Cyberbullying has become a severe challenge for both educators and parents in recent years. With youth spending more and more time online, the number of cyberbullying incidents being reported has drastically risen. The Guardian reported on a 2016 study done by NSPCC (National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children), which found an 88% increase in cyberbullying incidents. Children as young as 7-years-old have reported being “tormented and abused by malicious and hurtful messages from which they felt there was no escape.”
The NSPCC explains that cyberbullying is quickly becoming the primary form of bullying that children and youth face today. To keep kids safe online and help prevent cyberbullying, it is vital that educators and parents alike understand this serious issue.
What is cyberbullying, and why is it such a big deal?
According to the NSPCC, cyberbullying is any bullying that occurs online.
Unlike bullying in the schoolyard, cyberbullying can follow the child outside of school hours, anywhere they go. Kids today are constantly connected. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops keep them in the loop with friends and up to date on the latest trends. Unfortunately, these communication devices also allow bullies to connect with victims 24/7 as well.
Cyberbullying may consist of threatening or abusive messages through texts or online platforms, sharing of embarrassing images or videos, excluding individuals from online games or groups, shaming someone online, creating hate sites or groups aimed at a specific individual, encouraging self-harm, creating fake accounts, stealing or hijacking someone else’s online account or identity, sexting, pressuring an individual into sending sexual or explicit images, and much more.
The 24/7 nature of this new form of bullying:
Due to its consistency, cyberbullying can quickly take its toll on mental health. When you are bombarded continuously by negative, criticizing remarks, you start to feel defeated. For some, this defeat becomes too much to handle, and the online world spills over into reality.
Social acceptance is an essential part of life for teens, and cyberbullying can make this trademark almost impossible to achieve. Imagine for a minute that your elementary schoolyard nemesis was able to follow you home and berate you as you ate, showered, got dressed, did homework, or slept. This type of harassment would have been true torture, which is precisely what happens when someone is being cyberbullied. In the world we live in today, cyberbullying is the equivalent of the schoolyard bully coming into your home to drive you mad with insults. It is like inviting your bully over for dinner and having to sit silent as you are belittled and torn apart while the entire world watches.
According to safewise.com, the long history that young people have of picking on one another has not faltered or faded with time. The creation of technology that allows us to communicate easily has only made matters worse. Taunting and abuse do not stop at the school doors. Social media, email, texting, and instant messaging have invaded the teen lifestyle and overtaken it as the top form of communication today. Unfortunately, there are many stories where cyberbullying has led to suicide. While it may seem simple to adults – turn off the phone – it is anything but simple to the youth who are being bullied.
Seeing things through the eyes of young internet users.
Whether you are five, twelve, fourteen, sixteen, or thirty-five, cyberbullying can profoundly affect your everyday life in the real world.
As an adult, you may wonder why young victims of bullying do not simply step away from their devices or stop using social media at the first indication of bullying.
You must understand things from the young person’s perspective if there is any hope for solving this ongoing and increasing issue. Stepping away is not always an option.
Ask yourself, could you live with never going online again? Likely, you could not live without the net, even if you rarely physically go online. That’s because the online world has encompassed the one that we live in currently. Even your cable television relies on the internet to play your favorite shows, and the news is current thanks to online media. The internet has made our world better in so many ways – ways that are taken for granted each day.
For young people, putting down their devices would mean walking away from friendships, stepping away from learning opportunities, and giving up on a lot of the things that life has to offer. It is just not an option. If walking away is not an option and cyberbullies are challenging to stop, what options are left?
How to handle and prevent cyberbullying in schools:
Handling and preventing cyberbullying at school may seem like an impossible task, but there are many things that educators can do to help curb this ongoing concern.
Outline, Revise, and Share The School’s AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) Freely:
An AUP is a policy that outlines what is and is not acceptable within your organization. Be sure that this policy is up to date, covers all areas of use, and leaves few gray areas that can be interpreted in negative ways. Be clear about your policy and talk about it openly with your students. Explain that this policy applies to interactions with other students or staff both in school and out.
Understand The Issue:
Research cyberbullying and form a solid foundation that helps you understand the issue. Stay up to date on the latest laws and policies so that you know your options should a problem arise.
Know The Signs:
While you may not be the parent, educators sometimes see children more than their parents do. Be aware of the Signs of Cyberbullying
Signs of cyberbullying may include:
Nervousness or fear about going to school
Apprehension or unease about using social media
Acting visibly upset when having to go online.
Unwillingness to share or talk about online accounts and activity.
Unexplained weight loss or gain, headaches, trouble concentrating, reduced participation in activities that require them to go online, and many other signs similar to depression.
Often, the first sign of a problem presents as a sign of depression. Trouble focusing on tasks, irritability, or behavior changes are generally among the first indicators of an issue. Unfortunately, these signs are often brushed off as ‘typical teen behavior.’
**If you notice a student is more withdrawn than usual or see changes in their behavior, be aware that this can indicate a bigger problem and aim to investigate.**
Anonymity and Personal Safety in a School Environment:
Ensure that students understand that while we all have a right to privacy, we also have a right to safety. If the behavior of a student impacts the wellbeing of another, they forfeit their right to privacy.
Setting an example early on is vital to the prevention of cyberbullying. Create and stand by a solid zero-tolerance plan to combatting cyberbullying. The fight against this ongoing issue should have no gray areas, and neither should your reaction to it. Come up with a set plan and punishment that applies to every instance of bullying and stand firm—showing that the school will NOT tolerate the abuse of another student no matter who, what, where, or why is an essential step in the battle to stop bullying.
The best way to combat cyberbullying is to make students aware. Having an ongoing conversation about this problem allows students to speak up and speak out when they are victims. Showing that you see the problem and allowing students to be heard is vital to overcoming this ever-increasing issue.
Provide a Variety of Ways for Students to Report Abuse:
Teach students that reporting online abuse is acceptable and expected. Do this by providing them with a variety of ways to report issues. Many schools have opted to create anonymous contact forms to report bullying or other issues and succeed in this approach. Remember, not all students will feel comfortable speaking to an adult about their problem face-to-face. Giving them another option may provide the motivation they need to open up. There are numerous helplines and chat services available for kids who are facing issues like cyberbullying. Ensure that students are aware of their existence and post the contact information in places that it is easily seen when needed.
Seek Support From Young People Yourself:
To combat cyberbullying, you need to understand it, and as an adult, you may not have the upper hand. Seek out ambassadors to help you learn by looking for young people to aid in your cause. Those who have been through this type of bullying themselves can provide excellent insight into the formation of programs that may ease this ongoing struggle.
Cyberbullying is a widespread issue that is constantly evolving alongside technological advances. The option of dropping the device or leaving social media is no option at all. Hence, the fight against this battle is sure to be lengthy and challenging. A teacher’s job is to keep kids safe at school, and that includes online. Remember, every child has the right to feel safe and secure, and it is up to you to ensure that they are provided with all the tools possible to ensure that safety.
Good luck, and let’s work together to stop this issue with care, compassion, and zero tolerance!