An urban understanding of cyberbullying
Research has found that in many countries around the world cyberbullying rates have actually tripled over the last few years. That means that 87 percent of today’s youth have encountered or witnessed some form of bullying online.
Even with all of the education and zero-tolerance policies our communities have against cyberbullying, we are still seeing an increase in these cruel digital behaviors. What measures should we take to help delete cyberbullying and make our urban spaces more child-friendly?
Lessons learned: an urban understanding of cyberbullying
We all know that bullying can take its toll on a victim. After all, we have read countless stories and watched terrifying stories unfold on the telly. While all bullying is bad, cyberbullying is often more traumatic and detrimental due to its digital nature. Unfortunately, this social blemish is commonly found in our urban school districts and communities. This has led many school administrators and community leaders to look in earnest for solutions to fight cyberbullying.
Typically, leaders embrace zero-tolerance policies that send a strong message, but these policies merely act like a band-aid. These strong statements are covering up the fact that there is still a problem of online bullying raging under the surface. In one quantitative study, researchers closely investigated how school leaders take action against cyberbullying and their interpretations of zero-tolerance policies when these negative behaviors affect their schools and communities.
The study found that to fight cyberbullying, it was essential officials learn “to recognize the signs of online misbehavior and harassment” and understand cultural patterns, be able to connect the demands of modern technology and create a positive school environment. Which, when combined with safety-teaching tools, a driven sense of purpose to make a difference, and the desire to overcome adversity, can all be combined for the best chance to fight cyberbullying. It should also be noted that there was a strong correlation between the success of a school leader’s relationships with law enforcement, school districts, and the communities and their ability to engage them in a deeper understanding the cyberbullying issue.
School counselors: what can they do?
As we know, tackling cyberbullying isn’t an easy feat and there isn’t just one solution. This only gets more complicated when we consider that 70 percent of teens take measures to hide their online behaviors from parents and adults. While there is no perfect answer, we do know that studies show a multi-pronged systemic approach which covers the whole-school tends to produce the best results for reducing bullying behaviors and rates of victimization and the middle school years are the best time to begin this approach.
School counselors are in a unique position here, because they are a vital link to the cyberbullying solution. They have access to students, faculty, administrators, and the community. Counselors need to make it a priority to educate students, families, and educators about bullying. This will help others recognize bullying behaviors and find appropriate ways to cope or handle these situations.
In the school setting, counselors are wonderful advisory resources for teachers when it comes to addressing how to respond to bullying behaviors and by offering a variety of training on social skills ranging anywhere from empathy to respect. There are a variety of lesson plans, presentations, videos, and Internet resources (www.cyberbully.org, www.digizen.org, and www.netsmartz.org are just a few) that school counselors can tap into to help educate teachers and parents/families. It is also imperative that counselors make it known they are open and willing to talk about cyberbullying with students and the community.
Creating policies for schools
In addition to counselors, administrators are a key ingredient to combating cyberbullying. School leaders need to clearly embrace policies that do not tolerate bullying. The school needs to make sure that these policies are publicized to create awareness for students, parents, and staff. In addition to a bullying policy, administrators need to concisely state and implement a policy (Acceptable Use Policies) created by a committee composed of members from the community, families, students, and teachers to get input from a variety of perspectives and to ‘increase stakeholders’ investment in the fight against cyberbullying.
This policy should address the proper use of technology with specific points about technology covered (laptops, phones, email, social media, etc.), plagiarism, security, download rules, online etiquette, personal safety, and finally, the consequences for violating the policy. The committee should meet periodically to update and review the effectiveness of the guide. The administrator should make sure this policy is displayed, distributed in newsletters, published in newspapers or other outlets, and be easy to access from school computers or websites. Students should also be required to sign that they have read and reviewed the policy.
Knowledge is power: how children can fight cyberbullying
While most kids know that bullying isn’t right, many teens acknowledge they don’t know what to do if they encounter cyberbullying or are targeted. Thankfully, we do have the ability to step in and educate others to fight against cyberbullying. Even though we might not be able to reach out and help every victim, we can start to delete cyberbullying with some mindful choices and by standing up against online harassment.
Teaching kids methods on how to protect themselves and ways to handle different scenarios can be just a few tactics we use on our way to taking down cyberbullying for good. For instance, research has found that acts of bullying often stop within 10 seconds if someone intervenes. For cyberbullying, this can be as simple showing an adult or reporting a social media post to the site moderators if you encounter online bullying.
We just need to educate our peers and communities about this growing problem and share the proper ways to fight cyberbullying. With a little guided effort, we can delete this trending problem from gaining even more momentum and become an advocate for this generation. We can go from being silent bystanders to a hero for those who need a friend.
For more information about ways to empower teens and help them stand up and fight against cyberbullying, please read the following infographic from the creative minds behind TeenSafe: