Demands for improving online safety continue to capture headlines, often for the worst reasons.. While this outcry has signalled renewed interest in “stamping out” cyberbullying and reinvigorated health and well-being protocols for young people, interventions continue to fall behind the fast-paced development of communication devices and the take-up of new social media by teenagers.
The focus on gender in “next step” interventions is noticeably absent. Intervention protocols have viewed teenage girls’ and boys’ online interaction as more or less the same. This is a mistake. Teenage girls, especially those aged 12 to 14, are more likely than any other demographic to experience cyberbullying, and anxiety and depression after bullying episodes.
A greater focus on the friendship practices of teenage girls offers possibilities for developing new strategies for reducing cyberbullying among friends.
Negative voices are far too common for young girls online. Shutterstock
Intervention should be tailored
Online participation differs significantly for girls and boys. They spend similar amounts of time online and both use technology to search for information, interact with others, and play games. But girls spend more time socialising with friends.
Girls’ online friendships are more visually-oriented than boys. They use social media to post and curate personal images, share stories and experiences, seek advice on private matters and appearance, and plan and organise social events.
These practices place teenage girls at risk for problems associated with bullying such as gossip, name-calling, spreading rumours, coercion, and shaming. Unfortunately for girls, online friendships are often filled with the not-always-nice voices of other girls.
While current interventions offer broad protocols for children and young people, specific guidelines for teenage girls are missing.