Cyberbullying: What Teachers and Schools Can Do

Students are often wary of seeking or getting help for cyberbullying because of fear of how their peers will respond. Creating an environment that fosters discussions around healthy digital citizenship is critical for students.

Characteristics of Cyberbullying

Today, a large part of the communication of children and youth takes place digitally, which has led to the problem of cyberbullying. Studies show that one in five students has received malicious or unpleasant messages or have had their pictures shared against their will on social media.

Many aspects of school bullying also apply to bullying in the digital world. However, cyberbullying has its own special characteristics, many of which are related to the ambiguity and anonymity of the digital world, and which raises some important questions, such as: Who is the sender of an unpleasant message, and how many people agree with it? Who posted a personal picture on social media, and how many people have seen it? Will there be more messages sent or photos posted? Who will be the next target?

Specific characteristics of digital bullying:

  • The identity of the bully may never be known and he or she may not see the bullying victims’ reactions, and therefore, are not affected by them.
  • Bullying can take place at any time of the day, and one cannot seek security and peace of home. It is impossible for the bully victim to escape the bullying.
  • The number of people who view or participate in bullying on social media is often unknown and potentially many. Messages about the victim can be quickly published and can circulate in the media for a long time.
  • Cyberbullying may not be noticeable to adults.

What Can You Do To Prevent Cyberbullying

Students are often wary of seeking or getting help for cyberbullying because of fear of how their parents will respond.  Many students fear that if they report that they are victims of cyberbullying, their parents will take away their devices and specific apps.  Students often know that they can block, ignore, and report a cyberbully but will often not do so because of the fear of missing out (FOMO).

There is also a significant amount of fear around peer retaliation and being called a “snitch.” Creating a safe environment in school where you can talk about healthy digital citizenship and ways to stand up against cyberbullying are critical for students.  Adults need to respond quickly and consistently when hearing about situations of cyberbullying.  Partner with parents in your school to address digital citizenship and cyberbullying.

Student Check-In Questions

Use the following questions to lead classroom discussion or writing activities about digital citizenship:

  • How often do you receive unpleasant messages on your phone, tablet, or computer?
  • How often do you think about other peoples’ feelings before sharing things online?
  • Do you think cyberbullying is a problem in our class? school?
  • In the past month, how often have people said mean things to you online?
  • How often do other students at your school use the Internet to spread mean rumors about you?
  • How often do other students use their phones to spread mean rumors about you?
  • How often do you use the Internet to spread mean rumors about other students?
  • How often do you use your phone to spread mean rumors about other students?

Classroom Ideas and Activities

  • Remind students that you are a safe person to talk to. Let them know ahead of time about your expectations regarding confidentiality and how you will respond to certain situation. Teaching them the difference between “tattling”(to get someone in trouble) and “telling” (to get help for self or others) is crucial.
  • Have students create a wall of good digital citizenship ideas and/or what to do if you are being cyberbullied.
  • Routinely send out tips and conversation starters to parents about digital citizenship, especially after discussing it in class.

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