From Facebook and Twitter to cell phones and iPhones, teens are in constant communication with one another. Teens’ worlds are progressively becoming more wireless and mobile. Students are using Social Networking Sites (SNS) more than ever, up 18 per cent since 2006. Some students may engage in mean, unsafe behaviour online and on wireless devices, such as sending mean text messages, spreading rumours online, making mean websites or social networking groups. This is called cyber bullying.
Cyber bullying is defined as harmful actions that are communicated via electronic media and are intended to embarrass, harm, or slander another individual. Cyber bystander behaviour includes behaviours such as passively watching someone being cyber bullied or assisting the person cyber bullying (e.g. adding more mean comments to a mean post). The problem with cyber bullying is that the people involved are faceless and it is often harder to identify and stop a person bullying online than in the offline realm.
October 17th – 23rd is National School Safety Week, and Canada Safety Council, along with the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVN), encourages parents, guardians, teachers and students to have a serious discussion about cyber bullying – how to prevent it, what to do if it happens to you or your child, and how to help others.
While cyber bullying rarely happens on school computers, teachers DO have an impact and can be an important resource for students dealing with cyber bullying. Through a recent U.S. Internet survey, almost half of students said they would tell an adult or teacher when they see someone experiencing cyber bullying. In fact, students may be more likely to tell a teacher about cyber bullying than a parent, because students often fear that telling parents about cyber bullying will result in removal of computer privileges.
Teens seem to be listening to the advice of educators. Students appear to be limiting the amount of information they post on public domains, showing compassion towards others who are being targeted online, and taking educators’ advice that open communication with others is the best first step to getting help for cyber bullying. Even though positive attitudes are being formed, cyber bullying will continue as long as technology continues to advance. By keeping the communication lines open between educators/guardians and students on the topic of cyber bullying, you can help prevent a student from being bullied, or bullying others.
Parents have to be willing to recognize that cyber bullying is a relationship problem. Where cyber-situations are concerned, your child or teen is as likely to be cyber bullied or to cyber bully others. The best way to help your child learn from cyber bullying experiences (either bullying or being victimized) is to help them find solutions to the problem that allow them to repair the relationship and to provide consistent support without shaming or blaming any individual.
What to Do When a Student reports Cyber Bullying to You?
- Policy. Know your school’s policy on bullying and cyber bullying specifically. Ensure you know the policy before any issue arises.
- Provide Safety. Make sure the child is safe from immediate danger.
- Listen carefully and empathetically to the students’ issue. Students’ social communication online is as important to them as their face-to-face communication. This means cyber bullying needs to be treated as seriously as face to face bullying.
- Document. Gather all the information about the incident, including any reports from friends or peers that were witnesses. Even if your school does not have policy and procedures for documenting bullying incidents create your own file to document the report. Also ensure that the student documents the cyber bullying by saving or printing the bullying communication.
- Openness. Be open with the child. Make sure he or she knows who you will be reporting the incident to. Make sure no promises are made about keeping this incident a secret.
- Meet with the child’s parents and other teachers.
- Refer the child to the police, website administrators, Internet service providers, or cell phone service provider when the situation warrants it.
- Follow-up. Continue to check in with the student. He or she sees you as an ally and is likely to continue to communicate with you about his or her troubles online.
- Prevention. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure so this might be a great time to start thinking about how to prevent cyber bullying in your class. This may include one on one or classroom instruction about cyber bullying, netiquette (proper online behaviour), and/or online safety (cyber proofing). You may want to have students come up with an online behaviour agreement that they will sign. Ask questions about what kinds of things your students are doing online. Let your students know that you are there to talk to about any cyber bullying issue.