that emerged from the data; how the data and findings relate to the research questions; and the sense and general conclusions that arise from the current research). Trends in the type of research being produced on cyberbullying prevention and intervention were also identified, to inform potential future research needs or gaps.
The following sources were searched for relevant articles.
- ProQuest Social Sciences
- Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL)
- ISI Web of Science
- the Cochrane database of Systematic Reviews
- The Campbell Collaboration
- Social Services Abstracts
- Social Work Abstracts, Sociological Abstract
- Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) and Education Research Complete
- Grey literature to be identified by searching key websites known for producing or disseminating relevant research on this topic, including, for example:
- Women and Gender Equality Canada
- Public Safety Canada
- Department of Justice
- Statistics Canada
- Public Health Agency of Canada
- Virtual Knowledge Center to End Violence Against Women and Girls
- Population Reference Bureau
- Eldis - Gender-based violence (GBV)
- Violence Prevention; GBV Prevention Network
- Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence - Institute of Behavioral Science
- SVRI Website
- Campbell Systematic Reviews
- UNICEF Online Library
- WHO Publications
- the American Evaluation Association
- the Canadian Evaluation Society
- Public Safety Canada's Crime Prevention Inventory
- National Online Resource Center on VAW
The keywords that were used for finding articles are presented below. These keywords (and their close variants to account for spelling, synonyms, word endings, etc.) were used in conjunction with other search parameters (e.g., date, location) and were, as applicable, combined into phrases (i.e. using “and”/“or”).
academic outcomes; adolescent; aggression; caretakers; cyber aggression; cyber bullying; cyber intimidation; cyber victimization; cyberaggression; cyberbullying; cyber stalking; cybervictimization; electronic bullying; family involvement; family members (e.g. mother, father); family structure; foster families; guardians; internet bullying; intervention; long-term impacts; mental health (e.g. depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide); mental outcomes; mobile; parental beliefs; parental efficacy; parental mediation; parental monitoring; parenting; parents; perpetration; physical outcomes; prevention; protective factors; risk factors; role of the family; sexual harassment; short-term impacts, siblings; social media; social outcomes; systemic factors (individual, peer, family, school, community); teenager; victimization; young adult; youth; young adult.
Initially, 287 academic articles were collected in the matrix, after duplicates were removed. The 287 articles included 218 articles on the role of families in cyberbullying prevalence, prevention and intervention and 69 articles specifically on family involvement in cyberbullying prevention and/or intervention initiatives. Fifty articles were excluded, as they either did not analyze cyberbullying as an independent variable; did not have any relevant family-related findings; or were literature reviews or PhD dissertations. The full list of references can be found in the reference list.
Dates of Publication
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, with a distribution of six articles from 2004 to 2010; 28 articles from 2011 to 2015; and 128 articles from 2016 to 2021, with the largest number of articles in the year 2019 (18 total). This demonstrates the newness of the study of family involvement in cyberbullying.
Methodology and Research Design
With regards to methodology, 95% of articles (154 total) used quantitative analysis. Six articles employed a mixed methods approach and only two used qualitative analysis. The newness of this field of research is also evident in the research design: 127 of the studies had cross-sectional research designs, and only 35 were longitudinal studies.
The involvement of families in cyberbullying prevalence, prevention, and intervention remains an under-researched topic. In many cases, families were not the main focus of the research, often appearing as one of many variables or mentioned as a risk or protective factor. Indeed, only 35% of studies had an explicit focus on families, and 22% focused on families as one of several key variables studied. The remaining 43% of studies did not focus explicitly on family involvement.
Sixty-five studies focused on cybervictimization only; 20 focused on cyberperpetration and 77 looked at both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration. The predominant focus on cybervictimization should be noted when interpreting the findings in this report.
Sample sizes in the studies ranged from 42 to 214,808 (the largest study looked at participants from 40 countries). Sample ages for child and youth participants ranged from 5 to 30. Several studies included college participants or caregivers, with the oldest participant aged 67 (a caregiver). Of the studies that indicated gender breakdown, roughly half of all studies had similar proportions between female and male participants. Three studies focused on men/boys specifically. Twelve studies had disproportionate balances (more than 60% females or males). Three studies indicated whether a proportion of their participants were of either undisclosed gender, non-binary, transgender, or other. A total of 32 studies did not indicate the genders of participants.
The distribution by countries also shows a Western focusFootnote 2 to the research, which may be attributed to the literature search having been only conducted in English. Sixty-one countries were represented in the research. Among those countries, the greatest representation is from the United States (38 studies) followed by Spain (22 studies), ChinaFootnote 3 (16 studies), Canada (12 studies), Turkey (9 studies), the United Kingdom (8 studies), and Greece and Israel (7 studies each).
The impact of cultural differences in parenting styles, family structures, and family dynamics has not been specifically explored in this literature review and may be worth further study. Studies from China are a notable example of the way in which cultural differences affect the roles that families play in cyberbullying. For example, one study noted that Chinese youth are raised with the cultural belief in filial piety, guiding them to obey their parents and elders, whereas in the United States, peer culture is strongly influential (Wright, 2015). Yet another study noted the increase in parental control, especially psychological control, among Chinese parents, versus in some Western countries (Geng et al., 2020). Caution should also be employed generalizing findings from studies from countries with collectivist societies, such as China, that emphasizes family relationships more than countries with individualistic cultures (Geng et al., 2020; Wang et al., 2020).
This section defines key terms used throughout the findings.
- Attachment was originally conceptualized as the bond between an infant and a primary caregiver (Bowlby, 1982) and has been used in this report and in the recent literature to indicate the aspect of the relationship between a child/youth and a caregiver (or peers, teachers, etc.) that makes the child/youth feel safe, secure, and protected (Benoit, 2004). An insecure or negative attachment indicates a relationship in which the child/youth does not feel safe, secure, and protected.
- Authoritarian parenting style
- A parenting style employed by caregivers with primary responsibility over the child/youth that is high on strictness and supervision, as well as on acceptance and involvement, often favouring democratic parenting approaches, guidance, support, and supervision (Martínez et al., 2019).
- Authoritative parenting style
- A parenting style employed by caregivers with primary responsibility over the child/youth that is high on strictness and supervision, as well as on acceptance and involvement, often favouring democratic parenting approaches, guidance, support, and supervision (Martínez et al., 2019).
- “The use of information and communication technology (ICT), such as instant messaging, e-mail, text messaging, blogs, and social media, by adolescents in the victimization or bullying of their peers” (Chan & Wong, 2019, p. 5).
- Intentional and repeated harm inflicted through the use of technology; individuals who are at the receiving end of cyberbullying behaviors are considered cyber victims (Kalia & Aleem, 2017).
- Family cohesion
- Family cohesion has been defined as the emotional bonding that family members have toward one another, and their ability to be both independent from and connected to each other (Olson et al., 1983).
- 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 (Wright, 2016).
- Laissez-faire parenting style
- A parenting style employed by caregivers with primary responsibility over the child/youth that is low on strictness and supervision, as well as on acceptance and involvement, often providing little to no guidance, supervision, or instructions (Martínez et al., 2019).
- Parental mediation
- Parental mediation is defined as the strategies used by caregivers to manage their child/youth’s relationship with online media/the Internet (Wright, 2016).
- Restrictive mediation
- Preventing children/youth from accessing certain online content, i.e. through restrictions, time limits, website blocking, removal of Internet privileges, etc. (Wright, 2016).
NB: “parenting” and “parental” are terms that apply throughout this report to all parents, caregivers and guardians of children and youth.
Role of Families in Cyberbullying Prevention and Intervention
Studies were coded and categorized into six main subtopics, including caregiver-child relationships and family dynamics; parental mediation; parenting styles; broader social structures; family demographics; and cyberbullying awareness, knowledge, and understanding.
For the most part, the literature focused on how family traits and interactions can either be positively associated with the prevalence of cyberbullying (i.e., both variables increase in tandem), thus putting children and youth at risk of cyberbullying or experiencing cyberbullying; or negatively associated with the prevalence of cyberbullying (i.e., as one variable increases, the other decreases), indicating ways in which families can prevent or intervene against cyberbullying behaviours. The family also often plays an indirect role in cyberbullying, i.e., by affecting individual level traits (e.g., impulsivity, empathy); social skills (e.g., antisocial or prosocial behaviours); and skills and mechanisms (e.g., coping strategies, help seeking behaviours) and/or by either exacerbating feelings (e.g., loneliness, anxiety, confidence) or buffering against the negative outcomes associated with cyberbullying.
Caregiver-Child Relationships and Family Dynamics
The first major theme is related to caregiver-child (or youth/young person) relationships and family dynamics. Included in this research theme were studies examining parental attachment styles and how they influence children and youths' expectations about their needs, safety, security, and love (Guinn, 2015), thus indirectly or directly influencing cybervictimization and cyberperpetration prevalence, as well as adaptive behaviours and coping strategies. The literature also examined family discord, incivility, and violence, and the effect that family turmoil has on participation in inappropriate online behaviours as a result of weakened individual and prosocial factors.
