It is rare to find a teenager today without a phone all but attached to their hands. Teens today use their smartphones and other devices to stay connected with information and each other more easily than any other generation of students before. Amidst a sea of texts, snaps, and grams, they are granted nearly unrestricted access to limitless information located only a Google click away. But as social media platforms, websites, apps, and chats provide more opportunities and unique ways for teens to learn and communicate, they also bring unique concerns, such as cyberbullying.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that occurs online when one or more people tease, threaten, embarrass, or otherwise target someone. Playful teasing is normal and even expected among peers, however, cyberbullying is targeted and often persistent harassment that can severely and negatively impact the mental and emotional state of students. It is estimated that between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 students experience cyberbullying at some point, with girls experiencing it more often than boys. LGBTQ students and other isolated students are at the highest risk of being cyberbullied.
Students don’t have to suffer silently. When teachers know what cyberbullying looks like, they can implement proactive policies and strategies to prevent, recognize, and stop cyberbullying. Teacher intervention can be essential to maintaining the safety of students who are learning to navigate an increasingly technology-based world.
Different Types of Cyberbullying
The line between bullying and kids playfully teasing one another can often be a thin one, however, there are certain behaviors that can be positively discerned as cyberbullying. These examples of cyberbullying should receive immediate intervention whenever observed or reported:
- Name-calling and insults
- Spreading personal information/false rumors
- Physical threats
- Sharing someone’s photos without their consent (especially sexually explicit photos or non-explicit photos shared with the intent to mock or ridicule)
- Sending explicit photos to a person without their consent
It is important to note that while these are the most common types of cyberbullying reported, this list is not exhaustive. Any digital harassment can be considered cyberbullying, and timely recognition and intervention is a key component in protecting students from cyberbullying in schools.
How to Recognize Cyberbullying: Sights & Sounds
Students today spend the majority of their free time on their phones and other digital devices. They live in a world that revolves around their online presence and social media. Staying caught up on digital trends is a challenging but incredibly beneficial tool in being able to assess ways to prevent cyberbullying and recognize when cyberbullying may be occurring. Learning the platforms they use (Snapchat, Instagram, etc.) and the terms they use to reference their interactions will give you a point of reference for things you may overhear in passing or things that may be directly brought to your attention.
Stay on the look out for warning signs that a student is engaging in cyberbullying or being cyberbullied, including:
- Increased/decreased usage of their phone or other device
- Loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
- Social withdrawal
- Trouble focusing
- Emotional reactions to texts/IMs/emails
- Hiding screens or deleting messages, apps, or social media accounts
If you notice a student’s change in mood or behavior that seems to coincide with time spent on their phone or online, ask questions and remember to document everything.
Preventing & Addressing Cyberbullying: What Teachers Can Do
In looking at how to prevent cyberbullying, establishing early boundaries and expectations of how students should interact has been shown to be among the most necessary and effective practices. With clear expectations of acceptable online and offline behavior, students have a roadmap for navigating digital and classroom spaces...and this roadmap can be essential for the prevention of cyberbullying. Rules should be explicit and directly communicated, along with consequences to expect as a result of violating them. This way, if misconduct occurs, teachers are able to point to exactly what that violation was, and students are aware of expected consequences.
How to Establish Rules for Cyberbullying
Teaching students about cyberbullying prior to an instance is a necessary but not fail-proof method of prevention. Should these rules and boundaries be violated and you observe cyberbullying to occur, it's important to have a strategy for handling it that includes:
- Observation and intervention: Pay attention to behavior of students and budding conflicts, and intervene as necessary. Always ask questions and listen to both what is said and what isn't.
- Documentation: Take notes when incidents occur, no matter how minor they seem. Seemingly small things can quickly explode into major conflicts. Also, if a student directly reports cyberbullying to you or you witness an occurrence, encourage them to save any evidence.
- Communication: Verbal and/or written communication with the administration about the incident(s) should happen as soon as possible. Be sure to provide any documentation of any previous incidents, conversations, or observations.
- Solutions: Solutions to cyberbullying should always be in the interest of protecting students and should center around the targeted student. Inquire about their desired outcomes, and maneuver with them in mind. The focus should not be on punishing anyone, but rather on resolving conflict and creating an environment that keeps students safe and fosters a healthy learning environment for all.
How to Involve Parents
Getting parents involved sooner rather than later will allow for the cultivation of the most successful teacher-parent partnerships. Teachers should talk to parents early and often about the importance of supervising or monitoring their child’s online activities. Knowing who children are talking to and where they are spending their time both online and offline are important precautions that can keep them safe. Parents should also be made aware of any school or classroom policies regarding device usage, communication standards between students, and cyberbullying procedures so they know what to expect should their child ever cyberbully or be cyberbullied.
If a cyberbullying incident occurs, parents of both the targeted students and the students engaging in bullying behavior should be notified as soon as possible. In communicating with parents of a child who has been engaging in cyberbullying, it is important to remain compassionate and understanding and refrain from judgement. It can be helpful to keep in mind and to reinforce to parents that most students who cyberbully aren't fully aware of the impact their words and actions have on others. The facelessness of being behind a device screen can compel even children who otherwise wouldn't bully to participate in cyberbullying.
In communicating with the parents of a student who has been cyberbullied, it is important to reassure them that your top priorities are their child’s safety and an emotionally/mentally healthy school experience for their child. Be open and direct in your communication, and invite their insight on real and tangible solutions. Students’ home, online, and classroom worlds are all parts of their daily experiences that collide and intertwine. Working as a team to support them as they navigate all of these worlds individually and simultaneously is the only way to keep them safe.
Where Cyberbullying Often Occurs
Prevention of cyberbullying and solutions to cyberbullying requires knowing where it's happening or likely to happen. Below is a list of common apps/sites that students use for socializing and through which cyberbullying often occurs:
For more information on how to deal with cyberbullying, visit www.stopbullying.gov.