Respondents were randomly selected from a 30,000-member online panel. 1,200 youth between the ages of 6–17 were recruited for each survey. Younger youth (6–9 years) completed the survey with their parent; older youth completed the survey alone. A waiver of parental consent was obtained for the studies. Youth assent was required to participate: 95% assented in Study 1; and 97% in Study 2.
The survey research firm routinely conducts monthly omnibuses (i.e., surveys). Participants who took part in an omnibus in the past three months were excluded from the current month’s recruitment pool. The sample was purposefully balanced on biological sex (50% female) and age groups (300 youth in each group: 6–8-years; 9–11-years; 12–14-years; and 15–17-years). No other eligibility criteria were applied. As shown in , participants were an average of 12-years (M: 11.9-years, SD: 3.5-years). About 70% were White (weighted data).
Demographic characteristics of study participants
The response rate (i.e., the number of people who clicked on the survey invitation link in the email divided by the total number of survey invitation emails sent) for Study 1 was 32%; and Study 2 was 39%. Survey completion rates among those who started the survey were about 93% for each study. Rates are within the expected range of well-conducted online surveys [24
To examine relative differences in prevalence rates based upon different measures fielded within one sample, a split-form methodology was used: a random sub-sample was assigned to one of several possible ‘forms’ of the measure. Internal validity is crucial for valid split-form studies; external validity less so. Thus, an online panel is as acceptable as other sampling procedures.
All questions used a 5-point scale and referred to the ‘past year’. Youth were categorized into one of three groups: 1) never, 2) less frequently than monthly (i.e., once or a few times), and 3) monthly or more often (i.e., a few times a month, a few times a week, every day, or almost every day). This categorization grouping was determined prima facie to reflect those who are bullied repetitively and over time (at least monthly) as opposed to those aggressed upon less frequently.
In Study 1, youth were randomly assigned to one of four different forms of the survey question:
The Definition + word ‘bully’ form read:
We say a young person is being bullied when someone repeatedly says or does mean or nasty things to them. Examples include being teased repeatedly or having nasty or cruel things said; being hit, kicked or pushed around; being excluded or left out; or having rumors spread. We are not talking about times when two young people of about the same strength fight or tease each other. We are asking about things that:
- Are repeated (happen more than once)
- Happen over time (more than just one day)
- Are between people of different power or strength – this might be physically stronger, socially more popular, or some other type of strength.
(These things can happen anywhere like at school, online, via text messaging, at home, or other places young people hang out.) In the last 12 months, how often have others bullied you by doing or saying the following things to you?
The Definition-only form was the same as above, but with a modified first sentence: “Sometimes people your age repeatedly say or do mean or nasty things to each other.” It also had a modified question: “In the last 12 months, how often have others done or said the following things to you?”
The ‘bully’-only form read:
In the last 12 months, how often have others bullied you by doing or saying the following things to you? (These things can happen anywhere like at school, online, via text messaging, at home, or other places young people hang out.)
The final form presented neither the definition nor the word:
In the last 12 months, how often have others done or said the following things to you? (These things can happen anywhere like at school, online, via text messaging, at home, or other places young people hang out.)
Note that the definition provided did not differentiate between mode, environment, and type because this was unimportant for participants to consider. Instead, participants were primed to think about bullying experiences broadly; and then the item response options forced the differentiation (i.e., modes were queried separately from types of bullying).
All youth were then presented the same behavioral list of experiences: 1) hit, kicked, pushed, or shoved you around, 2) someone made threatening or aggressive comments to you, 3) you were called mean names, 4) you were made fun of, or teased in a nasty way, 5) you weren’t let in or you were left out of a group because someone was mad at you or was trying to hurt you, 6) someone spread rumors about you, whether they were true or not, and 7) some other way.
Youth who said that at least one of these experiences had occurred to them in the past year were asked the mode of communication through which it occurred: in-person, by phone call (cell or land line), by text message, or online (e.g., email, social network site, or instant messenger). Response options were captured with the same 5-point frequency scale.
Budget limitation prevented the inclusion of the third bullying context, environment, in Study 1.
In Study 2, youth were randomly assigned to one of four different forms: 1) Definition + the word ‘bully’, 2) the Definition-only, 3) the word ‘bully’-only, and 4) Definition + the words ‘bully’ and ‘harassment’. Based upon findings from Study 1 (presented below), a form that included neither the Definition nor the word ‘bully’ was not included. The definition was modified slightly from Study 1: to improve readability, “more than once” and “more than just one day” were used instead of “are repeated” and “happen over time.”
Across all four forms, youth who indicated they had been bullied through at least one mode were asked three follow-up questions: 1) Was it by someone who had more power or strength than you? This could be because the person was bigger than you, had more friends, was more popular, or had more power than you in another way., 2) Was it repeated, so that it happened again and again?, and 3) Did it happen over a long period of time? We mean more than a week or so?
Due to budget limitations, victimization type and environment were not queried in Study 2.