Phone ownership more likely to put kids at risk of bullying

Cyber bullying
Cyber bullying

Kids aged between eight and 11 are 'significantly' more likely to be victims of cyber bullies if they own a mobile phone, a new study has found.

And they are also at risk of becoming bullies themselves.

According to academics, the increase in phone ownership among youngsters has left many eight to 11-year-olds increasingly 'vulnerable' to cyber bullying.

Continuous access to social media and texting provides more opportunities to engage both positively and negatively with peers and increases the chance of an impulsive response to peers' postings and messages, they say.

The study will be presented on Monday at the American Academy of Paediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in Chicago.

Researchers collected survey data on 4,584 students in grades 3, 4 and 5 between 2014 and 2016 at schools in Massachusetts, US.

Overall, 9.5 percent of children reported being a victim of cyber bullying.

Children who owned mobiles were significantly more likely to report being a victim, especially in grades 3 and 4.

Hidden risks

Professor Elizabeth Englander, who is set to present the study, said: "Parents often cite the benefits of giving their child a cell phone, but our research suggests that giving young children these devices may have unforeseen risks as well."

Across all three grades, 49.6 of students reported owning a mobile phone.

The older the student, the more likely to report mobile phone ownership: 59.8 percent of 11 year olds, 50.6 percent of nine and ten year olds and 39.5 percent of eight year olds reported owning their own cell phone.

Mobile phone owners aged eight to ten were more likely to report being a victim of cyber bullying.

Across all three grades, more mobile phone owners admitted they have been a cyber bully themselves.

According to the researchers, the increased risk of cyber bullying related to phone ownership could be tied to increased opportunity and vulnerability.

Prof Englander suggested that this research is a reminder for parents to consider the risks as well as the benefits when deciding whether to provide their elementary school-aged child with a cell phone.

She said: "At the very least, parents can engage in discussions and education with their child about the responsibilities inherent in owning a mobile device, and the general rules for communicating in the social sphere."