Seventy-five published studies fell under this theme from 2009 to 2021, with the majority of studies (45) being published between 2018 to 2021. Thus, this area of research in English is in its infancy. The country most represented in the literature on this theme is the United States (18 studies), followed by Spain (9 studies), and China (9 studies), showing that the research in English is mostly focused on Western countries, except for a significant number of studies also coming from China. As with the entire body of research for this literature review, there is a much larger proportion of cross-sectional to longitudinal studies addressing this theme (56 and 19 respectively), although the findings from longitudinal studies mostly support the findings from the cross-sectional studies. Thirty-six of the studies focus only on cybervictimization; five focus only on cyberperpetration; 32 examine a combination of the two; and two also look at bystanders.
The research found many family factors that are positively associated with both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration, including poor family environments marked by violence, dysfunction, and conflict; neglect; poor parental attachment; loneliness with family; and family rejection. These factors have mostly indirect effects on cybervictimization and cyberperpetration. Children and youth who live in unsupportive or abusive environments can fail to develop the individual level skills and mechanisms to cope with cyberbullying incidents (e.g., help-seeking, personal coping mechanisms, resilience, self-esteem) and may also feel insecurity or lack of safety with their family members, leading them to avoid communication or disclosure of incidents. Children and youth who experience parental abuse may feel particularly confused or rejected, in turn developing behaviours that may put them at risk for cyberbullying. With regards to cyberperpetration, children and youth who feel rejected, lonely, unsupported, or face family violence or dysfunction may seek to express themselves or exert the power/confidence they lack at home online, possibly emulating the violence they see at home. They may also lack the guidance and structure that they require from their family environments, developing insecure or negative attachment styles.
Conversely, several factors were found to be negatively associated with both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration, including secure bonding, family attachment, family cohesion, and positive communication and expressiveness. These factors show that children and youth who live in positive, secure environments, marked by cohesion and expressive communication may have developed the positive personal and interpersonal skills (e.g., boundary-setting, coping skills, impulsivity control) and have the support, guidance, and structure from their families required to both not engage in cyberbullying and be able to cope with and respond to cyberbullying incidents.
Overall, the findings show the importance of secure, structured, and positive family environments and relationships with caregivers, particularly with respect to the ability of supportive caregiving to reduce the impact of cyberbullying incidents on the child/youth.
The following table summarizes the factors that were found to be positively and negatively associated with cybervictimization and cyberperpetration and the following text provides more details.
Cybervictimization Prevalence Associated with Caregiver-Child Relationships and Family Dynamics: Detailed Findings
Unsurprisingly, family discord and turmoil are positively associated with cybervictimization in several ways. Family violence and parental abuse have an indirect association, which can lead to poor peer relationships and insecure attachments (Chen et al., 2018; Hong et al., 2018). Family dysfunction, conflict and neglect are also positively associated with cybervictimization (Sánchez et al., 2016; Ding et al., 2020; Hong et al., 2018; Marret et al., 2017; Martínez-Monteagudo et al., 2018; Ortega-Barón et al., 2016). In particular, neglect may lead to a lack of ability to socialize outside the home (Hong et al., 2018).
Problematic communication with caregivers (less openness/expressiveness; more offensive communication; more avoidance) is related to negative relationships and poor parental attachment (Buelga et al., 2017; Canas et al., 2020; Guo et al., 2020), all of which are positively associated with cybervictimization (Accordino & Accordino, 2011; Bayraktar et al., 2015; Bjereld et al., 2017; Bradbury et al., 2018; Li et al, 2018; Li & Hesketh, 2019; Marret et al., 2017). As put by one study, caregivers are generally well intentioned, but sometimes need guidance. Whereas children and youth should ideally approach caregivers by themselves, caregivers also need to be receptive. Ultimately, the improved bond and communication will lead to controlling cyberbullying incidents (Damanjit & Kaur, 2016). One study, however, found that caregiver-child communication did not have a significant relationship with cybervictimization prevalence one way or another (Liu et al., 2021).
As put by several studies, including one longitudinal study, loneliness with family and low family self-esteem—which are related to low perceived family support and family rejection—are also positively associated with cybervictimization (Brighi et al., 2012; Hellfeldt et al., 2019; Larrañaga et al., 2016; Stavrinides et al., 2018).
In contrast, several studies, including one longitudinal study, found that secure bonding and family attachment are generally thought to be negatively associated with cybervictimization (Chan et al., 2017; Floros et al., 2011; Jun, 2020; Liu et al, 2021; Safaria & Suyono, 2020; Tintori et al, 2021), although one longitudinal study found that there is no significant association between family support and cyberbullying, as children and youth may believe caregivers are unable to solve problems (Le et al., 2017). Similarly, as found in three longitudinal studies, family cohesion and expressiveness, fostered by a sense of support, are also negatively associated with cybervictimization (Arató et al., 2021; Fanti et al., 2012; Grunin et al., 2020; Helfrich et al., 2020; Mishna et al., 2016; Ortega-Barón et al., 2016; Wang et al., 2009).
Cyberperpetration Prevalence Associated with Caregiver-Child Relationships and Family Dynamics: Detailed Findings
Similar associations have been found for cyberperpetration. As noted in several longitudinal studies, family violence (Bai et al., 2020; Low & Espelage, 2012; Wang et al., 2020;); poor parental attachment and negative relationships with caregivers (Accordino & Accordino, 2011; Govender & Young, 2018; Li et al., 2018, 2019; Liu et al., 2021; Paez 2020;Viau et al., 2019); family dysfunction and conflict, including neglect and poor family management (Bai et al., 2020; Buelga et al., 2016; Chen et al., 2018; Hemphill et al., 2012; Hemphill & Heerde, 2014; Le et al., 2017; Martínez-Monteagudo et al., 2018; Wang et al., 2020;); problematic communication (Buelga et al., 2016; Chen et al., 2018; Govender & Young, 2018); and loneliness with family/low family self-esteem, low sense of family support, and family rejection (Govender & Young, 2018; Hellfeldt et al., 2019) are all positively associated with cyberperpetration.
As with cybervictimization, family cohesion, expressiveness, and support are found to have negative associations with cyberperpetration, as indicated in two longitudinal studies (Fanti et al., 2012; Knopf, 2015; Li et al., 2020). Several studies, including three longitudinal studies, examined the frequency of family dinners as a proxy for caregiver-child bonding and communication, revealing negative associations with cyberbullying.Footnote 4 (Arató et al., 2021; Grunin et al., 2020; Knopf, 2015; Li et al., 2020; Wang et al., 2009; Wright and Wachs, 2020). As with the findings related to cybervictimization, secure bonding and family attachment are seen to also have negative associations with the prevalence of cyberperpetration (Tintori et al., 2021; Cortes et al., 2019; Floros et al., 2011; Safaria & Suyono, 2020; Vazsonyi et al., 2017).
The second major theme in the body of research is related to parental mediation and knowledge. This theme appears in 59 studies in English ranging from 2004-2021. Most of these studies (36) date between 2017 to 2021, again showing the infancy of the field of research. The research also has a primarily Western focus, with the largest representation of studies coming from the United States (16). There are many more cross-sectional studies compared to longitudinal studies addressing this theme (44 and 15 respectively) although, the findings from longitudinal studies mostly support the findings from the cross-sectional studies. Twenty of the studies focus only on cybervictimization; 11 focus only on cyberperpetration; 26 examine a combination of the two; and two are focused on bystanders.
Parental mediation refers to the ways in which caregivers manage their children and youths' online behaviours (Strohmeier et al., 2021). It is a complex concept that goes beyond simple restrictions, involving also conversational and interpretative strategies, and monitoring activities (Athanasiades et al., 2016). Due to the overall lack of longitudinal studies examining this topic, some researchers have noted that the effects of parental mediation remain difficult to conclusively determine (Strohmeier et al., 2021). Others also point out that active mediation is more effective for young children than adolescents due to the shift from parental to peer-attachments as children grow up (Ho et al., 2017).
In the literature, parental mediation strategies have been divided into restrictive and instructive strategies (defined above in the terminology section). Overall, the research found a negative association between instructive mediation and both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration. Findings were mixed, however, when it came to restrictive mediation. Restrictive mediation had an overall negative association with cyberperpetration, although many researchers attributed this finding to the fact that restrictions caused children and youth to have fewer opportunities to engage in poor behaviours online. These studies may, however, assume that less access at home equals no access elsewhere, whereas it is possible that the family may not be aware of the online presence of the child/youth and the child/youth will likely not tell the caregivers if something does occur.
Furthermore, there were mixed findings about the relationship between restrictive mediation and cybervictimization. These mixed findings may be because restrictive mediation shares features with overprotective parenting styles (discussed in a later section), as both restrictive mediation and overprotective parenting styles tend to impose strict restrictions, without any accompanying guidance or parental involvement.
These findings are interesting when looked at through the lens of cyberbullying prevention and intervention initiatives, as they suggest that helping families develop the right mediation strategies may be effective in reducing harm done and experienced online.
The following table summarizes the factors that were found to be negatively associated with cybervictimization and cyberperpetration and the following text provides more details.
Cybervictimization Prevalence Associated with Parental Mediation: Detailed Findings
Overall, there are mixed findings about the association between restrictive mediation (limiting or preventing the use of the internet, blocking sites, applying other restrictions) and cybervictimization. Five studies show that restrictive mediation has a negative association with cybervictimization (Alvarez-Garcia et al., 2019; Chang et al., 2016; Feijóo et al., 2021; Kalia & Aleem, 2017; Sasson & Mesch, 2017). However, three longitudinal studies show a positive association (Wright, 2016; Wright, 2016; Wright, 2017), noting that restrictive mediation may not prevent cybervictimization, especially as it shares features with overprotective parenting styles (not encouraging autonomy, problem solving, and social skills and inducing fear) (Wright, 2017).
