Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that occurs over digital devices such as computers, mobile phones, tablets, etc. It is repetitive in nature and results in willful and repeated harm to the victim.
Today, school children live in a media-inundated society, and technology has become an indispensable part of their life. Learning through technology such as laptops and tablets has prompted students to use cyberspace for both education and fun. Minors now venture into internet communities and actively use social media, making them particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying.
According to 2020 Tween Cyberbullying research by Cyberbullying Research Center, out of five tweens (9-12 years) reported to have been cyberbullied, had cyber bullied others, or had seen cyberbullying. Also, nine out of ten tweens used social media and gaming apps, pointing to a further increase in chances of cyberbullying in the future. Similarly, 56.8% of high school students admitted to being cyberbullied in a research published in Journal of School Violence.
The statistics indicate a worrying trend in the prevalence of cyberbullying among minors and high school students. Often, cyberbullying gets overlooked as it takes place on virtual platforms. The school and teachers become uncertain about their roles in curbing cyberbullying as it doesn’t necessarily occur on school premises. But, cyberbullying can have serious implications for the students, and hence teachers need to actively partake in preventing them.
Educators remain pivotal for encouraging anti-bullying culture among students. Research on a teacher-based program for dealing with cyberbullying showed short-term programs promoted anti-bullying attitudes among the students. However, to prevent cyberbullying fully, teachers need to address the issue holistically.
It is essential that teachers educate students on the secure use of digital media, make them aware of the implications of cyberbullying, encourage them to report cyberbullying and take responsible action in case of an offense. Here we list ten effective ways teachers can promote an anti-cyberbullying culture among students.
The first step in understanding cyberbullying is identifying cyberbullying types that occur systematically and recognizing cyberbullying events.
What is Cyberbullying and Types of Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying refers to online bullying, which can occur over digital media such as SMS, texting, social media, gaming, and forums. This includes sharing personal and private information with the intent to cause embarrassment or humiliation. Cyberbullying can manifest in different ways over the internet, with cyberbullies resorting to more than one form of online bullying.
The major types of cyberbullying among students are:
- Exclusion: This is the act of deliberately excluding a person on an online platform. For example- excluding the target from message threads and groups in Messenger.
- Harassment: This type of cyberbullying refers to constant patterns of sending unsolicited messages and posts that are threatening, abusive, and hurtful. For example- sending negative messages to the victim over Facebook.
- Flaming: This refers to bullies sending insults and profanity directly to their targets to incite online fights. For example- abusing fellow game players publicly during online games in game lobbies.
- Cyberstalking: This is a serious form of cyberbullying that can include monitoring, false accusations, and online stalking of the target. This is often accompanied by offline stalking. For example- sending lewd or harassing emails from multiple email accounts.
- Impersonation/Framing: This form of bullying borders on identity theft, where the bully poses as the target and uses their digital identity to post inappropriate content. For example: creating a fake Facebook account of the target and sending abusive messages to others by posing as the target.
- Trolling: This includes intentionally posting incendiary messages about sensitive subjects to create conflict, upset people, and encourage online fighting. For example: making jokes on the internet about the target’s race, religion or ethnicity.
- Outing/Doxing: This form of bullying is the act of revealing sensitive or personal information about someone without their content to embarrass or humiliate them. For example: sharing screenshots of personal messages on social media.
How to Recognize Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is more difficult to prevent than traditional forms of bullying because teachers have difficulty in recognizing the warning signs. There are major challenges in identifying instances of cyberbullying, especially among school children.
Cyberspace allows for the anonymity of the perpetrators. Cyberbullies can use fake identity to become anonymous. This makes it difficult for the teachers and parents to identify the bullies without external help. Anonymity also leads to repeated bullying as their false identities empower the cyberbullies.
Since the bullying occurs online, teachers rarely witness students being bullied, making it difficult for them to intervene on time. Also, since the aggressor is often physically distanced from the targets, they cannot see the actual consequences of their bullying. This leads them to resort to serious bullying as they lack a sense of accountability for their actions.
