Combating Cyber Bullying

Keeping students safe from cyber bullying is a growing problem. The growth of cyberspace harassment has been recognized as far back as 1999, with a report from the United States Attorney General to then-Vice-President Al Gore, suggesting that incidents were an increasing problem for law enforcement officials.

Cyber bullying involves the use of information and communication technologies such as e-mail, text messages, instant messaging, personal Websites or blogs, and online personal polling Websites. Technology is used to promote deliberate, repeated, and hurtful behavior by an individual or group, with the intent to harm others. This is similar in many ways to our familiar notion of bullying. The key to bullying is that there has to be intent to harm a person with lesser power. Cyber bullies do their bullying through technology.

To reduce cyber bullying, multiple strategies must be employed. The collective efforts of staff, students, and parents are needed to protect all children. In addition, educators and parents need to teach students the pro-social behaviors they will need throughout their lives.

Steps to Take

Safe School Planning Committees

Because of the growing concern of threats of violence in our schools, most schools or school districts have a safe schools planning committee, or one like it. This committee is usually charged with addressing general campus safety, bullying, cyber bullying, and cyber threats.
Effective safe school planning committees help decrease discipline problems, raise test scores, and ultimately help create a feeling of community. A well-rounded committee includes administrators, psychologists, school resource officers, teachers, and other personnel who have influence on safety and discipline on and off your school campus. The committee should also include representatives from the larger community, including parents and extracurricular activity leaders. Many high schools have found it useful to include health services organizations such as mental health agencies. Some high schools include student members, too.
When dealing with cyber bullying, the safe school committee should consider working with the informational technology or computer science department. Efforts should be coordinated between these departments and the safe school committee in regard to technological requirements and other aspects of cyber bullying or cyber threats.
Clearly Worded Policy
Most cyber bullying prevention policies include a definition of cyber bullying, range of consequences for cyber bullying, and requirements of school personnel if they witness such behavior. Many sources, such as the Websites for your state’s department of education and school board associations, have model policies available for free download. Remember, school district policy functions as school law, so make sure you seek good counsel when developing your policy.
Surveys are a useful way to collect data on safety and crime on your campus. This will yield important information concerning student behavior. By simply asking students about cyber bullying, you raise awareness of the issue. Let students know that survey data will help shape the school or district’s efforts to improve school safety. As an example of the value of surveying students, Ybarra and Mitchell (2004) reported that in the United States, 15 percent of their sample identified themselves as Internet bullies, while seven percent said they had been targeted online. Most targets were bullied through texting.
Since cyber bullying often happens off campus, it is possible that teachers and administrators may not be aware it is happening unless they directly question students. Yet, off-campus cyber bullying may be affecting learning or attendance. In order to understand students’ safety concerns and the impact of cyber bullying, it is important to ask them what is truly happening both on and off campus. Annual surveys provide useful data to determine the level of cyber bullying experienced by students and whether safety initiatives have been successful.
Surveys are also useful in determining areas of concern for school staff. Understanding how staff feel concerning their ability to respond effectively to security issues, including cyber bullying, bullying, and social aggression, will be very useful in designing meaningful professional development.
Targeted Professional Development
A large portion of our student population carries cell phones, iPhones, and Blackberries.  What was once rare has now become commonplace. This has also given rise to an increase in on-campus cyber bullying. Texting cruel messages and the taking of unflattering photographs have also become commonplace in some schools.
Professional development needs to be a continuing process. All school staff need to be made aware of bullying in general, and cyber bullying in particular. Professional development is needed, explaining what cyber bullying is, and the real consequences of severe and continuous cyber bullying.
Professional development should include teaching all staff a “same-page” response if they encounter cyber bullying taking place on the school campus or during extracurricular activities sponsored by the school. For instance, a staff member needs to know how to effectively respond to a student who is bullying and how to respond to a student who reports bullying, as well as proper documentation procedures. Staff members will need to regularly practice these responses.  A consistent and similar “same-page” response will indicate to the entire school community that such behavior is not acceptable nor tolerated by any adult anywhere on campus or during a school sponsored function. In addition, it communicates respectful behavior and the values of the greater community.
Engaging Curriculum
Educators, parents, and mental health professionals have a responsibility to protect students from bullying of any form. Therefore, schools need to develop and implement meaningful curriculum to address cyber bullying and the negative impact it has on students.
In regard to cyber bullying, Strom and Strom suggested that the lack of facial expressions and body language present in e-communication methods make it difficult for the receiver to identify the message being sent. Additionally, it is difficult for the sender to determine if the message was received and understood as intended. Helping young people and their families understand the magnitude of this type of communication barrier is vital to the process of educating them about online safety.
Curriculum programs incorporating the direct teaching of values education, empathy training, and the use of stories and drama, as well as direct teaching of “netiquette,” (Internet rules and expectations) all help to reduce cyber bullying. Although this might seem like an additional responsibility for the teacher or program coordinator, teaching respect, healthy choices, conflict resolution, and violence prevention are already part of the curriculum guidelines of all states. Additionally, teaching these skills leads to classrooms with fewer interruptions and more time spent on task, increasing actual learning time.
Often times, students are slow to hear these lessons because they interpret them as patronizing or condescending. Finding the right teacher for ongoing bullying prevention and cyber security lessons is equally as important as finding an engaging curriculum. Occasional outside speakers and presentations allow the school’s cyber bullying lessons to be layered.
Supervision and Monitoring
Most schools have effective systems in place for monitoring the use of school computers for use of inappropriate searches, looking at pornography, or visiting social networking sites.  With many schools Wi-Fi accessible, it is increasingly difficult to monitor how students are using Internet networks. When logging onto the network, have the screen display the code of conduct for Internet usage. Have users agree to the code of conduct before they log on.  Include notification that Internet usage will be monitored.
It is best to clearly communicate to students the time of day and areas of the school where cell phone and texting is allowed. These times and areas should then be monitored by staff to help ensure proper usage. Again, staff need to know how to respond if they discover a student using technology at the wrong time or place.
Sustained Parent and Community Outreach
When school personnel and parents communicate, they establish a stronger learning environment for the student at school and at home. Schools contact parents for many reasons, including academic or behavioral difficulties, future plans for the child, or in search of parents to serve as volunteers.
Now more than ever, schools and districts have ways to keep parents and community informed about behavioral expectations. School newsletters, parent information nights, and informative guest speakers are all good ways to get community support behind your cyber bullying initiatives. School Websites, blogs, e-newsletters, e-mail, and fax all help to communicate information. Many local cable stations will put informational bulletins on their screens. Often, all you have to do is e-mail the information to the station and they will take care of the rest.
Periodic Evaluation and Assessment
Since technology quickly changes and evolves, the methods used for cyber bullying will also quickly change and evolve. Policies and procedures that were once effective may no longer be. Ongoing assessment of policies and procedures, student programs and curriculum, professional development, and community outreach will help to ensure your cyber bullying prevention program is effective, relevant, and up to date.

Michael Dreiblatt is the co-author of the book “How to Stop Bullying Now — Elementary Grade Lessons and Activities That Teach Empathy, Friendship, and Respect,” a bullying prevention speaker, and co-founder of Balance Educational Services, LLC. For more information, visit <a href=""></a> or call 866/768-4803.