More conclusive results can be found, however, for a negative association between instructive mediation (particularly warm involvement and behavioural control through limit-setting) (Kokkinos et al., 2016) and cybervictimization. In fact, instructive mediation shares elements with democratic parenting styles, which feature joint creation of rules regarding time spent online and personal information shared (Navarro et al., 2013). The studies that describe the negative association between instructive mediation and cybervictimization prevalence encourage families to discuss negative situations, provide guidance, and encourage children and youth to seek social support (Feijóo et al., 2021; Floros et al., 2011; Kokkinos et al., 2016; Mesch, 2009; Navarro et. Al, 2013; Wright, 2016; Wright, 2016; Wright, 2017).
Finally, although many studies indicate that parental monitoring and supervision are negatively associated with cybervictimization (21 in total), four studies did not find an association between parental restrictions and monitoring and cybervictimization (Sasson & Mesch, 2014; Sasson & Mesch, 2017; Strohmeier et al., 2021; Zhou et al., 2013). One study reported that these parental mediation strategies may have been reactively used after cybervictimization has occurred (Strohmeier et al. 2021), possibly suggesting how strategies can be used to prevent new incidents from happening.
Cyberperpetration Prevalence Associated with Parental Mediation: Detailed Findings
Ten studies have found that inconsistent application of rules, insufficient parental mediation strategies, and lack of parental control and awareness have a positive association with cyberperpetration, and 17 studies, including one longitudinal (Wright & Wachs, 2019) note that parental control and involvement decreases likelihood of cyberperpetration. The suggestion here is that parental control and involvement may be essential to preventing and intervening in cyberperpetration; this finding is reinforced by the positive association between the absence of parental involvement and cyberperpetration.
Instructive mediation strategies (increasing knowledge about risks of social media, making children and youth cautious about behaviours and aware of negative consequences) and restrictive mediation (restricting time and access to social media, leading to lower opportunities) are both negatively associated with cyberperpetration in many studies, including one longitudinal study (Cho et al., 2019; Feijóo et al., 2021; Ho et al., 2017; Kalia & Aleem, 2017; Kokkinos et al., 2016; Kurana et al., 2015; Meter and Bauman, 2018; Mesch, 2009; Navarro et al., 2013; Sung Hong et al., 2016; Wright, 2016; Wright, 2016; Wright, 2017). Parental mediation may also have an indirect effect, i.e., by moderating the direct association between online disinhibition effect and cyberbullying and increasing disclosure from children/youth (Wang & Ngai, 2021); by increasing self-control through autonomy granting strategies (Vazsonyi et al., 2017); or by increasing prosocial behaviours (Park et al., 2014). However, one study found that children and youths' perceptions of peers' approval of risky behaviours reduced the effectiveness of restrictive mediation (Caivano et al., 2020) and one study found that parental supervision actually increased the prevalence of risky online behaviours (Sasson & Mesch, 2014).
The third key theme was related to parenting styles, appearing in 27 studies in English ranging from 2010-2021. The majority of these studies (19) were published between 2018 to 2021, once again showing the newness of the field of research. Key countries represented by this research in English include Spain (5 studies), the United States (4 studies), and China (4 studies), demonstrating the primarily Western focus of the research. There is a larger proportion of cross-sectional to longitudinal studies (24 and 3 respectively). The findings from longitudinal studies mostly support the findings from the cross-sectional studies. Five of the studies focus only on cybervictimization; six focus only on cyberperpetration; and 16 examine both together.
Parenting styles are the ensemble of practices and approaches taken by caregivers to raise their children/youth and include three main types and a subset of related styles: authoritarian (including controlling or punitive), laissez-faire (including indulgent or permissive), and authoritative (including supportive, democratic, or flexible) parenting styles. As noted by one longitudinal study, parenting styles are important, as they influence peer attachment, are linked to parental mediation strategies, and shape young people's sense of self, self-esteem, and strategies and approaches, thus indirectly affecting cyberbullying (Charalampous et al. 2018). However, there may be mixed findings about parenting styles as the body of research grows (Vale et al., 2018). In addition, although the literature typically codes parenting styles as either authoritative, laissez-faire, or authoritarian, it is likely that, in practice, parenting styles may be more nuanced and variable depending on the circumstances and are subject to change.
Overall, authoritarian and laissez-faire parenting styles had positive associations with both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration. Authoritative parenting styles had negative associations with both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration. One longitudinal study found that strict or psychologically controlling parenting styles resulted in children and youth becoming vulnerable and anxious about their relationships with their caregivers, and to consequently have diminishing self-esteem, which was seen to be a significant predictor of cybervictimization. Otherwise, parenting styles that were indulgent and permissive or were unreceptive or unavailable (i.e., where caregivers were not involved to help children and youth counter or cope with cyberbullying incidents) were also positively associated with cybervictimization. In the case of cyberperpetration, findings from longitudinal studies indicated that punitive, controlling, overprotective, and neglectful parenting styles caused children and youth to develop violent problem-solving approaches and interpersonal strategies and to react to lack of love and acceptance by causing harm to others online, while also lacking structure and support from their families.
Conversely, authoritative parenting styles may have helped children and youth feel supported and garnered trust that their families would respond when asking for help. As a consequence, these types of relationships may be protective against cyberbullying. Authoritative parenting styles may also help children and youth develop key prosocial skills, such as emotional warmth and empathy, which can also indirectly reduce the likelihood of cybervictimization and cyberperpetration.
Overall, the findings show that parenting styles are related to children and youths' involvement with cyberbullying. Knowledge of how parenting styles either prevent or foster cyberbullying behaviours can be of use to the design of initiatives targeting families in preventing or intervening in cyberbullying.
The following table summarizes the factors that were found to be positively and negatively associated with cybervictimization and cyberperpetration and the following text provides more detail.
Cybervictimization Prevalence Associated with Parenting Styles: Detailed Findings
Several studies, including one longitudinal study, found positive associations between authoritarian parenting or educational styles (including strict parenting and psychologically controlling parenting) and cybervictimization (Charalampous et al., 2018; Garaigordobil & Machimbarrena, 2017; Hsieh, 2020; Martinez et al., 2019; Moreno-Ruiz et al., 2019; Rao et al., 2019).
There are also studies that demonstrate positive associations between indulgent and permissive caregivers (caregivers who are low on strictness/supervision and high on acceptance/involvement) and cybervictimization (Broll & Reynolds, 2021; Garaigordobil & Machimbarrena, 2017; Martínez et al., 2019).
Some studies have found a positive association between unreceptive or unavailable parenting styles and cybervictimization. These studies suggested that children and youth who feel unheard or lack the support required for help-seeking behaviours may have a more difficult time coping with cyberbullying incidents (Damanjit & Kaur, 2016; Skierkowski-Foster, 2021).
Finally, other studies reported negative associations between autonomy-supportive parenting (Legate et al., 2019); authoritative parenting (Charalampous et al., 2018; Zurcher et al., 2018), and flexible parenting styles. Caregivers who employed authoritative parenting styles directed children and youth to developing realistic behaviours and respect towards others. As stated in one longitudinal study, as a result of these parenting styles, children and youth learn to ask for help, disclose incidents, and are confident in their caregivers' ability to guide and comfort them (Charalampous et al., 2018).
Cyberperpetration Prevalence Associated with Parenting Styles: Detailed Findings
Many studies (15 in total, including one longitudinal) found a positive association between authoritarian parenting styles (especially ones where caregivers used physical or harsh disciplinary strategies or were overprotective or psychologically controlling) and cyberperpetration. In fact, according to one longitudinal study, punitive or controlling practices result in children and youth seeing physical and psychological violence as ways to deal with problems. Children of authoritarian caregivers may follow the example of the behaviours modelled by their caregivers. Consequently, these children and youth may lack empathy; use inequality and competition as interpersonal strategies; lack the ability to discuss online issues; and perceive caregivers as insensitive to problems. They may react to the lack of parental attention, love and acceptance by engaging in cyberbullying (Charalampous et al., 2018). Only one study (Vale et al., 2018) suggested that there may be a negative association between authoritarian parenting and cyberperpetration.
Other parenting styles that have a positive association with cyberperpetration include permissive/laissez-faire approaches (Makri-Botsari & Karagianna, 2014; Vale et al., 2018) and neglectful parenting styles that lack emotional support and affection (Govender & Young, 2018; Martinez-Ferrer et al., 2019; Moreno-Ruiz, 2015; Tarablus et al., 2015; Zhang et al., 2021). Caregivers who are uninvolved or do not engage with their children and youth to provide them with feedback regarding their aggressive behaviour fail to guide their children and youth towards appropriate social behaviours and set limits and expectations on appropriate online interactions.
Finally, negative associations were found by some studies between authoritative and autonomy supportive parenting and cyberperpetration (Lee & Shin, 2017; Makri-Botsari & Karagianni, 2014; Vale et al., 2018). In these families, positive individual traits and prosocial skills are modelled by the caregivers; the child/youth then transfers these interpersonal skills to their peer relationships. The main concept is that key prosocial skills, such as emotional warmth, trait gratitude, cognitive empathy, and affective empathy are socialized through the family environment, thus decreasing the likelihood of cyberperpetration (Chen et al., 2020).
