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Perceptions and experiences of cyberbullying amongst high school students: an interpretive phenomenological analysis.

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Cyberbullying is an emerging phenomenon among children and adolescents worldwide. Although the existing literature on cyberbullying is expanding rapidly, there is a lack of qualitative research, particularly in South Africa, which explores adolescents’ perceptions of cyberbullying. Qualitative research allows researchers to uncover the important discourses, which undergird cyberbullying, and explore the nuances of the phenomenon, both of which are often less visible in large-scale quantitative research. The purpose of this study was to explore experiences and perceptions of cyberbullying amongst high school students from an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) perspective. These experiences and perceptions were obtained through one-on-one, semi-structured interviews with six high school students from a school on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Interview transcripts were analysed using IPA and this approach allowed the researcher to obtain a rich description of the participants’ lived experiences and the processes by which they made sense of their experiences. Six super-ordinate themes were obtained from the data: (1) Perceptions and Characteristics of Cyberbullying, (2) Parent Monitoring, (3) Cyberbullying vs. Traditional Bullying, (4) Perceived Cyber Bystander Motivations, (5) Perceived Cyber Bully Motivation, and finally (6) Individual, Contextual and Societal Factors. Each super-ordinate theme consisted of several sub-themes, which captured and described the participants’ lived experiences. The research findings suggested that although there are similarities between traditional bullying and cyberbullying, the latter appears to have a greater psychological impact on victims. Several factors associated with online activity appear to be appealing to cyberbullies and they are subsequently motivated to participate in bullying online. Furthermore, the cyber bystanders seem to play a passive role in the phenomenon, failing to intervene. This study contributes to the limited literature on this topic available in South Africa, and produces a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the emotions, experiences and perceptions of high school students involved in cyberbullying.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.