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Cyberbullying

What is it and what can educators do about it?

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Bullying is a terribly harmful form of intimidation that is all too common in schools across America. States have acted to address bullying in schools, some with specific school policies and other with enacted laws. Further, each school district has policies and procedures in place to deal with bullying. Unfortunately, these laws and policies cannot put an end to bullying for good.

The situation has worsened since the advent of social media and instant updates through sites like Facebook and Twitter. Intimidation over the Internet has been termed cyberbullying and has resulted in additional challenges for parents and schools alike.

The story of Phoebe Prince, a 15 year old girl who had moved to America and took her life after suffering terrible in school and cyberbullying is just one tragic example of what can unfortunately happen when bullying is not recognized and stopped. This example highlights how bullying can bleed over from the school to the world at large. Unlike in the past, bullies today can extend their reach and intimidation beyond the breaking point for many fragile students.

Therefore, cyberbullying cannot be ignored by schools because its effects bleed over into the school day. Unfortunately, it is even harder to control than “normal” in school bullying. This is because of a number of reasons:

  • Cyberbullying can happen anytime. It doesn’t matter if the student in question is even in the same state. It can affect them on vacation, the middle of the night, or early in the morning. The point is that because it can strike at anytime, it is much harder to put a stop to it.
  • Most cyberbullying is anonymous. Cyberbullies can be really smart about covering their tracks. Further, when messages and images are distributed widely it is hard to find out who originally posted them and remove them.
  • Removing damagine posts and texts can be very difficult because of how quickly things can be spread from one person to another. While a twitter post can be removed from one person’s site, there is no telling how many times it has been retweeted.
What can we as teachers do to stop cyberbullies? First, we need to open lines of communication with fragile students. We have to look out for the warning signs of student distress:
  • Changes in behavior outside the norm
  • Skipping class or school
  • Having numerous health problems that lead to staying home from school
  • Having lower self esteem
  • Using alcohol and drugs
  • Receiving poor grades

Second, we need to continue to educate students about bullying and step in as often as necessary to stop it. We need to stress the punishments that bullies receive. It needs to be clear that bullying outside of school will still be dealt with through in-school punishment methods. We need to make sure that we take students seriously when they report concerns and investigate incidents fully. Further, we need to be careful in our own behavior. Some teachers inadvertently give students ‘permission’ to tease when they make sarcastic remarks about individual at-risk students. Do not allow yourself to be an additional source of problems for any student.

Following are some ways that we can help educate students about bullying and particularly cyberbullying:

  • Integrating bullying prevention into lessons and activities
  • Have students role-play on how to stop bullying
  • Educate students about what they should and should not post on twitter, facebook, and other social media outlets
  • Have discussions about cyberbullying and how to report it
  • Have students read about how other students have dealt with bullies.
  • Provide students with the space to express themselves about bullying and cyberbullying through creative writing, poetry, and/or artistic works.

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