Sadly, cyberbullying is on the rise. While it’s not only a youth issue, there’s no doubt that our kids and teens are taking the brunt of this ugly side of the online world. Much of the issues that drive cyberbullying arise from bullying activities within schools. Today, we take a look at how to address cyberbullying in the school environment, and make the online world a safer place for our children.
Cyberbullying is simply the evolution of bullying activities into the online space. It’s insidious, and tough for the victim to escape because we now live in an always-on world.
Of course, this does not mean every mean message we receive is an act of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is best characterised as long-term, ongoing harassment specifically targeted at one individual.
Teens and children are very prone to this behaviour, especially online, where consequences can seem far from the actual action. Additionally, the online world seems “not real”, and it can be hard for them to conceptualise what the damage they do is.
They may think it’s funny, they’re just “messing around” or “making a joke” – but it can have devastating consequences for the victims. Likewise, young minds are prone to ape (and increase) the behaviour they see from adults around them, and don’t always have the emotional development to distinguish what is good and bad behaviour.
For the victim, cyberbullying can destroy self-esteem, leave them permanently on edge and scared, affect mental health and cause issues like anxiety and depression, cause a loss of interest in activities, and even lead to self-harm and suicide.
Unlike other forms of bullying, which rely on the physical presence of the bully, cyberbullying can occur anytime, anywhere, making it constant and insidious. The bullying can feel inescapable, shameful, and something they can’t speak about.
Cyberbullying in Schools
Schools have always been flashpoints for bullying behaviour. Peer acceptance becomes very important as we age into teenagers and young adults, and for most young people, school is the source of all peer validation.
The formation of cliques, the effect of changing hormones, and a lot more add to the stewing issue. Additionally, while most schools have anti-bullying policies, they’re rarely very effective, especially if the bullying child’s parents don’t see an issue with their behaviour. Add to that the difficulty of policing children’s online behaviour from school, and you have a thorny issue.
However, bringing increased attention to these issues can help:
- Evidence Collection: Bullied children rarely know how to preserve and demonstrate evidence of bullying. Their first reaction is to delete them from shame. Be prepared to assist.
- Offering Support: It’s important for schools to take cyberbullying seriously, and not wash their hands of it. Believe the child, and assist them in getting adult support.
- Raising Awareness: Aspects of good cyber behaviour should be part of the modern curriculum. Children need to know how to avoid this behaviour, safe online practices like not handing out contact details, blocking problematic people, and keeping passwords safe. Additionally, de-escalation practices, like not responding to online baiting, are important.
- Privacy: This ties into a wider awareness of what’s appropriate to share online and what isn’t.
- Action: Schools must become more willing to take action, investigate incidents, keep records, and act to assist a cyberbullied student.
- Reporting: Schools should be empowering students to know how to report abuse on social networking sites, with mobile phone providers, and so on.
Addressing cyberbullying is not easy, but that’s not an excuse to wash our hands of it. Treating cyberbullying, good cyber behaviour, and other aspects as part of a school community issue can be invaluable in weeding it out. It is, after all, just another form of bullying. No-tolerance policies should be in place in all schools. It’s easy, as adults, to trivialise the concerns of children, without fully realising the significant mental impact it can have.
Ensuring students are educated on what is acceptable, their rights and responsibilities, and a broader awareness of the internet and how it very much is part of the “real world” is critical. Positive technology usage should be an active talking point in modern curriculums. Reporting should not be seen as “snitching”, but rather an encouraged behaviour. Schools with positive, supportive atmospheres that discourage cliques and “us against them” behaviours create an environment where bullying cannot thrive – and that is the most important step of all.