How to Tackle Cyberbullies

How schools can address difficult topics like bullying with online tools.

Calling the new girl a name that insults her culture or ethnicity; pushing a young boy on the stairs and laughing when he falls; spreading a false rumor about someone; threatening words or stares: These are all traditional examples of bullying.

Adding modern technologies has only exacerbated this chronic problem. Cyberbullying through the use of electronic technology such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as text messages, chats, websites and social media has resulted in bullying becoming one of the most socially relevant topics of today.

Reports say bullying affects one in four students, and there are a projected 55.5 million students enrolled in the nation’s primary and secondary schools during the 2011-2012 school year, according to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics. That means nearly 14 million students could face bullying in some form within one school year, potentially resulting in permanent physical, mental or emotional damage. When students do not feel physically and emotionally safe at school their ability to learn can be negatively impacted.

While technology has increased the instances of bullying it also presents us with an opportunity to bring awareness to the situation; but technology is not the answer, it is just one tool in an overall program to address this tough-to-teach topic. Research shows that anti-bullying programs have reduced bullying by 50 percent, and it starts with a zero-tolerance policy. As daunting a task as this might seem, experts agree on a few clearly defined steps that will assist in introducing and managing successful anti-bullying programs. 

Assess Bullying

It all begins with awareness. Before beginning a prevention program or modifying prevention efforts, it’s important to know some of the facts and statistics about how often bullying occurs, where it happens, how students and adults intervene, and which tactics have been successful. Having staff-wide discussions will help move the process along. Once a focus is set, schools can move forward with an awareness program in the classroom.

Engage Schools, Families and Communities

Bullying affects everyone and communities should work together to send a clear message that it will not be tolerated. Schools should launch an awareness campaign that addresses the program’s objectives. Establish a committee that involves students, parents, staff and teachers who will be responsible for the implementation and on-going evaluation of the prevention program. Hosted events, webinars and regular communications via PTSO meetings, phone campaigns, student information systems, and media-on-demand solutions ensure that the awareness campaign is not an event but a key part of the schools culture.

Create Policies and Rules

New and existing policies and rules must be publicized while also making clear that students and staff will be held accountable if issues arise. Including a statement of the school’s stand against bullying as well as a succinct definition with examples will create a clear objective for an awareness program. Actions taken as a result of bullying or cyber bullying incidents would also need to be addressed. Again, regular communication is key.

Sharing the information with both students and parents is vital. Through campaigns, emails, newsletters, guest speakers or the curriculum, everyone must become aware of the school’s policy and codes as well as etiquette in the classroom on school grounds and while they are away from the school. At one time students could hide in their room for a reprieve from bullying. Technology has made that no longer the case as students are constantly connected to social media sites, chats and email.

Technology and Getting Involved Online

While technology has increased the presence of bullying, it can also become a key tool in addressing this difficult issue. Teachers need to be equipped with the tools to tackle the issue in their classrooms. There are many resources online such as videos, webinars, articles and more that help teachers build multimedia lesson plans for students that can be accessed from a smartphone, tablet or computer. Teachers can engage students and parents alike in online forums, blog writing and discussions about bullying in a secure private environment.

Content available on various media-on-demand solutions include teacher guides and lesson plans and targets teachers, students, staff and parents. Examples include “Internet Bullies: Keep Yourself Safe” (produced by Mazzarella Media), “Why is Bullying a Special Education Issue?” (produced by eProfessional Development Library), and the award-winning theatrical movie “The Fat Boy Chronicles” (produced by Tin Roof Productions). Videos like these include skits for students to act out, facts about bullying and real stories from those who have been affected. Lesson plans built around such content teaches all participants the student behaviors that he or she can advocate in a socially challenging situation.

Designating the School as a Safe Environment

Schools were designed to educate our youth and prepare them for the future. With a clear code of conduct, rules and bullying reporting system, schools can reestablish their place as the center for learning and that bullying is not accepted. Continued education on the subject will keep it at the forefront of the staff and students’ minds in an effort to always pay attention and keep bullying out of schools.

Focusing on tough-to-teach topics early and often can help reduce the long-term impact on victims. While technology contributes to today’s bullying epidemic problem, it is also a key tool in combating it. Students are leading the way in the use of technology, so what better way to enlighten them then to use the same technology to bring awareness to this socially relevant topic? It’s time to take a stand against bullying and that begins with awareness and education.

Ed Murphy is the VP of Business Development at Learn360, an interactive media-on-demand service for K-12 educators. For more information on how to incorporate a bullying program into your school’s curriculum, check out the expert advice, content videos, discussion ideas and more at Learn360Awareness.com.

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Tagged with: Cyberbullying

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