Cyberbullying starts early, and 8- and 9-year-olds with cellphones are especially vulnerable, new research finds.
“Parents often cite the benefits of giving their child a cellphone, but our research suggests that giving young children these devices may have unforeseen risks as well,” said study researcher Elizabeth Englander, a professor of psychology at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.
She and her colleagues surveyed nearly 4,600 students in third, fourth and fifth grades between 2014 and 2016.
Overall, about 10 percent said they’d been victims of a cyberbully. However, younger students with phones were much more likely to report electronic abuse, the study showed.
Cellphones also increased the students’ odds of becoming cyberbullies themselves. This was true in all three grades, the study found.
The researchers found that older kids were most likely to have phones — about 6 in 10 students. But half of fourth graders and about 40 percent of third graders had them as well.
Having a phone gives kids more opportunity to engage positively and negatively with their peers through social media and texting, the researchers explained. This constant access ups the likelihood that students will send or receive impulsive texts or messages.
The study authors cautioned parents to consider the potential downside of providing a cellphone to a child not yet in middle school.
“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,” Englander said in a news release from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The study findings are scheduled for presentation Monday at an American Academy of Pediatrics meeting, in Chicago. Until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, research presented at meetings is usually considered preliminary.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides more information on cyberbullying.