Often, cyberbullying also becomes very serious in a short period due to larger participation in overall victimization. The internet allows for the involvement of multiple bullies. Viral acts of cyberbullying such as trolling can lead to the victim getting bullied publicly by many people. This has serious repercussions for the mental health of the students. Unfortunately, due to the virtual nature of bullying, teachers may misunderstand and underestimate the overall impact of cyberbullying on school children.
As a result, teachers need to recognize the warning signs of cyberbullying among the students. The teachers need to look out for the following signs which indicate that the students might be a victim of cyberbullying:
- Social withdrawal: Cyberbullying victims usually refrain from being in groups and take steps to isolate themselves. If you notice, students, becoming suddenly withdrawn in the class, not participating as actively in group activities as before, could be victims of cyberbullying.
- Display aggressive behavior: Becoming aggressive is common among cyberbullying victims. If a previously unproblematic student becomes suddenly aggressive, it could point to cyberbullying.
- Low attendance: If a student starts missing their school and classes frequently, they could be exhibiting signs of cyberbullying. The low attendance could be because the students want to avoid cyberbullies in the class.
- Academic performance drops: Poor academic performance compared to the past and struggling in group projects may indicate cyberbullying. Especially if the students have an otherwise sound environment, academic performance can be a telling sign of cyberbullying.
- Changes in friends: Switching their group of friends can be an indication of cyberbullying. If the student completely switches their group of friends, it might also indicate that the cyberbully could be someone close to them.
- The noticeable rapid change in device use: If students increase or decrease the use of their mobile phones and laptop, including texting during school hours, it could be because they want to avoid online bullies.
- The emotional response around device use: Students who exhibit negative emotional responses during mobile phone and laptop use can be victims of cyberbullying.
Things Teachers Can Do to Stop Cyberbullying
It is the role of teachers to advocate for the students and understand the relationship between classroom social interactions for promoting their well-being. The teachers need to develop a classroom culture that facilitates the acknowledgment, reporting, and resolution of cyberbullying. Below are ten ways teachers can effectively stop cyberbullying:
1. Look out for cyberbullying indicators
The first step to prevent cyberbullying is to identify and recognize the warning signs among the students. Constantly monitor the academic and social activities of the students to detect any sudden changes in the student. Often these warning signs include a loss of interest in favorite activities such as sports, unexplained decline in academic performance, symptoms of depression, unwillingness to participate in group projects, and more.
2. Encourage cyberbullying reporting from bystanders
Apart from the cyberbully and the victim, bystanders can play an important role in preventing cyberbullying. Cyber bystanders are those who watch cyberbullying while it happens. Classmates or friends are usually cyber bystanders.
Encourage cyber bystanders to report cyberbullying incidents. According to research on the role of witnesses in cyberbullying, 4 out of 5 students were likely to intervene in cyberbullying instances if they could do it anonymously. Enable anonymous reporting of cyberbullying incidents. This can include creating an online form where students can report such incidents without needing to reveal their identity.
3. Establish a protocol for dealing with cyberbullying reports
Being proactive about establishing a protocol for documenting cyberbullying reports is essential. After the reporting of an incident, perform a thorough investigation of the incident. Coordinate with a school liaison officer to document the issue.
Develop a plan of action that determines the level of intervention required based on the threat of cyberbullying can shorten the response time. For example: in the case of cyberstalking, the action plan should be to seek legal guidance due to larger threats, whereas in case of exclusion the action plan should include internal counseling.
A survey on student attitudes for cyberbullying indicated that 49% of 165 students felt that the school would do nothing about cyberbullying if it was reported. If there is a clear line of action in reporting and resolution, teachers can convince students that the issue is dealt with seriousness and encourage further reporting.
4. Assume authority and be an active point of contact between the parents, students, and counselors
Serve as a facilitator between the students, parents, and the school. Discuss about cyberbullying with parents during parent-teacher meetings. This can help parents to look out for warning signs of cyberbullying in children.