Broader Social Structures
Other elements of the child/youth's broader social structure such as peers, school, and other social supports emerged from the literature as important aspects of the child/youth's ecosystem relating to cyberbullying. The broader social structure goes beyond “family,” but has been included in this review as these other social contexts or relationships mediated the relationship between family and cyberbullying. The majority of studies (25) in English that look at the broader social structure date between 2018 to 2021, showing the newness of the field of research. The main country represented by this research is the United Stated (7 studies), demonstrating the primarily Western focus of the research. There is a much larger number of cross-sectional to longitudinal studies (19 and 6 respectively) although again the findings from longitudinal studies mostly support the findings from the cross-sectional studies. Fourteen of the studies focus only on cybervictimization; one focuses only on cyberperpetration; and 10 examined both together.
While social structures beyond the family are somewhat out of scope for this research, this theme often occurred in conjunction with research looking at family dynamics, parental mediation, and parenting styles. In general, the research found that poor peer relationships and/or having peers who cyberbully were mechanisms that partially accounted for the relationship between family dynamics, parental mediation, and parenting styles and cyberbullying. In contrast, positive and supportive peer relationships were protective mechanisms in the relationship between family dynamics, parental mediation, and parenting styles and cyberbullying.
Perceived social support is important to this body of research, particularly due to its importance as a mechanism in the relationship between family factors and cyberbullying. This is especially true for adolescents who have developed attachments with their peers, educators, friends, etc. outside of the immediate family. For instance, one study discussed how active coping approaches – which includes soliciting help from family, school, and teachers – increases with age as relationships outside the household gain in importance (Chan & Wong, 2017). Another study noted that social support from those outside the household (e.g. teachers, police, professionals, girlfriends, boyfriends) is sought more often than from caregivers or friends (Chun et al., 2021). Finally, one study found that changing bystander behaviour—which is influenced by support from educators and caregivers—created the highest impact (DeSmet et al., 2016). Examining the children/youth's broader social structure as a mechanism in the relationship between families and cyberbullying is useful; the implication is that a focus on those outside the immediate family (e.g., peers, teachers, school counsellors, friends) may be useful as a target for future intervention.
Overall, the findings show that it may be important to continue the research into the effects of the child/youth's broader social structure, and to consider social structures when designing prevention and intervention initiatives. In particular, peer relationships may play a key role in preventing cyberbullying or helping children/youth cope with cyberbullying. Thus, interventions may want to focus on peer relationships, as well as family relationships to enhance the efficacy of these programs.
The following table summarizes the factors that were found to be positively and negatively associated with cybervictimization and cyberperpetration and the following text provides more details.
Cybervictimization Prevalence Associated with Peers, School, and Other Social Supports: Detailed Findings
Several articles, including two longitudinal studies, discuss the importance of the peer social network, and the negative association between perceived support from friends with cybervictimization (Arató et al., 2021; Jun, 2020; Mishna et al., 2016; Yoo, 2021). As described in one longitudinal study, key behaviours that indicate positive friend and peer attachments may include talking about problems with friends and spending unstructured time with friends (Cho et al., 2019). The relevance of this finding is that having friends with whom to regularly discuss problems and spend time may be a protective factor in the relationship between negative parenting styles and cybervictimization.
Interestingly, one study found that children and youths' perceptions of caregivers' and peers' coping strategies are associated with their use of coping mechanisms in cybervictimization situations. The study also highlights the influence of peers in mentoring each other on coping strategies. The implication from these results is that peer coaching of coping strategies may be more effective than behaviours socialized in the home from caregivers (Bradbury et al., 2018).
The school may be another important mechanism for children and youth who have challenging and stressful family environments. Schools and educators also provide support (Ortega-Barón et al., 2016). Conversely, poor school involvement and negative affiliation with teachers may also increase the likelihood of cyberbullying incidents occurring, particularly if children and youth find it difficult to communicate, have low confidence, or feel unheard (Bjereld et al., 2017). Thus, schools play a role as a protective factor in the relationship between negative parenting styles and cybervictimization or as a risk factor if the school is not supportive.
These above reviewed studies have examined the role of peers and schools as a potential mechanism that can mediate the relationship between parenting styles and cybervictimization. Nonetheless, the family remains important. As stated by one longitudinal study, family support is crucial for children and youth in vulnerable situations (e.g. children and youth living in single-parent households with low levels of social support from friends/peers) (Fanti et al., 2012) and, as described earlier, parenting styles shape and influence peer attachments as children and youth grow up (Boniel-Nissim & Sasson, 2018).
Cyberperpetration Prevalence Associated with Peers, School, and Other Social Supports: Detailed Findings
Poor peer relationships and/or having peers who cyberbully can be seen as a mechanism that partially mediates the relationship between family dynamics, parental mediation, and parenting styles and cyberbullying. Several studies noted positive associations between perceptions of peer bullying behaviours (Sasson & Mesch, 2014); negative attachments to peers (e.g., peers engaging in deviant behaviours) (Paez, 2020); and poor peer relations (Hong et al., 2018) and cyberperpetration behaviours. In addition, one study noted that children and youths' perceptions of peers' approval of risky behaviours can actually reduce the effectiveness of restrictive mediation strategies (Caivano et al., 2020).
Other studies, including one longitudinal study, found that positive and supportive peer attachments can reduce cyberperpetration behaviours (Arató et al., 2021; Jun, 2020; Yoo, 2021). Furthermore, one longitudinal study noted the possibility of improving interpersonal skills of adolescents via improved interactions with caregivers and peers, showing the importance of sustained efforts to improve relationships (Jun, 2020). The findings show the relationship of youth's broader social structure to the prevalence of cyberbullying, are important to the study since they mediate family's role in cyberbullying. As such, these factors may be targeted in future interventions.
An additional theme arising in the literature is family demographics, appearing in 19 studies ranging from 2010-2021. The majority of these studies (13) in English were published from 2016 to 2021, showing the infancy of the field of research. The main countries represented by this research are the United Kingdom (3 studies), China (2 studies), and Spain (2 studies), demonstrating the primarily Western focus of the research. As with the entire body of research for this literature review, there is a much larger proportion of cross-sectional to longitudinal studies (17 and 2, respectively). Ten of the studies focus only on cybervictimization; two focus only on cyberperpetration; and seven investigate both together.
Family demographics were not often a key focus among the studies analyzed for this literature review, but rather were a secondary variable of the study. This section seeks to highlight linkages made by authors, where applicable, between family demographics and cyberbullying prevalence. However, the results on family demographics may provide insight into future targeted prevention/intervention initiatives.
The research found associations between family demographics and cybervictimization. However, there were very few studies examining the relationship between family demographics and cyberperpetration. There were also very few studies examining cultural differences in parenting styles; thus, this dimension has not been included in this report, but has been highlighted as a limitation in the conclusions section.
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. There were also some mixed findings about levels of parental education and parental unemployment.
These preliminary findings indicate a need for further research on the relationship between family demographics and cyberbullying. Indeed, arriving at conclusive results may provide useful for the design and development of targeted interventions.
The following table summarizes the factors that were found to be positively associated with cybervictimization and the following text provides more details.
Cybervictimization Prevalence Associated with Family Demographics: Detailed Findings
Interestingly, the research revealed more associations between family demographics with cybervictimization than with cyberperpetration. For example, children and youth living in single-parent families, stepfamilies, and divorced families (Arnarsson et al., 2020; Bevilacqua et al., 2016; Bevilacqua et al., 2017; Chen et al., 2018; Sourander et al., 2010; Strohmeier et al., 2021) were at higher risk for experiencing cyberbullying.
In addition, there was a positive association between low-income families and cybervictimization in several studies (Bevilacqua et al., 2016; Bevilacqua et al., 2017; Sánchez et al., 2016; Chen et al., 2018; Shaheen et al., 2018), although, interestingly, one study found a negative association between lower family affluence and cybervictimization, possibly due to limited access to electronic devices (Chester et al., 2019).
There were mixed results related to parental levels of education. For instance, one study found a positive association with maternal low level of education and cybervictimization (Chen et al., 2018); another found no significant association between parental education and cybervictimization (Rodríguez-Enríquez et al., 2019); and another found a positive association between paternal level of education being at the high school level and above (Emiral et al., 2020).
Additional research may be required for the association between other family demographic factors and cybervictimization. Of the studies analyzed for this review, one reported a positive association between parental unemployment and cybervictimization (Chen et al., 2018). Another study found a positive association between caregivers living in rural areas (with consequently lower Internet skills, and less online intervention) and cybervictimization (Chang et al., 2016). One study discussed a positive association between first-generation immigrant families and cybervictimization, noting that first-generation immigrants use the Internet more to search for information and express themselves, and are less likely to avoid online risks compared to non-immigrants (Strohmeier et al., 2021).
Cyberperpetration Prevalence Associated with Family Demographics: Detailed Findings
Few studies examined associations between family demographics and cyberperpetration. One study noted a positive association between single-parent families, stepfamilies, and divorced families and cyberperpetration; as well as between unemployment and cyberperpetration (Chen et al. 2018). Three studies indicated a link between low-income families and cyberperpetration (Bevilacqua et al., 2016; Bevilacqua et al., 2017; Chen et al., 2018). Furthermore, one study found that parental educational levels were not related to cyberperpetration (Makri-Botsari & Karagianna, 2014).
