In developing countries like India, more young people than ever have access to the internet, often through mobile devices. While that access comes with many benefits, it also comes with risks such as cyberbullying, experts say.
This emerging issue has prompted researchers in India and the United States to publish a first-of-its-kind guide to cyberbullying in India. The book, “Cyberbullying and Digital Safety: Applying Global Research to Youth in India,” aims to inform anti-cyberbullying policy and practices in the country.
Half of India’s 1.35 billion population is young people. While only third of adolescents have access to the internet, in sheer numbers, that still means there a lot of young people online and at risk of cyberbullying, said Jennifer Doty, one of the authors and editors of the book, who was an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS department of family, youth and community sciences during the creation of the book and is now an associate professor in the department of counseling psychology and human services at the University of Oregon.
“Access to the internet and digital technologies are critical to young people’s education and ability to connect with others, but as access increases, so does the need for safeguards,” Doty said.
Like other forms of bullying, cyberbullying involves repeated, aggressive and hurtful behavior toward someone else who has or is seen to have less power than the bully. However, because cyberbullying happens via social media, text messaging and other digital means, cyberbullying can escalate more quickly and involve a larger social circle. Experts say both kinds of bullying can lead to a host of negative outcomes for youth that can follow them into adulthood.
As part of the book’s development, the research team held several virtual focus groups and workshops with Indian youth, parents, school personnel and other stakeholders to understand cyberbullying in India and identify areas for future research.
“One of our goals with the book is to help decision makers understand that cyberbullying is a growing global phenomenon and to bring existing research insights to the situation in India,” Doty said. “At the same time, we highlight the need for larger research studies that look at cyberbullying at a cross-national level.”
The book includes the following:
- Overview of cyberbullying globally and in India
- Cyberbullying among peers and within schools
- Best practices for parents to reduce cyberbullying
- General youth online safety and risks
- How cyberbullying research can inform decision making in India
For parents concerned about online safety and cyberbullying, Doty said that the research shows that talking to children about technology is the place to start.
“While some parents’ first instinct may be very restrictive with internet use or access to devices, this can backfire and lead to more risky online behavior,” Doty said.
“Instead, the best practice is for parents to engage with what their kids are doing online. Be curious about what your child is doing, use the technology alongside them and use these moments to educate and set boundaries,” Doty said, noting that this recommendation is based on the T.E.C.H. parenting framework developed by Joy Gabrielli, another UF researcher who is part of the multi-institution Cyberbullying Prevention Research Collaborative.
“Cyberbullying and Digital Safety: Applying Global Research to Youth in India” was edited by Drishti Sharma, Krista Mehari, Jennifer Doty, Nandini Sharma and Pamela Wisniewski and is available through the University of Florida Library Press. The book and related research were commissioned by Ministry of Education of the government of India, under the Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration.