Sticks and stones may break my bones … but words will never hurt me?
What has changed?
The technology of the 21st century has dramatically changed the landscape of bullying. Gone are the days where bullying predominantly happens in playgrounds or classrooms, gone too are the days where bullying is obvious, visible and quick to respond to.
Bullies today hide behind computer monitors and keyboards in the comfort of their homes, or behind the screen of the latest version of the most sought-after smartphone. They throw words rather than punches, stealing dignity and self-worth rather than lunch money.
Implications for the victim:
Victims of cyberbullying cannot get away from the attack, which becomes increasingly portable with advances in technology.
Children can now gain access to the same social media content as adults. Sites like Facebook have age restrictions on members, but how easy is it to lie?
When their attack comes it is public, permanent and often repeated by a number of bystanders; black and white words witnessed by many that the victim can revisit time and again. It is all too easy for a coward to participate in this act due to its faceless nature. They carry the words of their bully right into their homes – compromising the feelings of safety and happiness that home should bring.
Advice for teachers in this environment:
There are many online resources available to prepare teachers to deal with cyberbullying situations.
Teachers need ways of identifying potential victims. For example, by getting children to complete a weekly activity of choosing the four children they wish to sit next to the following week (momastery.com). These lists can identify those who were popular the week before and not this week, children who can’t think of anyone whom they wish to sit next to, or children who are not frequently sought after as a classmate.
It is naive to assume children will stay away from social media, so schools also need to educate children on appropriate online behaviour. Both through curriculum modules and through visual reminders of what unacceptable online behaviour consists of, and what the consequences could be – nobullying.com has an extensive list of quotes which they have found to discourage cyberbullying in schools.
Schools also need to have a predefined response to cyberbullying with a zero tolerance policy which is strictly enforced. Although cyberbullying is hard to identify initially, once it has been found there is hard and trackable evidence against any bullying activity. Teachers need to act on this evidence to suitably address and reeducate cyberbullying offenders whilst offering support for their victims.
Schools should also engage with teachers and parents to follow up on issues, and what behaviours instigated the bully to act so cruelly. It is important to remember that children are not inherently nasty and their behaviour could be a cry for help for a serious issue they are dealing with elsewhere.
By Sam Franklin
Some useful websites for further reading and support: