How to address cyber bullying.

Unfortunately bullying is a fact of life. That doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable in any way, shape or form, of course. It is important as teachers and parents that we recognise that it can be dealt with. We can do much to protect children from it happening at all – and lessen the impact when it does occur.

Cyber bullying pirate

Bullying can take many forms. You may have read some of the tragic stories that appear in the news. And we all know that bullying can certainly occur in the workplace too. But when most people think of bullying, the scenario they instantly think of is school.

All schools have bullies. School leaders and parents alike would like to think that they don’t, but they do.  Although bullying isn’t going to go away – as much as we’d like it to – there are some great measures that can help to reduce its impact. There are steps you can take that will help you to detect it at an earlier stage – often remedying the situation before things get really out of hand.

School bullying policies already are more rigorous and robust than they were a couple of decades ago. Moreover, awareness of bullying and its issues and implications have never been greater. But the internet and social media have given rise to new ways of bullying.Bullying has now spread from the confines of the school yard, classroom and corridor to the internet. Our aim with this post is helping you become better equipped to deal with the problem.

What is cyber bullying?

Cyber bullying is essentially any form of bullying which takes place online (rather than face-to-face) through any internet-enabled device. The size of the problem is partly down to the wide number of sites and apps that can now be used as a platform for bullying: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp are some of the main ones.

These platforms play a key role in the way that children communicate with each other. Many aspects of these channels are very positive for the development of children. But unfortunately any site or app that has a messaging or chat feature can potentially be used to bullies to target their victims.

The types of cyber bullying can take many forms too – from sending insulting or humiliating comments to spreading fake rumours or gossip about a person. Flaming is when a person deliberately uses offensive language to provoke a reaction and to cause online arguments. Sometimes bully victims are tricked into revealing personal information which is then forwarded to others. Often this will be private images and videos of a sexual nature.

Impersonating somebody – either by hacking into an account or by creating a fake profile – and posting malicious material is a common problem. Another major issue can be not what is actually said or posted online, but when someone is excluded from a group chat or site.

What are the implications of cyber bullying?

A threat is a threat whether it is made in-person or online. The feeling of loneliness and exclusion is the same when a child is not allowed to sit on a table with a group, or prevented from entering a group chat on a messaging app. A vicious rumour hurts whether it is spread around the school canteen or between friends on a social networking site.

In many ways, the implications of cyber bullying are identical to that of ‘conventional’ bullying. However, the most concerning problem with cyber bullying is one of scale.

The real downside of social media and messaging apps when it comes to bullying is that posts can be seen by a lot of people in a very short space of time. Posts can go viral and be shared by potentially hundreds of people in a matter of minutes. Bullying is now amplified greatly.

Sad girl impacted by bullying.

Bullying has always had a disturbing tendency to spread and escalate within groups, but it pales into insignificance when compared to the reach it can have through cyber bullying. Although many adults are fairly selective about who they choose to interact with online – often sticking to friends, family and colleagues – many young people ‘friend’ virtually anybody. It is not uncommon for a teenager to have hundreds of Facebook friends, for example.

The potential is for virtually an entire school community to see a post or thread where an individual is being bullied.

So, the key question is: What can teachers and parents do to prevent cyber bullying?

School Bullying Policy

Schools obviously need to have a bullying policy, but it needs to be a policy that is enacted and contemplates cyber bullying. It is meaningless and not worth the paper it is written on otherwise. A school policy should be a statement of intent and one that is clearly shared with parents. As with many aspects of education, it is when schools and parents work together in genuine partnership that the best results are achieved and this is certainly the case when it comes to cyber bullying.

School Bullying Policy encourages happy relations among children.

Raising awareness

Raising awareness is crucial – for all concerned. Parents and teachers may not be experts in some of the apps that students use – but they need to be. At the very least, they need to have an understanding of a platform’s key features and a grasp of its security settings, so that they can offer advice to young people about safe and sensible use.

Few children grasp the enormity of the internet, understand just what a digital footprint is, or truly appreciate that once a message or image has been posted it is effectively ‘out there’ for ever.

Teachers and parents need to ensure that children are fully aware of the dangers and implications of cyberbullying and of the wider consequences of the internet.

Teach the basics of internet security

The basics of internet security – settings, passwords and not giving out personal information – are relatively easy nuts to crack and messages to get across. It’s sometimes harder to instil the good advice that you should never post anything that you wouldn’t be happy to share with the entire world.

Many young people are wrapped up in their peers and friendship groups and the desire to fit in can sometimes means the heart rules the head. The internet can also make people feel anonymous, when of course they are anything but.

It’s all too easy for them to get caught up in the moment without really thinking through the potential long term consequences. 

Spot the warning signs

Firstly, showing an interest and knowing what children are doing online is important. This way you can often spot warning signs early. It’s also important to look for changes in your child’s behaviour or mood. Early detection of bullying can usually prevent it escalating.

Typical warning signs are if you notice that a child has become withdrawn or isn’t hanging out with their usual friendship group anymore. In fact, any sort of change can be an indicator that something is wrong.

Spot the bullying warning signs.

Often children won’t open up straightaway. Keeping a close eye on things is usually the best policy at first. Of course, the warmer and more open a teacher/pupil or parent/child relationship is, the more likely the child will be to open up and talk.

Channels of communication

Establishing effective channels of communication, including an anonymous way to report cases or express concerns is the best way to detect bullying. 

Children should be encouraged to reach out to their teachers when they see or suspect bullying happening to a classmate. Kids need to feel totally comfortable doing this and feel confident that they will be listened to, taken seriously and that their concerns will be handled with sensitivity.

Cyber bullying can simply not be ignored. Most children will never become a victim, but many will come across incidents of it happening to somebody else. Young people need to fully aware of the dangers of cyber bullying and the terrible damage it can cause to people’s lives.

More advice can be found on the site for the Anti-Bullying Alliance. This is a fantastic resource that is full of great advice for parents, teachers and children.