Cyberbullying – Is Your School Doing Something About It?

And that is precisely why we must take Bullying, and its latest edition, Cyberbullying seriously.

The national definition of bullying for Australian schools says:

And when you dive deeper into the notion of bullying, you uncover the three main features:

  • Misuse of power in a relationship
  • Ongoing and repeated, and
  • Behaviours that can cause harm.

Bullying has been around as a concept for an extremely long time. Longer than most realise. In fact, the word “bully” can be traced back to the 1530s (Harper, 2008).

Technology’s progression is often paralleled with the development of human society. Fundamental innovation, such as the Internet, forever changed how people interact. These developments allowed the human race to make great strides in many fields and also allowed forms of transgression to become more rampant and widespread.

As technology evolved, bullying flourished. With the advent of the Internet, chat rooms followed. Online forums provided a communal breeding ground for the young to assault one another (Greenfield, 2008). Chat rooms were supplemented by Instant Messaging, which enabled teens to spend hours talking to one another in private, one-on-one conversations or in public chat rooms. Even group-specific chat rooms appeared. This exclusive forum allowed for youth to get together with select groups of friends and talk about the latest gossip.

Bullying had evolved. Traditional bullying found a new version of itself in Cyberbullying. While the words, ‘Bullying’ and ‘Cyberbullying’ have much in common on face value and the intent and impact of both are rather similar, when you look under the hood, there are some stark differences.

Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying allows the offender to mask his or her identity behind a digital screen. The web’s inconspicuousness provides the perfect cover for a user to pester, harass or intimidate others without much repercussion. This anonymity also makes it easier for the offender to strike blows against a victim without having to see the victim’s physical response.

Just as Bullying causes physical and/or psychological harm, so too, in the case of Cyberbullying, the perpetrator uses online technology to bully an individual or group of people with the intent to cause psychological, social and even physical harm.

Where Cyberbullying differs, even more, is that the attacks are incurred 24/7 and the offender often remains anonymous. The elasticity and the efficiency of the digital landscape also allows the impact to be scaled across several people, instantly. Cyber bullies can impose and intrude what was once a safe haven – our homes.

So why should we take this problem seriously? Because Cyber bullying is now the second most common form of bullying in Australia. Approximately one in five young school students reported experiencing online bullying in any one year. 84% of students who were bullied online were also bullied in person. 72% of schools reported managing at least one incident of online bullying in the previous year.

The statistics reinforce that this is a serious matter and must be contended with, forthwith. And dealing with Cyberbullying is the responsibility of all stakeholders, especially the schools.

Can a school help reduce Cyberbullying? We say absolutely. And here is how…

Students spend a large proportion of their time at school. Cyberbullying occurs in school hours and after hours. It occurs on weekdays and weekends. Regardless of the timing, Schools must have the right fortitude and motives to tackle the issue. They must develop the right policies and procedures to deal with the issue. They must invest in the right tools and build the right processes to combat the issue.

Schools can be instrumental in detecting cases of cyber-bullying and self-harm. They can take the right steps at the right time to prevent a child from being cyberbullied. But they must have the right motivation, technology and processes in place to execute with precision, and just in time.

 

So, what are some of the things schools can do to grapple with Cyberbullying?

 

Set strict guidelines and policies to prevent cyberbullying

Schools must go on a journey of educating their students that all forms of bullying are unacceptable, and that cyber-bullying behaviours are subject to strict disciplinary action. Schools must educate students to contact their teachers and counsellors if they are victims of cyber-bullying, immediately.

Adopt policies that promote good digital citizenship

Schools must also promote the notion of good digital citizenship. They must educate students on the impact of cyberbullying. Real life examples of the impact on students must be shared so student become aware of the gravity. The value of being a good digital citizen must also be educated and rewarded.

Leverage peer mentoring

Schools can put a mentoring program in place whereby older students informally teach younger students and share learning experiences to promote positive online interactions. Educating students on social and emotional skills must also be mandatory. Research shows that teaching students on how to effectively manage their emotions and relationships with others can be useful in preventing interpersonal conflict.

Specify clear rules

The school must have robustly developed and clear rules regarding the use of the internet, computers, and other electronic devices. Acceptable Use Policies should become commonplace in schools and should cover online harassment. Post signs and posters in school computer labs, hallways, and classrooms must remind students to responsibly use technology.

Educate the community

The prevention of cyberbullying requires educating the community in which the children reside. Schools must leverage purposefully-created cyberbullying curricula to educate those in the community. General information sessions at school assemblies and in-class discussions must be leveraged to raise awareness among youth. Community leaders must be invited to speak with staff and students regarding the impact of cyberbullying and the benefits of good digital citizenship. Schools can send via mail and through the students, information to parents. Research shows that the largest and most powerful group in a bullying situation is the bystander, yet 70% of Australians do nothing to help. Work needs to be done for the 70% to transition from being mere bystanders to “upstanders” to eradicate bullying. Similarly, in the cyber-world, technology can make it possible for schools to be “upstanders”, intervene and save lives.

Invest in software

Schools must invest in technology and software that surfaces data about the online activity of students, including, the sites they spend time on, what they search for on the web and what they communicate over social media. Merely analysing the web searches of a student exposes significant insight into the state of mind of a person. Investing in the right software application can lead to saving a child’s life. For example: if a student searches for “Suicide Hotline” or “Suicide Helpline”, a cyber welfare focussed software application, such as Saasyan Assure, automatically sends an email alert to the dean of students informing her/him of the search performed. Schools must consider allowing limited access to social media during recesses. This could provide insight into a student’s mental state. The school may detect bullying activity over a social channel or notice students venting to their friends about the bullying they have been a victim of. Just as turning off the computer does not help the student being cyberbullied, so too, blocking social media access at school does not help the situation. The bullies find other mediums to cyber-bully. The solution is not in prohibition and blocking accress. The solution is in educating all stakeholders. The solution is also in implementing appropriate software to find the ‘cyberbullying’ needles in the haystack and intervene in person, when required.

Make Cyberbullying everyone’s priority

Schools must spread the responsibility of tackling cyberbullying amongst as many staff members as possible. It must not be confined to the function of IT. The principal and vice-principal, members of pastoral care, teachers, business managers etc. Each member of the faculty and all stakeholders must play their role in tackling cyberbullying.

Leverage the Data

Schools can leverage software to calculate the cyber-rating of each student on a daily basis and consider feeding this data as another dimension into the school’s student analytics system. As part of the good citizenship promotion efforts, the school may choose to allow students to have access to data visualizations on their online activity.

Improve the response to cyber-bullying cases

When a child is bullied at school, all the child usually wants is for the bullying to stop. Children often don’t even want the bully to get in trouble. Their primary aim is for the bullying to end. Parents, educators, and other adults tasked with responding to bullying incidents need to keep this in mind and respond in a way that stops the bullying.

The evolution of technology has provided bullies with more access, anonymity and scale. It is imperative that schools recognise the signs of cyberbullying or self-harm and give much-needed support to victims.

 

At Saasyan, we create and support open, cloud-enabled software to help Australian K-12 schools fulfil their duty of care to students and operate more efficiently. Our SaaS products are used by teachers, students, and school administration teams around the country.

Saasyan Assure enables schools to proactively ensure the online safety of their students.

Contact me at greg@saasyan.com.au for an obligation free chat around student cyber-welfare.