Cyberbullying Awareness, Knowledge and Understanding
Another theme in the research was focused on the parental levels of awareness, knowledge, and understanding of cyberbullying. Although caregivers often set rules about ways to use the Internet, studies noted that they are often not conscious of negative behaviours or underestimate cyberbullying. They often have insufficient notions of their children and youths' experience of cyberbullying or their children and youths' cyberaggressive behaviours. Overall, they are less aware of cyberbullying experiences than about traditional bullying (Barlett & Fennel, 2018; Dehue et al., 2008; Kowalski & Fedina, 2011; Uludasdemir & Kucuk, 2019).
Caregivers often also lack awareness of the role they can play in preventing or intervening in cyberbullying. As one longitudinal study put it, caregivers should be shown that they have a supportive role to play in their children and youths' technology use, and that they can help diminish the negative consequences associated with cyberbullying behaviours (Wright & Wachs, 2019).
Indeed, parental awareness of adolescents' online behaviours (e.g., actions, relations with peers) helps them get involved and intervene in cyberbullying situations (Guo et al., 2020). Caregivers that are aware of cyberbullying behaviours are more likely to provide timely interventions and support their children and youth in developing proactive coping and help-seeking behaviours (Zhu et al., 2019). Informed caregivers can make appropriate choice about the parental mediation approaches and strategies they choose to employ to monitor, supervise, and set limits about the use of the Internet.
Families as Protective Factors for Cyberbullying Behaviour Among Children and Youth
As defined by Public Safety Canada (2015), protective factors are the positive influences that may improve the lives of individuals and make them more resilient to counteract risk factors. Protective factors were among the more conclusive findings of this literature review for both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration. This review found that 23 articles emphasized positive caregiver-child attachments; 22 articles noted the efficacy of awareness of cyberbullying/problematic behaviours and appropriate levels and forms of parental mediation; and 10 articles focused on supportive parenting styles. Other recurrent protective factors included family communication, perceived social support, and peer approval.
Indeed, as shown in Table 6, several key protective factors are relevant for both cyberperpetration and cybervictimization. A critical protective factor against being cybervictimized is positive, expressive communication within the family. Families who have positive relationships that create a climate where children and youth can openly communicate. As a result, these supportive families may be able to address cyberbullying before it happens, as they will be aware of the problems before they develop into cyberbullying.
Surprisingly, two studies found restrictive mediation and authoritarian parenting styles may also be protective factors against cyberperpetration. This is in contrast to findings suggesting that restrictive mediation approaches and authoritarian parenting have a positive association with cyberbullying. The reason for this divergence in findings may be because it is assumed that restrictive or authoritarian approaches result in reduced time spent online and, consequently, limited opportunities to engage in poor online behaviours.Footnote 5
It is important to note that there are few cyberbullying initiatives with family components and, of those that exist, none have specifically examined the effectiveness of family involvement. Consequently, protective factors can provide a useful indication of key elements that could be included and targeted in future initiatives.
|Common to both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration||
Cybervictimization Protective Factors: Detailed Findings
Perception of family support was the most frequent protective factor against cybervictimization (21 studies, including several longitudinal). Children and youth from families with high family support may develop the competencies and skills to prevent experiencing cyberbullying. Secondly, these supportive families may have fostered the skills needed to address cybervictimization should it occur, such as help seeking skills and assertive communication. Children and youth who feel supported are also able to develop the key personal and interpersonal skills necessary to defend against cyberbullying. The web of social support can include family members, teachers, peers, and professionals (Chun et al., 2021; Yoo, 2021). As indicated in two longitudinal studies, high levels of social support provide a sense of safety among children and youth, allowing them to develop effective coping skills (Chillemi et al., 2020) and seek further guidance should they require it (Wright, 2017). There is some discussion, however, about the efficacy of higher parental support (Gofin & Avitzour, 2021) versus other supports. One study noted that other forms of social support (e.g., from teachers and counselling professionals) are more effective or more highly sought than the support of caregivers, indicating that family support is only one branch of the support network that needs to be engaged to combat cyberbullying (Chun et al., 2021).
Appropriate parental mediation is another key protective factor against cybervictimization, mentioned in twelve studies, including a few longitudinal studies. Particularly, studies note the importance of parenting monitoring and online guardianship (Floros et al., 2011; Hood & Duffy, 2018; Kalia & Aleema, 2017; Wachs et al., 2021).
Positive parental attachments are another protective factor against cybervictimization that was highlighted in ten studies, including one longitudinal, all of which noted the importance of family cohesion, high interactions with caregivers, and high levels of family attachment (Arató et al., 2021; Chan et al., 2018; Jun, 2020). In fact, one study found that not only can high caregiver-child attachment protect against cybervictimization; it can also buffer against depressive symptoms that result from cybervictimization (Zhu et al., 2019).
A few studies mentioned positive, expressive communication with caregivers (Martínez-Monteagudo et al., 2018; Özdemir, 2014; Worsley et al, 2019) and parental awareness of online behaviours (e.g., actions, relations with peers, messages, online activities) (Caivano et al., 2020; Chang et al., 2016) as important protective factors against cybervictimization.
It is also important to note that cyberperpetration can be committed by groups of children and youth rather than an individual perpetrator and that group behaviour is influenced differently (e.g., not necessarily by whether group members come from supportive family homes). Thus, this report acknowledges that there are other dynamics that are outside the reach of family influence. The risk and protective factors noted in this report relate to family influences specifically.
Cyberperpetration Protective Factors: Detailed Findings
There were fewer studies examining protective factors against cyberperpetration than for cybervictimization, which may be a function of the smaller proportion of research articles examining cyberperpetration overall. With regards to cyberperpetration, parental mediation was found to be the most frequently studied protective factor, appearing in eight studies, including one longitudinal. Both restrictive parental mediation (parental strategies that limit internet and mobile use) and instructive mediation (monitoring, communication, rule setting, autonomy supportive actions) were identified as positive parental mediation strategies (i.e., associated with less cyberperpetration) (Alvarez-Garcia et al., 2018; Ho et al., 2017; Hong et al., 2016; Wright, 2016; Zhou et al., 2013).
Perceived support from friends and family was examined in five studies. Social support can come from multiple sources (e.g., families, peers, teachers, schools), which can have different effects. For example, one study found that children and youth who perceived higher levels of parental social support indicated lower levels of acceptance of violence, and that, conversely, a lack of social support from teachers resulted in higher scores of machismo, which was positively associated with cyberperpetration (Pérez-Martínez et al., 2021). Similarly, high-quality caregiver-child attachment and bonding was seen as a protective factor against cyberperpetration (Alvarez-Garcia et al., 2018; Arató et al., 2021; Jun, 2020; Lee and Chin, 2017).
The findings about parental mediation (both instructive and restrictive) and parenting styles (both authoritative and authoritarian, as seen in Vale et al., 2018) are interesting to note, as restrictive mediation has been positively associated with cybervictimization prevalence and authoritarian parenting styles have been positively associated with both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration prevalence (discussed in earlier sections). To add to the mixed findings, one study indicated that protective factors cease to be significant predictors when other factors are accounted for (e.g., sociodemographic, personality, and Internet use), showing that the relationships between family variables and perpetration may be indirect and spurious (Alvarez-Garcia et al., 2018). These findings suggest that there may not be one sole focus to address cyberperpetration. In any case, additional longitudinal studies may be required to determine where intervention work should focus.
Families as Risk Factors for Cyberbullying Behaviour Among Children and Youth
The literature on risk factors—the negative influences that may increase likelihood of cyberbullying experiences or behaviours (Public Safety Canada, 2015)—is overall more fragmented than the literature on protective factors, meaning that there are more risk factors, with less overall consensus of findings in the literature. Parenting styles were the most commonly reported risk factors (11 studies), followed by family violence and conflict (9 studies), and insufficient/inappropriate parental mediation (9 studies). Other important risk factors include poor relationships with caregivers; low perceived social support; family demographics; low levels of parental knowledge and awareness; peer affiliation; lack of communication; and feelings of loneliness with caregivers. One study indicated that, perhaps surprisingly, literature on the role of sibling support is scarce and requires further attention (Tzani-Pepelasi et al., 2018).
Risk factors specific to cybervictimization include restrictive mediation, parental neglect and rejection, and poor/avoidant communication with caregivers. Taken together, these results suggest that children and youth at risk for cybervictimization lack the support, instruction, and guidance from their families that will facilitate their help seeking behaviours, development of coping mechanisms and prosocial behaviours, and ability to find comfort to deal with cyberbullying incidents.
Risk factors specific to cyberperpetration include parental ignorance and lack of knowledge of online behaviours. This speaks to children and youth who lack family structure and limits required to prevent poor online behaviours.
Currently there are few cyberbullying initiatives with family components, and, of those, none have specifically examined the effectiveness of family involvement. In lieu of this evidence, risk factors can provide a useful indication of key elements that could be targeted in future initiatives.
|Common to both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration||
Cybervictimization Risk Factors: Detailed Findings
Two key risk factors (insufficient/inappropriate parental mediation and family demographics) appeared in ten studies each, including a few longitudinal studies. Specifically, parental mediation risk factors associated with cybervictimization included restrictive mediation (Caivano et al., 2020; Wachs et al., 2021; Wright, 2016; Wright, 2016) and inconsistent or limited parental mediation (Guo et al., 2020; Katz et al., 2019; Mishna et al., 2012), such as providing access to the Internet outside family control (Uludasdemir & Kucuk, 2019). Family demographic risk factors associated with cybervictimization included low-income (Bevilacqua et al., 2017; Hong et al., 2016; Shaheed et al., 2019); living in single-parent families or stepfamily structures (Arnarsson et al., 2020; Bevilacqua et al., 2016); or living in rural areas with caregivers with lower Internet access or literacy rates (Chang et al., 2016).
