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Tweens, Cyberbullying, and Moral Reasoning: Separating the Upstanders from the Bystanders

Communication and Information Technologies Annual

ISBN: 978-1-78350-629-3, eISBN: 978-1-78350-582-1

ISSN: 2050-2060

Publication date: 27 November 2014

Abstract

Purpose

To inform policy, curricula, and future research on cyberbullying through an exploration of the moral reasoning of digitally active 10–14-year olds (tweens) when witnesses to digital abuse.

Methodology/approach

Conducted interviews with 41 tweens, asking participants to react as witnesses to two hypothetical scenarios of digital abuse. Through thematic analysis of the interviews, I developed and applied a new typology for classifying “upstanders” and “bystanders” to cyberbullying.

Findings

Identified three types of upstander and five types of bystander, along with five thinking processes that led participants to react in those different ways. Upstanders were more likely than bystanders to think through a scenario using high-order moral reasoning processes like disinterested perspective-taking. Moral reasoning, emotions, and contextual factors, as well as participant gender and home school district, all appeared to play a role in determining how participants responded to cyberbullying scenarios.

Research limitations/implications

Hypothetical scenarios posed in interviews cannot substitute for case studies of real events, but this qualitative analysis has produced a framework for classifying upstanding and bystanding behavior that can inform future studies and approaches to digital ethics education.

Originality

This study contributes to the literature on cyberbullying and moral reasoning through in-depth interviews with tweens that record the complexity and context-dependency of thinking processes like perspective-taking among an understudied but critical age group.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Acknowledgments

This work was generously supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The author wishes to acknowledge his collaborators from The Good Play Project team: Howard Gardner, Carrie James, Katie Davis, Jennifer Oxman Ryan, and Sam Gilbert. Special thanks goes to Carrie James, Katie Davis, and Julie Maier for key feedback during the development of this manuscript.

Citation

Graeff, E. (2014), "Tweens, Cyberbullying, and Moral Reasoning: Separating the Upstanders from the Bystanders", Communication and Information Technologies Annual (Studies in Media and Communications, Vol. 8), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 231-257. https://doi.org/10.1108/S2050-206020140000008016

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014 Emerald Group Publishing Limited