Irish schools have become attuned to dealing with bullying. But just as one aspect of it is being faced down, another, perhaps more dangerous strain of bullying, is emerging.
Cyberbullying, the targeting of someone through the use of technology, is quickly outpacing the traditional forms of bullying. And the internet is its battlefield.
Its emergence brings about a new set of challenges and because online bullying transcends the school environment, many school stakeholders have questions about how it can be dealt with.
Here we outline why cyberbullying has become so widespread and give advice to schools on how to deal with it. For a guide to what cyberbullying is, click here for our piece which explains the new phenomenon.
Many bullies can’t explain why they do the things they do. But there are triggers, which you will discover as you come across instances of cyberbullying.
It’s important to remember that not all nasty messages posted online are defined as bullying. Sometimes, they are once-off. But when there is a prolonged campaign which appears to target one individual, then it becomes cyberbullying.
Not all nasty messages constitute bullying.
A lot of cyberbullying occurs when children lose sight of the consequences. Some don’t think sending messages which they see as “just messing” or “joking” is bullying, and don’t understand how it can hurt someone.
One of the most common reasons for cyberbullying is an attitude among bullies that they won’t get caught. Internet anonymity empowers bullies and leaves them feeling like they cannot be traced.
As with traditional bullying, pressure from friends can be a trigger for cyberbullying too.
As well as this, some pupils do not appreciate that posting online is a form of publishing. Rather, some see the internet as “not the real world”. This feeling leads to children believing that they cannot be reprimanded for what they do online.
The Effects of Cyberbullying
Again, the effects of cyberbullying mirror what occurs when a child is bullied in person.
Many children on the receiving end of a barrage of nasty messages suffer drops in school grades, low self esteem, changes in interests, and depression.
But, cyberbullying can also have more serious effects on a child’s wellbeing.
Because of how and where it occurs – on the internet – children are subjected to cyberbullying at all times when they are online, including in their home.
Other than making it difficult to combat as a school, this means that bullies can reach others in the one place they expect to be safe and can also lead a victim to feel that the bullying is inescapable.
Cyberbullying tends to be more extreme. Often, young people will say things online that they wouldn’t say in person.
And to make this worse, cyberbullying also allows the message to be much more far-reaching. In just a few clicks, an embarrassing photo or nasty post can be shared all over a website for a whole school to see.
In the most extreme of cases, cyberbullying can contribute to feelings of suicide and self-harm.
Responding to Cyberbullying
Schools already deal with bullying through anti-bullying policies and procedures, but cyberbullying, as outlined, presents new challenges.
As a teacher or school staff member, there are things you can do in the battle against online bullying.
Support: Provide the person being bullied with support and reassurance. Tell them that they did the right thing by telling. Encourage the child to get help from parents, the school counsellor, principal or teachers. Ensure they know that there is support there for them
Evidence: Help the child keep relevant evidence for investigations. This can be done by taking screen shots or printing webpages. Do not allow the deletion of phone messages
Inform: Give the child advice for making sure it does not happen again. This can include changing passwords, contact details, blocking profiles on social networking sites or reporting abuse online
No Retaliation: Ensure that the young person does not retaliate or reply to the messages
Privacy: Encourage the child to keep personal information private on the internet
Investigation: The cyberbullying claim needs to be investigated fully. If the perpetrator is known, ask them to remove offending remarks or posts. All records should be kept as part of the investigation.
Report: Abuse on social networking sites or through text messaging needs to be reported to the websites and mobile phone service providers
Guidelines: Your school will have a number of policy documents which you can refer to. These include the Acceptable Use Policy, Anti-bullying policies and Behaviour and Disciplinary Polices
Preventing Cyberbullying in Your School
Preventing cyberbullying will not be easy. Because of the fact it happens on the internet, it is difficult to police.
However, the best way to prevent it is to treat it as a whole school community issue as well as treating it as another form of bullying within the school’s anti-bullying policy.
Make sure that all your students know that, no matter what its form, all bullying is wrong and will not be tolerated.
As part of efforts to deal with the issue, you should also continue to promote awareness about the school's AUPs and ICT misuse sanctions.
There are a number of things you can drive home to your students too like teaching them about their rights and responsibilities online and making sure they are aware that the internet is not a private place.
School stakeholders need to also promote the positive use of technology, discuss and inform your students about good netiquette and personal safety issues.
One other key message is to encourage a “telling” atmosphere – so that pupils will report cyberbullying where they see it. To do this, your school can publicise different ways of reporting cyberbullying to give confidence to bystanders.
Anti-bullying policies also need to be constantly updated and amended to deal with cyberbullying as it evolves. This will provide your school with some solid ground in terms of investigations and sanctions.
But most of all, you should encourage students to make friends and promote a positive and supportive atmosphere in the school which will ensure that cyberbullying does not thrive.