Family violence and conflict also were identified risk factors in eight studies, including by two longitudinal studies. Specifically, this includes neglect and various forms of abuse from caregivers (Cénat et al., 2019; Chen et al., 2018; Hemphill & Heerde, 2014; Hong et al., 2018) and exposure to interparental violence and conflict (Cénat et al., 2018; Chen et al., 2018; Hemphill and Heerde, 2014; Hong et al., 2018; Marret & Choo, 2017). With regards to the indirect effects, one study noted that abused children and youth may lack the ability to socialize outside the house, resulting in a higher likelihood of being cyberbullied online (Hong et al., 2018).
Low social support from families and broader social structures (e.g. peers and friends) was noted by six studies as being a risk factor for cybervictimization. This factor may also be closely related to loneliness with caregivers or rejection and poor relationships with caregivers (each noted by four studies). All of these risk factors speak to children and youth who feel lonely, rejected, and unsupported, with underdeveloped coping and prosocial skills. One longitudinal study noted that parenting style and parental attachments influence the nature and quality of peer attachment in adolescence, which in turn has an effect on cyberbullying prevalence. Thus, parental attachments throughout childhood and adolescence enable youth to develop both the autonomy and social support structures required to prevent cyberbullying incidents and behaviours (Charalampous et al., 2018).
Certain parenting styles were also noted as risk factors for cybervictimization in four studies. These include authoritarian parenting styles, which are marked by low affection, coercive discipline, strictness, and high control (Garaigordobil & Machimbarrena, 2017) and indulgent/permissive practices, which are indicated by high affection and overprotection, and low demand/control. Both parenting styles are positively associated with insufficient parental mediation practices (Broll & Reynolds, 2021; Garaigordobil & Machimbarrena, 2017). As noted by one longitudinal study, children and youth of authoritarian caregivers may be more vulnerable to being bullied by others as they become anxious and consequently have diminishing self-esteem (Charalampous et al., 2018).
Children and youth who have poor relationships with their caregivers may also engage in avoidant communication or not engage in communication altogether. They may feel unsupported, believing that their caregivers will not listen to what they have to say, finding it difficult overall to communicate (Bjereld et al., 2017; Gofin & Avitzour, 2021; ; Guo et al., 2020; Larrañaga et al., 2016). Conversely, children and youth with healthy relationships tend to disclose incidents of cyberbullying to their caregivers and ask for help (Makri-Botsari & Karagianni, 2014).
Cyberperpetration Risk Factors: Detailed Findings
The most significant risk factor associated with cyberperpetration was insufficient parental mediation and knowledge of cyberbullying behaviours (noted by 11 studies, including one longitudinal study). Specifically, several studies found that lack of monitoring was the biggest risk factor, and is linked to parental ignorance or lack of awareness of online activities (Baldry et al., 2019; Alotaibi, 2019; Beyazit et al., 2017; Cho and Rustu, 2020; Feijóo et al., 2021; Khurana et al., 2015; Leemis et al., 2019; Low & Espelage, 2012).
As mentioned above, parenting styles, specifically those that are overprotective, (Floros et al., 2011; Zhang et al., 2021) permissive or neglectful, (Broll & Reynolds, 2021; Makri-Botsari & Karagianna, 2014; Vale et al., 2018), and authoritarian or psychologically controlling (Geng et al., 2020; Govender & Young, 2018; Makri-Botsari and Karagianna, 2014; Martínez-Ferrer et al., 2019; Tarablus et al., 2015) put children and youth at risk of cyberbullying. One longitudinal study found that children and youth of authoritarian caregivers may cyberbully in order to gain the freedom, power, and recognition that they lack in their own family dynamics (Charalampous et al., 2018).
Family violence or conflict (mentioned by five studies) and poor relationships with caregivers (mentioned by four studies) were noted as key risk factors for similar reasons as for risk factors affecting cybervictimization.
As with cybervictimization, certain family demographic factors, such as low socioeconomic status (Bevilacqua et al., 2016; Bevilacqua et al., 2017); living with stepparents, single-parent families, and divorced families (Yang et al., 2013); or living in rural areas (Chang et al., 2016) are also risk factors for engaging in cyberperpetration.
Family Involvement in Cyberbullying Prevention and Intervention Programs
Our review of published articles and grey literature indicated that cyberbullying prevention programs have been implemented exclusively in schools and these programs have little to no caregiver involvement (DeSmet et al., 2016; Helfrich et al., 2020). This review clearly indicates the critical role of the family in cyberbullying. Therefore, the design of interventions targeting cyberbullying should include a key component for families (Canas et al., 2020).
The development of intervention programs should start from the earliest ages (Cortes et al., 2019; Zagorscak et al., 2019) and must include family components. The family components should provide education on how to develop a healthy relationship with children/youth and highlight the central role of parental behaviours in cyberbullying (Gomez-Ortiz, 2018; Le et al., 2017) as well as guidance on parental involvement and monitoring (Leemis et al., 2019; Zagorscak et al., 2019). Lastly, programs should also address family conflict and incivility (Le et al., 2017).
Sixty-nine articles were found discussing cyberbullying prevention and intervention programs. Forty cyberbullying programs were identified, and of these only 21 included a family component. The family components, which are described in the table below, mostly include caregiver knowledge and awareness activities, including meetings, guidance, training sessions, and audio/visual material. The effectiveness of family specific components has not yet been examined for the existing program. Additional detail is provided on the programs in Appendix A, including location, type of treatment, age group, source of information, and theory of change. Appendix B provides a list of programs in this literature review that did not have a specific family component.
|Name of Program||Role of Family as Described in the Literature||Does the literature note whether there was an evaluation of the effectiveness of family specific component?|
|Asegúrate||Teaching materials include a guide to working together with the children/youths' families and raise awareness.||No|
|Bulldog Solution Intervention Model||The concept of the program is to 1) use a top down leadership approach to initiate change; 2) involve all stakeholders including caregivers, teachers, staff, and students in the intervention; 3) increase buy-in from educators as well as caregivers; and 4) promote more sustainable results by implementing a new system, a series of processes, and programs that address the needs of the school.||No|
|ConRed||Parental guidance through awareness-raising activities and training on the cyber-dimension of “convivencia” or “harmonious social interaction".||No|
|Cyber Friendly Schools||Caregivers were given training, online resources.||No|
|Cyberbullying: A Prevention Curriculum for Grades 6 – 12||The curriculum consists of a weekly lesson plan, resources for caregivers, student handouts, and training materials for facilitators.||No|
|Cyberprogram 2.0 Program and the Cooperative Cybereduca 2.0 Videogame.||Meetings with caregivers, caregiver involvement in strong educational discipline.||No|
|Dating Matters||Training for caregivers of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students.||No|
|Dialogic model of prevention and resolution of conflicts (DMPRC)||Dialogic process that involves students, family members and teachers; development of a coexistence commission that is composed by different community members (students, family, teachers who monitor the implementation of the agreement and contribute to the creation of a safer space for all).||No|
|EspaiJove.net” programme||Health Benefits Questionnaire included information about family: caregivers' age, studies and occupation; number of brothers/sisters and their ages.||No|
|Intervention Mapping Protocol (IMP)||Parent questionnaires were distributed via their children at school in an envelope.||No|
|iZ HERO||Students play the game at home.||No|
|KiVa Antibullying Program||Caregivers were given a guide on bullying and cyberbullying, and advice on prevention/intervention strategies.||No|
|Living in harmony in the real and digital world||Training course for caregivers with elements considered essential for the prevention of situations of violence.||No|
|Media Heroes||Caregivers attended a workshop evening where youth presented program results in the form of pamphlets, role plays, or talks.||No|
|Nationwide antibullying program in Finnish schools (KiVa)||Students encouraged to disclose to caregivers.||No|
|Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP)||Periodic class-level meetings with caregivers; English language print and video resources for caregivers.||No|
|Parents Group Therapy||Caregivers were given group therapy to prevent cyberbullying and cybervictimization.||No|
|Restorative Practices Intervention||Uses restorative practices during interactions with family members, including proactive circles that focus on intentional communication of positive student behavior and academic achievement.||No|
|TEI||The beginning of the intervention program is based on the information about and dissemination of the principles of the program between all members of the school community (teachers, families and students). Besides being informed, families are encouraged to be actively involved in the implementation of the program during the school year.||No|
|The EU Kids Online project||Caregivers were informed about risky and safer use of the internet and learnt about the importance of promoting a safer online environment for children.||No|
|ViSC Social Competence Program||Caregiver meetings.||No|
There are several key takeaways from the examination of literature about family involvement in cyberbullying prevention and intervention programs.
- None of the programs discussed in the literature are specifically focused on or designed for families. Family components are typically only one aspect of the program.
- The majority of the evidence-based interventions in the literature are school-based.
- Of the programs that have been evaluated, none evaluated the unique effects of the family component on reducing cyberbullying and victimization.
