Cyber Bullying: How Technology Can Be Used to Battle Its Effects

GUEST COLUMN | By Paul Langhorst

Bullying in schools is hardly a new problem, but in today’s “connected” world, it doesn’t look like it once did.  Face-to-face harassment incidents, once confined to the schoolyard, have moved to the cyber schoolyard. Children and teens are using technology to target one another. They take social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and turn them into powerful instruments to terrorize peer victims, anonymously.

Current statistics estimate that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. Other highly publicized statistics note that:

- 56% of students have personally witnessed some type of bullying at school.

- 15% of all school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied at school.

- 71% of students report incidents of bullying as a problem at their school.

- 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month.

- 90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying

While no national law against cyber bullying exists, many states are putting anti-cyber bullying laws into effect. Yet while many schools and districts may have anti-bulling policies in place as result of those laws, many lack actual strategies, tactics and processes to address this growing problem.

The biggest challenge to combating cyber bullying, is leaning which students are dealing with cyberbullying because it is seldom reported. Deputy Trevor Fowler, President of the Missouri School Resource Officers Association said, “The problem is…only about half of the bullying incidents are ever reported…once we know about them, we successfully resolve 90 percent of the issues.”

There will never be a complete “cure” for bullying and cyber bullying behavior. However, with continuous focus, energy, and commitment, there can be successful management of all forms of bullying, with significant minimization of the number of victims.

With October being National Bully Prevention Month, we wanted to share some effective strategies that are technologically relevant to establish an anti-cyber bully culture at your school or district.

Students’ First-Amendment right and the fact that much of cyber bullying occurs not at school or during school hours, but after school and off campus, impact school response to cyber bullying. However, experts suggest some simple steps that school administration can take to respond appropriately to cyber bullying. The steps are:

__Develop clear rules and policies to prohibit the use of school technologies to bully others.

__Educate students and staff members about what types of behavior constitute cyber bullying and how the school district’s policies apply to them.

__Provide adequate supervision and monitoring of student use of technology.

__Establish systems for reporting cyber bullying or misuse of technology.

__Establish effective responses to reports of cyber bullying.

In addition we recommend that you speak with your district or school attorney, and your state attorney general to get a clear understanding of where your authority starts and stops over the matter of cyber bullying.

During this important month ask yourselves, “What steps is your school or district taking to respond to cyber bullying?” Consider these:

  1. Building positive digital citizenship. Offer fun, interactive resources such as “Be Seen” by Web Wise Kids.
  2. Increasing staff and student understanding of online privacy, ethical behavior, digital footprints, and not-so-anonymous, virtual lives. Then, teach them to be astute observers.
  3. Supporting behavioral changes through curriculum integration.
  4. Emphasizing the balance between freedom of expression and individual rights to safety, privacy and protection from harm, by using role-playing situations, teaching strategies, and instilling trust.
  5. Discuss the difference between reporting on cyber bullying vs. snitching or tattling. Reporting is done to stop unwanted behavior; snitching or tattling on someone is done to get the other person in trouble for something that really does not impact the “tattler.”
  6. Implementing clear policies consistently using appropriate rewards/consequences for effective, immediate impact.
  7. Adopting the latest technology available to thwart bully/cyber bullying behaviors and make useful technological options available to every student to prevent, respond to, and report bullying incidents.

There are many wonderful anti-bullying programs such as Olweus, PBIS and Steps-to-Respect that are designed to create a positive school climate in which negative behaviors are reduced and replaced with positive behaviors. These programs also stress the importance of creating a climate of trust, one in which students feel comfortable coming forward for help.

Anonymous bullying reporting solutions like the CyberBully Hotline should serve to compliment these programs. We created the program as a means to combat reporting fear. Schools should strive to create a climate in which students feel comfortable reporting face to face, but certain situations will be better served by an anonymous reporting system.

Our program’s relevancy in today’s text-based communications atmosphere allows students to send text and voice messages from where they spend most of their time these days – from their mobile phones. Students are more comfortable texting than they are talking and our program leverages that comfort to increase the likelihood of timelier reporting. Students can text anonymous reports, which are delivered immediately and simultaneously to a school official’s email and mobile device and to their CyberBully Hotline user account where messages can be viewed and archived.  This unique feature allows for an anonymous two-way dialog between sender and receiver completing a complete communication cycle.

Remember, communication is key, and any and all programs should be promoted or marketed to both the bullied and the bystander. Your marketing efforts should consist of discussions during classroom meetings and assemblies; placement of hallway signage; postings on your school and district web pages and newsletters; even backpack notes. It’s important to constantly appeal to the bystanders to step up and help those that are being tormented. They have the power to enlist adults’ help in stopping it.

Assure them that by coming forward anonymously that their identity will be kept confidential. Do not bring bully, bullied and bystander together to “work things out.” That is a further victimization and manifests the worst fears of the bullied and bystander.

Keep the focus on creating a climate of trust, market the program effectively, and respond immediately and with clear, positive action and your anonymous bully reporting system will be well received.

___

Paul Langhorst serves as Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Founder of GroupCast, LLC, the parent company of SchoolReach and the CyberBully Hotline.

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