Elizabeth Englander on the Impact of Electronics on Power Dynamics and Bullying Scenarios
Elizabeth Englander is a professor of Psychology at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts
"When kids are in school, there tends to be a more rigid power structure in a problem. So you have a kid who’s more popular or had more kids on their side and another child who is less popular and has fewer kids on their side, and that dynamic tends – at least for that conflict – to be kind of stable. But when you go online, all bets are off, because kids who are, maybe feel powerless at school, may feel emboldened online, and they may do things in retaliation, or they may do things to bolster their own power that they would never do in school. So, the fact that it would have gone electronic might have changed the whole dynamic and it might have evolved more into a fighting situation and less into a bullying situation.
One of the things we actually found, just to complicate this entire kind of scenario, is that the introduction of electronics means that a lot of these scenarios morph; they change midstream. So, you have conflicts between kids that morph into bullying situations online or the other way around and they appear to be almost as likely to change as they are to stay the same.
It just changes the whole power structure. And what’s so intriguing is that the kids in our study tell us that this happens almost half of the time; it’s not rare or unusual. So, it complicates things for adults even more because we’re dealing with situations where, you know, we train people, and we say, ‘Well, if it’s a conflict, if it’s an equal power kind of conflict then you’re going to try to mediate it and you’re going to try to use conflict resolution skills. And if it’s a bullying situation then it’s an abuse situation, which is different and you have to use different techniques.” But now, who knows what it is."