- The family components in these interventions are minor and passive. Families do not play a central or key role in these prevention/intervention programs. Family “involvement” primarily comprises knowledge and awareness activities. Materials are often limited to providing written guides, limited meetings/presentations, questionnaires and pamphlets.
The literature on the role of families in cyberbullying is relatively new, with a very recent growth in overall number of published articles (the majority of articles reviewed for this research were published in 2018 or later). This literature review uncovers several key themes 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. Linked to these key themes are findings on risk and protective factors. In addition, there were no family specific prevention or intervention programs addressing cyberbullying, despite the central role of families in influencing incidence of cyberperpetration and cybervictimization.
With respect to the most researched area—caregiver-child relationships and family dynamics—it was found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, 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 cyberbullying. These negative family environments 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 these families, it is likely that 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 cyberbullying. Caregivers' own behaviours (both offline and online) play a central role as both risk and protective factors in cyberbullying. 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 may serve to decrease the likelihood of involvement in cyberbullying.
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 cyberbullying. Providing caregivers with these evidence-based mediation strategies is 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. The improvement of 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 cyberbullying and a negative association between authoritative parenting styles and cyberbullying. 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/youth live, learn, and work, as well as all the social relationships that are central in their development, such as peers, friends, 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 and cyberbullying, since research often showed links between these factors. This literature review found positive associations between poor school involvement affiliations and cybervictimization; and poor peer relations and cyberperpetration. Conversely, positive and supportive peer attachments were negatively associated with both cybervictimization and cyberperpetration, indicating the importance of social support including and extending beyond the family. Some studies have also noted the importance of peers for teaching and socializing key coping mechanisms. 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 identified in this review as contributing to cyberbullying, was family demographics. Overall, the research found associations between family demographics and cybervictimization, with only a couple of studies looking at 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 useful for the design and development of targeted interventions.
This review highlighted several family 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 (e.g., actions, online activities, peer relations and interactions); perception of support from families and broader social structures; instructive mediation (parental monitoring, online guardianship); positive parental attachments; and authoritative parenting style. Positive, expressive communication was a protective factor against cybervictimization; and restrictive parental mediation (setting limits and restrictions) and authoritarian parenting styles was a potential protective factor against cyberperpetration.
The literature was less conclusive about risk factors. 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. Cybervictimization-specific risk factors included restrictive mediation approaches; neglect and parental rejection; poor/avoidance communication with caregivers; and poor peer attachment. Cyberperpetration-specific risk factors included parental ignorance/lack of awareness and negative peer associations.
Finally, cyberbullying prevention and intervention programs have been implemented exclusively in schools with little to no caregiver involvement. In the context of this literature review, 40 initiatives were examined, with 22 having a family component. None of the programs 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 in these programs.
Contributions of this Literature to the Field
This literature highlights the direct and indirect roles of families on cyberbullying in the context of the ever-present and increasingly 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, such as caregiver-child relationships and family dynamics; parental mediation; parenting styles; broader social structures; and family demographics. The themes arising from these key areas represent the 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 programs 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 activities such as presentations for caregivers, pamphlets, etc. In addition, there are no studies reporting on the specific efficacy of family components in reducing involvement in cyberbullying.
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.
This literature review employed an extensive and rigorous methodological approach applied to a larger than expected and growing body of knowledge (which provides a useful indicator for the interest in this field). In concert with the literature reviewed, this report also employs a separate focus on cyberperpetration and cybervictimization; in some cases, finding unique family factors. Finally, although there was a proportionately smaller number of longitudinal studies compared to cross-sectional studies, this review found that, in a majority of cases, cross-sectional findings were supported by longitudinal research. This was found to be true when looking at associations between family factors and cyberbullying prevalence, and when looking at risk and protective factors.
Several weaknesses can be found in the study characteristics of the existing literature on this topic:
- Overall, the research is very new, with 70% of articles dating from 2017 to 2021, with many findings being preliminary.
- The newness of the research may be related to the overall small proportion of longitudinal studies (21%), which makes the direction of effects difficult to interpret and causality difficult to establish (although, where applicable, findings from longitudinal studies generally supported associations found in the cross-sectional research).
- In addition, the research was mostly representative of the Western world; the main country represented in the research was the United States (23% of studies), followed by Spain (13.5% of studies), which makes it difficult or impossible to interpret or generalize findings across countries. As a result, there is limited representation of the ethnicities and worldviews of those who do not make up the majority populations in the Western world.
- Findings reported in this literature review are sometimes generalized due to a lack of geographical context and may not always represent specific cultural or ethnic realities (e.g., single-child families in China). This literature review does not account for cultural differences in family structures, family dynamics, and parenting styles among the different countries.
- The research reviewed included very little information on breakdown by ethnicity.
- The research reviewed included very little information on non-binary gender representation in studies.
- It was difficult to interpret results by gender, ethnicity, or intersectionality due to limited information. Consequently, the generalizability of the findings may be limited.
- The research review was only conducted in English.
- Overall, the research reflects a traditional view of the family structure (e.g., dual-parent households). Findings may not reflect the evolving and changing definition of family and family structures.
- Families were often not a key focus of the studies represented in this literature review. Only 35% of studies had an explicit focus on families, and 22% focused on families as one of several key variables studied. The remaining 43% of studies did not focus explicitly on family involvement. As a consequence, the research somewhat fragmented, as many of the studies and articles included minimal findings related to family specifically, or only mentioned families within the introduction or context.
- Many of the studies examined information from self-reported measures only, indicating a potential for bias, particularly when it comes to self-reporting about cyberperpetration (i.e. that children and youth may be reluctant to self-identify as perpetrating cyberbullying).
- Some studies included small or limited sample sizes that cannot be generalized to greater populations, or non-random samples (due to, for instance, limitations in participating schools).
- In some studies, key variables were not well-defined, nor were definitions found in other sources (e.g., for the terms “parental bonding” or “parental cultural status”), leading to possible ambiguity during interpretation of findings.
- There was very limited research on the role of siblings in cyberbullying.
- The literature mostly focused on the association between family factors and cyberbullying prevalence, with little information on the active role and strategies for families to prevent or intervene in cyberbullying.
- For evaluation purposes, very few programs reviewed included family components, and none have been specifically designed for families. To date, there has not been any examination of the effectiveness of family-specific components of cyberbullying programs.
- In some cases, it was difficult to distinguish between direct and indirect roles of the family.
Opportunities and Gaps for Further Research
Several opportunities and gaps for further research arise from this literature review:
- Supporting longitudinal research to examine the role of families in cyberbullying.
- Evaluating the program components in cyberbullying prevention and intervention programs separately, in order to understand the effects of the family component, the peer component, the school component, and the community component in reducing cyberbullying.
- Engaging in research to understand the role of the many different types of family configurations (e.g. remarriages, cohabitation, co-parenting, blended families, families in transition, etc.).
- Conducting intersectional research to understand the role of ethnicity and family in cyberbullying. That is, do research including more diverse and inclusive samples, so that an intersectional lens can be applied.
- More research is needed to understand the role that siblings play in cyberbullying.
- Evaluating the efficacy of existing resources that are shared with families as part of cyberbullying initiatives.
- Conducting research with young people to ensure that their understanding of cyberbullying is consistent with the current measurement of cyberbullying.
- Employing a broader conceptualization of cyberbullying (e.g., to include grooming and luring with intent to harm; non-consensual dissemination of images, sexting) to be more in touch with and inclusive of young people's experiences of cyberviolence.
- Given the many similarities in factors associated with cybervictimization and cyberperpetration, examining how often they co-occur and/or what factors may differentiate someone who is more likely to cyberbully or experience cyberbullying, and the association with family factor.
Several opportunities and gaps for current or future prevention and intervention initiatives should also be noted:
- Developing programs that target the identified risk and protective factors (caregiver-child relationships and family dynamics; parental mediation; parenting styles; broader social structures as mediators in the relationship between families and cyberbullying; and family demographics).
- Given the significant overlap between the risk and protective factors for cybervictimization and perpetration, ensuring these are included in cyberbullying programs in order to maximize impact of programs.
- It is not enough to have programs only targeting family factors in cyberbullying. Cyberbullying programs need to take a social ecological approach, with family being one critical component to be targeted. Implementation of a social ecological approach in cyberbullying programming involves considering all of the (online and in-person) social contexts and relationships in which children and youth live, learn, play and work.
- Several organizations and agencies have resources for cyberbullying available. However, it is unclear if the tips and resources are empirically validated. Conducting further research on resources made available for caregivers online by organizations and agencies could be useful in order to measure the efficacy of those resources and to investigate how we could make them more accessible.
- None of the programs/interventions studied in the literature (see Appendix A) were implemented in Canada. There is an opportunity to implement and/or study programs/interventions with a family component in Canada.
Recommendations and Next Steps
Based on the findings in this literature review, it is recommended that Public Safety and its network of government, academic, and community partners:
- Support longitudinal research to understand role of families in cyberbullying in the areas identified above.
- Create funding opportunities to support supplementary research to address the research opportunities and gaps listed in the section above.
- Develop, pilot, and evaluate family-specific interventions based on the current understanding of risk and protective family factors, that target identified family risk and protective factors in cyberbullying.
- Conduct evaluations on existing programs to understand impact of family component on cyberbullying.
- Develop a national educational strategy and provide guidance to support, enable, and educate families to learn about the role of the family in relation to cyberbullying; to prevent and intervene in cyberbullying; and to develop healthy relationships with their children.
