How to Handle School Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying affects as many as one-half of all adolescent and teen students, but educators often don’t understand their responsibilities when dealing with a student who bullies. While most school districts have a bullying policy in place, the lines are blurred when the bullying takes place online. When every teacher and principal takes online threats seriously and understands their responsibilities, they can hold open conversations at school and effectively handle students who choose to bully.
What constitutes cyberbullying?
A student who participates in the following activities can be considered a cyberbully:
- Sending harassing text messages or emails
- Posting sexual threats, pictures or invitations
- Calling names
- Spreading rumors on real or fake Facebook accounts
- Posting rude or crude comments anywhere online
- Voting about whether a student is fat, gay or a “loser”
Because of these online actions, students experience a variety of effects:
- Victims struggle to make friends
- Small conflicts escalate as students misunderstand the context and tone of a message or post
- Anyone can see broadcasts of break ups, personal secrets or embarrassing moments
- Everything published online becomes public record and can affect bullies and victims later on
- Real life communication, conflict resolution and reconciliation are crippled
- Bullies receive a false sense of empowerment as they hide behind a device
Establish a clear cyberbullying policy
Many states have anti-bullying laws yet few states outline the procedure schools must take when bullying occurs. Each school must implement a clear and effective anti-bullying policy. The policy must include a definition of cyberbullying and punishments for violating the policy. Students and parents must receive a copy of the policy, talk about it regularly and post it on the school’s website.
Open and regular communication about bullying policies also indicates the seriousness of the school’s attitude against bullying. Bullies understand the exact punishment they will receive, parents understand the consequences their children face if they choose to bully and victims understand that they can safely report any bullying activity
Handling a bully
Several tools give a school the ability to handle students who choose to bully. First, the parents must be involved. Parents are usually unaware of their children’s online activity. Likewise, they may resent the school’s interference in a child’s life outside of school. On the other hand, parents may welcome a teacher’s interference. After all, schools are entrusted with children and must provide for their safety. Parents must be involved when a brick-and-mortar school or online principal and staff handle a bully.
Next, the school guidance counselors may be called in to talk with the student and address any emotional, family or external concerns and factors. Additionally, the bully must be punished. A behavior contract outlines the grievance and gives the bully alternative behaviors to display. He or she should also lose a privilege, receive a community service assignment or be suspended or expelled from school. Bullies should write a letter of apology to the victim. This is one effective form of restitution. Losing access to school-issued devices outside of school is another punishment that may fit the crime. In severe cases, the bully may face criminal charges.
Educating the school community
In addition to enforcing the school’s anti-bullying policy, educators can implement several preventative techniques.
- Establish a no-bullying policy that helps students understand what bullying is and how to handle it
- Teach internet responsibility to all students
- Host open conversations about friendship, handling conflict and understanding how today’s actions affect a student’s future
- Encourage open conversation between students, teachers and parents
- Create a safe place where students can report bullying
- Involve parents in monitoring and reporting cyberbullying
- Monitor school-issued devices in and out of the classroom
The definition of cyberbullying remains sketchy. Educators cannot completely eradicate the issue, but they can work to protect student victims. Part of the solution is handling bullies with a firm hand. Cooperating with the school policy and including parents and law enforcement personnel ensure the school remains a safe place for every student.Learn More: Click to view related resources.
- "Cyber Bullying Statistics"
- Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D. and Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D., "State Cyberbullying Laws: A Brief Review of State Cyberbullying Laws and Policies "
- Jan Hoffman, "Online Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray," New York Times