Coordinate with the school or local counselors and aware students of counseling services that they can access. This can provide students necessary guidance to deal with cyberbullying. Also, raise the issue of incorporating cyberbullying policies in the school code of conduct during meetings.
5. Respond thoughtfully
It is very important to respond to cybersecurity instances thoughtfully. Be empathetic and non-judgmental. A national survey on adolescents indicated that 60% of the victims in the study sought trustworthy adults when they reported cyber abuse.
6. Respect the privacy of the cyberbullies and the victims
Privacy is paramount while dealing with the issue of cyberbullying. Respect the privacy of both the victim and the bullies. Confidentiality should be maintained as far as possible unless the issue requires legal intervention. Meet separately with the bully and parents, and the victim and parents. Encouraging privacy throughout the process of identifying, reporting, and responding can prevent intimidating the victim and help the victim be confident about tackling the issue.
7. Help in re-integration of cyberbullying victims
Cyberbullying victims can have a difficult time dealing with the incident. Introduce coping mechanisms for the victims to help them reintegrate into the classroom. This can include problem-focused coping strategies such as helping the victims schedule counseling sessions with the school counselor.
By promoting empathy among peers about cyberbullying, victims can better cope with the incident. Carry out brief experience sharing sessions in class to encouraging dialogues on cyberbullying. A dialogic intervention has been known to change attitudes towards the victim and the individuals who support them. Prompt students to share their experiences with cyberbullying and carry group discussions on the incident. This can lead to the denouncement of cyberbullying and solidarity towards the victim by the class group.
If cyberbullying victims can successfully cope after reporting an incident, it can encourage other victims to report such incidents.
8. Integrate anti-cyberbullying principles in the teaching curriculums
Use project works and group works as a means of discourse on anti-bullying. Encouraging inter-class presentations on anti-cyberbullying can help create awareness about how to tackle cyberbullying. Use creative response strategies against bullying. For example- asking students to prepare anti-cyberbullying posters as project works, preparing anti-bullying messages and videos, etc.
9. Promote effective use of technology
An important way to prevent cyberbullying is to make students less vulnerable to these incidents. Schedule workshops and training sessions for students on the use of technology. Conduct talk sessions with experts on internet safety and data privacy. Work with the school administration to develop a technology handbook for the students. Include talk about online safety during online teaching classes.
By promoting technological coping strategies such as strict privacy settings on instant messengers, blocking and reporting posts, internet safety policies, etc., students can insulate themselves from cyberbullying threats.
10. Encourage students to become leaders in preventing cyberbullying in school
Encourage senior students to form anti-cyberbullying clubs to develop leadership roles and become role models. Make seniors digital ambassadors and train them on the safe use of the internet and how to use online tools for preventing cyberbullying. There has been an upsurge in cyberbullying among post-16 students and helping senior students develop leadership qualities enables them to be confident in tackling such incidents.
Also, promote interaction between senior students and juniors on anti-cyberbullying. Juniors often follow the footsteps of their seniors and seeing the seniors imbibe anti-cyberbullying culture can promote a school environment that condemns cyberbullying.
Using these steps can help teachers effectively resolve cyberbullying incidents, prevent future instances, and develop a culture of solidarity against cyberbullying among the students.
FAQ’s Related to Cyberbullying
- What are the long-term effects of cyberbullying on students?
The long-term effects of cyberbullying can lead to long-term mental effects such as low self-esteem, the possibility of depression, a sense of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, etc. Physiological effects such as self-harm, chronic fatigue, insomnia, and symptoms associated with nervousness, can manifest throughout life in cyberbullying victims.
- How can you help to prevent Internet addiction and cyberbullying in our school?
Allocating and limiting internet use time on school premises, encouraging students to focus on alternative activities, establishing “no internet use” zones around school premises such as cafeterias and libraries can prevent internet addiction.
- How can students help teachers in the classroom to prevent cyberbullying?
Students, especially cyberbullying bystanders, can report cyberbullying incidents in school to teachers. Students can form anti-bullying clubs and discuss how to tackle cyberbullying with their peers.