- This might include the development of authoritative parenting strategies; enhancing caregivers' self-awareness, particularly with regards to the impact of their relationships; positive communication strategies, etc.
- Create knowledge dissemination tools to educate and inform caregivers regarding how to identify if their child/youth is involved and what they can do to support and intervene. Increase caregivers' self-awareness of the impact of their relationship with their children and youth.
- Educate and inform caregivers on how to model positive behaviours and how to be positive role models.
- Develop educational campaign for parents on cyberbullying that targets parenting practices; identifying cyberbullying; managing what to do when cyberbullying happens; supporting the child through cyberbullying; and working with partners to address cyberbullying.
- Work with schools and community partners to implement and disseminate education for families on cyberbullying.
- Design online training program for parents to support the development of healthy relationships in their children and have specific units on cyberbullying that are developmentally appropriate.
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- Aizenkot, D., & Kashy-Rosenbaum, G. (2020). The effectiveness of safe surfing, an anti-cyberbullying intervention program in reducing online and offline bullying and improving perceived popularity and self-esteem. Cyberpsychology, 14(3). https://doi.org/10.5817/CP2020-3-6
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Appendix A: Programs with a family component
|Name of Program||Role of Family as Described in the Literature||Prevention or Intervention?||Age Group||Location Implemented||Theory of Change||Source of Information||Type of Treatment|
|Asegúrate||Teaching materials include a guide to working together with the children's families and raise awareness.||Intervention||10-18||Spain||N/A||Del Rey et al., 2018||Group|
|Bulldog Solution Intervention Model||The concept of the program is to 1) use a top down leadership approach to initiate change; 2) involve all stakeholders including parents, teachers, staff, and students in the intervention; 3) increase buy-in from educators as well as parents; and 4) promote more sustainable results by implementing a new system, a series of processes, and programs that address the needs of the school.||Intervention||9-15||United States||Top-down leadership approach, “designed to incorporate all stakeholders (parents, teacher, counselors, and students), to avoid segregating victims and bullies, and to empower bystanders to take on an active positive role” (Peagram, 2014, p. 24).||Peagram, 2013||Whole School|
|ConRed||Parental guidance through awareness-raising activities and training on the cyber-dimension of “convivencia” or “harmonious social interaction".||Prevention||11-19||Spain||N/A||Del Rey, R. et al., 2016||Group|
|Cyber Friendly Schools||Parents were given training, online resources.||Both||13||Australia||N/A||Cross et al., 2016||Whole School|
|Cyberbullying: A Prevention Curriculum for Grades 6 – 12||The curriculum consists of a weekly lesson plan, parent resources, student handouts, and training materials for facilitators.||Prevention||11-14||United States||N/A||Corso, 2010||Whole School|
|Cyberprogram 2.0 Program and the Cooperative Cybereduca 2.0 Videogame.||Meetings with parents, parent involvement in strong educational discipline.||Both||13-15||Spain||N/A||Garaigordobil, M. et al., 2018||Whole School|
|Dating Matters||Training for parents of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students.||Prevention||11-14||United States||N/A||Vivolo-Katnor et al., 2019||Whole School|
|Dialogic model of prevention and resolution of conflicts (DMPRC)||Dialogic process that involves students, family members and teachers; Development of a coexistence commission that is composed by different community members (students, family, teachers who monitor the implementation of the agreement and contribute to the creation of a safer space for all).||Prevention||N/A||Catalonia, Spain||Dialogic model: “dialogic process where members of the community reach agreements on coexistence and monitor the application of such agreements through the coexistence commission” (Villarejo-Carballido et al., 2019, p. 7).||Villarejo-Carballido et al., 2019|
|EspaiJove.net” programme||Health Benefits Questionnaire included information about family: parental age, studies and occupation; number of brothers/sisters and their ages.||Both||13-14||Spain||Mental Health Literacy (MHL) interventions: “universal MHL intervention designed to promote mental health knowledge, increase help-seeking, reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, and prevent mental disorders in Spanish school settings” (Casañas et al., 2018, p. 8).||Casañas, R. et al., 2018||Whole School|
|Intervention Mapping Protocol (IMP)||Parent questionnaires were distributed via their children at school in an envelope.||Intervention||12-14||Belgium||Preparing matrices of change objectives for each IMP steps: investigating which behaviours and determinants can reduce the public helf problems and help attain program objectives (DeSmet et al., 2016).||DeSmet, A. et al., 2016||Whole School|
|iZ HERO||Students play the game at home.||Prevention||8-11||Singapore||Peer-mentoring and a transmedia adventure storytelling mode within a multisystemic approach: ‘‘Transmedia means “across media” and describes any combination of relationships that might exist between various texts (analog or digital) that constitute a contemporary entertainment media experience''(Liau et al., 2017, p. 328).||Liau, A. et al., 2015||Whole School|
|KiVa Antibullying Program||Parents were given a guide on bullying and cyberbullying, and advice on prevention/intervention strategies.||Both||10-16||Finland||N/A||Williford, A. et al., 2013||Whole School|
|Living in harmony in the real and digital world||Training course for parents with elements considered essential for the prevention of situations of violence.||Prevention||8-12||Spain||Prevention program integrated in the primary education curriculum.||Flores, B. et al., 2020||Group|
|Media Heroes||Parents attended a workshop/parents' evening where youth presented program results in the form of pamphlets, role plays, or talks.||Both||8-16||Germany||Theory of Reasoned Action Approach (ToRA): “The ToRA centers on the constructs of attitudes and subjective norms and suggests that they are interrelated. Attitudes are deﬁned as beliefs about objects and their attributes, that are determined by the subjective values or evaluations of the attributes associated with the object and by the strength of these associations” (Zagorscak et al., 2019, p. 909).||Zagorscak, P. et al., 2019||Individual|
|Nationwide antibullying program in Finnish schools||Students encouraged to disclose to parents.||Prevention||13-16||Finland||N/A||Tiiri, E. et al., 2020||Whole School|
|Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP)||Periodic class-level meetings with parents; English language print and video resources for parents.||Intervention||3-11||United States||N/A||Limber, S. et al., 2018||Whole School|
|Parental Group Therapy||Parents were given group therapy to prevent cyberbullying and cybervictimization.||Prevention||6-18||India||Group therapy: ‘‘The therapy for every group started with psycho-education during first few days. During these days, the parents were provided information regarding cyber-bullying and insight into if their children's are having some behavior problems” (Sandhu & Kaur, 2016, p. 392).||Damanjit & Kaur, 2016||Group|
|Restorative Practices Intervention||Uses restorative practices during interactions with family members, including proactive circles that focus on intentional communication of positive student behavior and academic achievement.||Intervention||11-12||Maine, United States||Restorative practices: ‘‘a novel whole-school intervention designed to build a supportive environment through the use of 11 restorative practices (e.g., communication approaches that aim to build stronger bonds among leadership, staff, and students such as using “I” statements, encouraging students to express their feelings) that had only quasi-experimental evidence prior to this study” (Acosta, 2019, p. 876).||Acosta et al., 2019||Whole School|
|TEI||The beginning of the intervention program is based on the information about and dissemination of the principles of the program between all members of the school community (teachers, families and students). Besides being informed, families are encouraged to be actively involved in the implementation of the program during the school year.||Intervention||11-16||Spain||Peer-tutoring: “gives responsibility to students, responsibility to students, an approach that ethological studies of conflict resolutions have demonstrated to be the best strategy” (Ferrer-Cascales et al., 2019 p.10).||Ferrer-Cascales et al., 2019||Group|
|TEI Program||Families receive information regarding the objectives and characteristics of the program by the TEI staff.||Intervention||11-16||Spain||N/A||Ferrer-Cascales, R. et al., 2019||Group|
|The EU Kids Online project||Parents were informed about risky and safer use of the internet and learnt about the importance of promoting a safer online environment for children.||Prevention||N/A||United Kingdom||N/A||O'Neill, B., & Livingstone, S., 2011||Group|
|ViSC Social Competence Program||Parent meetings.||Prevention||10-15||Austria||N/A||Gradinger, P., 2016||Whole School|
Appendix B: Programs without a family component
|Name of Program||Source of Information|
|ACT Out||Angley et al., 2021|
|Arizona Attorney General's Social Networking Safety Promotion and Cyberbullying Prevention presentation||Roberto et al., 2014|
|Conectado||Calvo-Morata et al., 2020|
|Cyber Space Spaces (Ciber Espacios Seguros)||Medina et al., 2018|
|Increasing resilience to cyberbullying (IRCB) program||Chillemi, K. et al., 2020|
|Noncadiamointrappola (NoTrap!)||Menesini et al., 2012; and
Palladino et al, 2012
|PREDEMA||Schoeps et al., 2018|
|RPC||Guarini et al., 2019|
|Safety.Net||Ortega-Baron et al., 2021|
|Second Step||Espelage et al., 2019|
|Sensibility Development Program against Cyberbullying||Tanrıkulu et al., 2013|
|Skills for Life||Fekkes et al., 2014|
|Stand Up: Virtual Reality to Activate Bystanders Against Bullying||Ingram et al., 2019|
|TABBY project||Athanasiades et al., 2015|
|The Philosophy for Children Approach||Tangen & Campbell, 2010|
|WebQuest||Lee et al., 2013|
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