Cyberbullying Starts in the Classroom: A Prevention Guide for Teachers

Bullying is a real and dangerous threat to the physical and emotional well-being of students around the country. Young people today are growing up with the Internet, and much of what we think of as bullying is happening virtually. The situation is serious. Unlike a traditional classroom, bullies can harass their victims virtually 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The American Academy of Pediatrics calls cyberbullying “the most common online risk for all teens”. About a third of all actively online teenagers say they have been the targets of online bullying. These activities include sending or receiving  threatening messages; forwarding private emails or texts without permission; posting embarrassing pictures without permission; or having rumors about them spread online, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Girls are more likely than boys to say that they have ever experienced cyberbullying. In the Pew report, 38% of girls said they were bullied as compared with 26% of boys. Older girls in particular are more likely to report being bullied than any other age and gender group, with 41% of online girls ages 15 to 17 reporting these experiences, according to the Pew report. According to the U.S. government “stop bullying” campaign, students who are bullied are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety; increased feelings of sadness and loneliness; changes in sleep and eating patterns; loss of interest in the activities; decreased academic achievement, lower grade point average (GPA) and test scores, and an overall decrease in school participation. Bullied students are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school. Some of these symptoms last well into adulthood, according to the campaign. Because all types of bullying often begin in the classroom, educators have a unique opportunity to play a powerful role in lessening and reversing the impacts of bullying for both victims and bullies.

Traditional Bullying and the Digital Age
Many people picture a bully as someone pushing kids around on the playground. Although face-to-face physical intimidation, name-calling and harassment are still a part of the picture, the Internet has created new avenues for abuse. With the advent of social media platforms such as Facebook and Myspace, kids have new ways to gossip, intimidate and threaten others. The definitions and types of bullying vary widely, but the PACER National Bullying Prevention Center encourages educators and parents to consider any act or behavior that hurts or harms another, either emotionally or physically, as bullying.

Many educators may assume it is easier to spot the traditional types of bullying in the classroom, but online bullying typically starts in the classroom as well. Bullying can be circumstantial or chronic. It may come about because of a single situation or perhaps as a sustained attack on one individual over a long period of time, according to PACER. While bullying through physical intimidation has long been a problem among teenagers, cyberbullying by using computers and smart phones to send rumors or post cruel messages has become more prevalent in recent years, explains Dr. Jennifer Caudle, “Even though there might not be physical injuries, cyberbullying leaves deep emotional scars on the victim.” The implications are important not just for bullies and victims, but also those in the school or community who witness it, and may feel guilty, intimidated or scared as a result.

What Can Teachers Do

  • The Violence Prevention Works! program advises teachers to create a safe classroom environment to stamp out opportunities to bully. Engaging students in an open, honest discussion about bullying and posting rules and sanctions in the classroom holds students accountable. Students who want to bully others will feel less comfortable doing so if they know what kind of repercussions await them. As an educator you can establish yourself as a visible authority, and make sure students understand it is your responsibility to hold them accountable.
  • If you notice bullying take immediate action. Notify parents, and work with school administration according to the discipline plans laid out by your school. Listen to all parties and make an effort to solve the problem expeditiously. Make sure students have access to support such as counseling or mental health staff.
  • Provide the facts to parents, and encourage them to get involved. Keep parents and guardians informed about classroom behavior. Encourage parents to actively monitor online behavior and immediately report suspicious activity to the school. Tip sheets such as the Prevention Guide from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are great resources for parents.

Additional Resources
There are a number of great documentaries, campaigns and outreach efforts that have come about in recent years to try and stop the bullying epidemic. Here are some of the most impactful and educational resources for educators, parents and students.

  • PBS’ Frontline created the Growing Up Online report about how the Internet is changing childhood and the associated dangers. The series includes a teacher’s guide featuring ideas for activities, lesson plans and discussions aimed at keeping kids safe online.
  • Campaigns such as the national Stomp Out Bullying provide great resources for students, educators and parents, including ideas for events, programs in the school, videos and stories to educate about the dangers of bullying.
  • Seventeen Magazine and ABC Family recently launched the Delete Digital Drama campaign featuring celebrity endorsements and an ABC Family Original Movie called Cyberbully. The website includes a blog and resources for teens.
  • CBS News created a special episode of “48 Hours” called Bullying: Words Can Kill. The website also features resources such as state-by-state information and laws and tips for parents.

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