by Janet M. Irvine, SchoolReach CyberBully Hotline Contributor
Bullying in school is hardly a new problem, but in today’s “connected” world, it does not look like it once did. Face-to-face harassment incidents, once confined to the schoolyard, have gone high tech, making it even more difficult for bystanders to step in and step up.
With access to computers, cell phones and other technologies, young people today are easily able to target one another using social media outlets like Facebook and YouTube, or other means such as email, instant messaging, and text messaging. While no national law against cyber bullying currently exists, many states are putting anti-cyber bullying laws into effect. Of course, a good way for school administrators to help tackle the issue is to stop it before it starts.
The following are some essential tips to prevent cyber bully actions:
1. Build it, and they will come. Build awareness through anti-bully days and assemblies where cyber bullying is the focus. Use screen savers to display warnings about cyber bullying – with messages of positive digital citizenship for potential bullies, potential victims, and potential bystanders. Link school computers to a short educational clip outlining the expectations for responsible Internet use and the risks and consequences of cyber bullying.
2. An Ounce of Prevention. Teach students and adults – teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators -- to LOOK at what is happening around them. It is important for schools to develop a culture of listening, observing, and offering empathy. Increase staff and student understanding of online privacy and ethical behavior, digital footprints, and not-so-anonymous virtual lives. Have students sign an anti-bullying/ cyber bullying pledge where students pledge not to bully others and to speak up if they know someone is being bullied – face-to-face or virtually. Be sure to engage parents in the process, communicate program details, encourage openness and share with them what signs to look for at home and how to talk with their children about the issue.
3. Cyber Environment 101. See the urgent need to prevent online bullying and to support behavioral changes by assigning a high priority to curriculum integration and information resources. Through embedded curriculum and elective classes, advance the profile of responsible online behavior by offering classes that teach online strategies to thwart cyber bullying and useful options to prevent, respond to, and report cyber bullying. Consider offering a video production class where students create engaging videos for posting to YouTube complete with anti-bullying and anti-cyber bullying messages. Another idea: have students collaborate to develop video games incorporating anti-bullying messages.
4. Practice Makes Perfect. Talking about something is one thing, but practice does make perfect. Consider practice situations that emphasize freedom of expression versus individual rights to safety, privacy, and protection from harm. Role-play the different players in cyber bullying – the bully, the victim, the bystander, the staff, the parent, the police. Brainstorm online scenarios that support positive online behavior and reporting online issues. Consider having the school or district’s IT department provide in-service workshops for teachers, counseling staff, and administrators for a better understanding of how the ever-changing cyber environment works.
5. Maintain to Gain. Anti-bullying or cyber bullying principles need repetition and reinforcement. Use rewards and consequences that have direct impacts. Reward the internal values and strengths that promote positive online behavior and deal swiftly with clear, strong, and immediate consequences for a bully’s negative online behavior. Involve parents and the home environment. This is critical to both the motivation of positive online behavior and the prevention of negative online behavior. Consider sponsoring public forums dealing with home Internet use. Recognize that external events and individualized perceptions fuel internal forces – both positive and negative. Repeat your programs each year, and every semester until there are measurable results; then repeat them again. And remember: social media can be your friend. Districts and schools with Facebook and Twitter accounts should regularly share information and resources with strong anti-bully and anti-cyber bullying messages.
6. Do Something About It. The largest challenge to combating bullying is not recognizing that it is happening in the first place. At the National Convention on Bullying, Sean Burke, President of the School Safety Advocacy Council said, “The biggest problem with bully prevention is reporting.” And that goes for students and schools, alike. Consider adding an affordable, anonymous reporting service like the SchoolReach CyberBully Hotline. The service offers students an anonymous, two-way communication tool to report bullying and cyber bullying directly to school officials; those administrators can reply, also anonymously, to provide students the help they need to address the offensive bullying act as a victim or a bystander. For students who remain fearful of retaliation or who are not sure what to do or who to turn to, anonymous reporting services offer students a communication tool to report bullying and cyber bullying safely and immediately.
There will never be a complete “cure” for bullying and cyber bullying behavior. However, with continuous focus, energy, and commitment, there can be successful management of all forms of bullying, with significant minimization of the number of victims:
- Decrease the Intensity of the Impact with clear, strong, and immediate consequences for the bully, with strong support for the victim, and with an environment that encourages empathetic, involved bystanders.
- Shorten the Duration of the Effect by making reporting easy with an anonymous reporting service in place for the victim and peers of the victim.
- Replace the Lack of Control with the power of knowledge and communication – curricula to help discuss issues and to teach strategies that thwart bullying, and a reporting hotline - an avenue for relevant, two-way dialogue via text and voice messaging options - with immediate access to assistance for both victims and bystanders, when circumstances require action.
Janet M. Irvine is a former educator and SchoolReach CyberBully Hotline Contributor