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For School Admin: How to Identify & Address Cyberbullying

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One of the most difficult aspects of cyberbullying from a school administrative perspective is simply that, by definition, it happens in a virtual world. Cyberbullying happens where bullies can often mask their crimes more easily and escape school-administered consequences by committing their offenses off-campus. As Katherine Cowan, communications director for the National Association of School Psychologists, explains for Scholastic,

One of the capacities of cyberbullying is that it goes from zero to 60 rapidly—it can go viral very quickly and can live permanently online … School administrators face the challenge of having to wrap their arms around a dynamic and incredibly complex social system with the students they serve. The Internet makes it that much more complicated.

However, there are some steps that school administrators can begin taking in order to better combat and prevent instances of cyberbullying.

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According to Emily Richmond’s Scholastic article, “Cyberbullying: What schools can do to stop it,” teachers and school administrators can…

“[1] Define cyberbullying clearly, and incorporate expectations into Internet and electronic communications for students and staff.

[2] Involve parents and the wider community as early as possible, whether it’s through a task force to review policy, or via workshops to help families understand and respond to how their children are using the Internet and electronic communications.

[3] Teach students to be cyber-savvy. In addition to understanding the risks involved in sharing personal information online, students need to understand how the ‘tone’ of their communications can be perceived much differently than they might have intended.

[4] Finally, report suspected cases of bullying to the supervisors, the parents of all involved students, and, when necessary, law enforcement. While the steps may seem simple, the reality is invariably complicated and changes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.”

School administrators should also be careful not to conflate anti-cyberbullying efforts with simply more surveillance. Extra surveillance can not only fail to address the key issues at hand, but can also inadvertently punish students who haven’t done anything wrong. To avoid this conflation, your school can also try implementing hotlines or tip lines rather than more attempts at teacher surveillance of student technologies. As Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center argues,

…every school should have a system in place that allows students who experience or observe bullying or cyberbullying (or any inappropriate behavior) to report it in as confidential a manner as possible. It seems obvious that we should be using mediums that youth already prefer [i.e. via text/phone]. In addition, being able to broach the subject without being forced to reveal one’s identity or do it face-to-face may prove valuable in alerting faculty and staff to harmful student experiences, and help promote an informed response to bring positive change.

What’s more, school administrators should also work to set a rigorous standard in regards to all student cyber activity on school grounds—a standard that draws the line at inappropriate behavior rather than inappropriate content. For example, if a student posts a “harmless” video on their blog of a teacher or other student simply walking down the hall, but does so without that teacher or student’s knowledge or permission, that student should be quickly and sharply reprimanded. For though the content may seem innocuous, it is the behavior of video-taping, publishing, and taking liberties with another person’s life and image that is inappropriate and therefore punishable.

By cutting students off at inappropriate behavior rather than waiting for the content itself to become inappropriate, we can begin to teach students that it isn’t simply a matter of blatantly offensive material that’s the core issue here; it’s the use of technologies to inappropriately invade and disrespect the space and reputation of others that’s at the heart of the problem.

These sorts of anti-cyberbullying behavior-centered policies can stretch from anything like having home-room teachers confiscate all cellphones at the beginning of classes and returning them at the end of the day to simply punishing students if they’re caught using a cellphone during class. The severity of the measures will inevitably vary from community to community as the individual school’s climate and state’s laws demand.

For more information and ideas, check out the following resources:

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