A whole school approach is an essential tool when tackling cyberbullying
Research suggests that almost one in five children aged between 10 -15 years’ experience one type of online bullying. That’s six in an average classroom, but realistically I think most people working in a school would agree that most children particularly of secondary school age have experienced online bullying in some way.
With more children having access to smartphones, social media, gaming sites and networking applications means that online bullying can follow a child anywhere they go at any time of the day or night, so it’s not surprising that children and young people either become involved in or witness cyberbullying.
Bullying behaviour online typically includes posting and/or sharing hurtful, offensive, false or threatening comments about someone, or sharing comments or posts others have already made. It may also involve sharing photos or videos of another person with the intention to cause hurt and embarrassment or repeatedly reporting someone’s profile without reason. Fake profiles can also be set up with the deliberate intention of manipulating or embarrassing another person.
Online bullying can make a person feel upset, hurt, humiliated, afraid, and in some cases, may lead to a greater risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviours.
Cyberbullying can affect all members of the school community.
A pupil- Ryan is new to the school and is invited by some pupils to join their online group. Ryan wants to fit in and starts to make personal stories up about their form teacher online.
The parent- A parent becomes concerned about the stories she is hearing about the form teacher and demands a meeting with the headteacher. She asks for a disciplinary hearing to take place. The parent makes her concerns known to her friends on social media.
The teacher– The teacher goes off with stress related illness due to the insults that pupils are shouting at him and the comments being made online.
So, what can you do as an educational professional?
Always go for a whole school approach.
- Senior leaders should take responsibility for keeping policies and procedures up to date and make sure they are implemented. It is important to ensure that reporting routes are clearly written and easy as possible to follow and access. They should be known to staff, governors, pupils and parents/ carers.
- Policies and procedures will need to involve senior management teams, governors, DSL’S, IT managers, students and parents/ carers.
- Address cyberbullying across the curriculum particularly RSHE, drama and ICT, and make sure the topic is revisited.
- Make sure all staff are up to date with safeguarding training, including online safety.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of delivery of training, learning, and reporting and review if needed.
Talk to pupils about the internet in an open way, remembering to highlight the positives. You should listen to young people’s views and show an interest in what they tell you.
What young people say online and how it is said can have a huge impact on themselves and the people with whom they make contact. By educating and encouraging peer presence, you can help ensure that peers are having a positive influence on each other’s actions and behaviours as opposed to peer pressure where young people actively put pressure on each other to act in a certain way.
So, encourage open discussion on:
- Online friendships
- How social media impacts happiness, sense of self, confidence, and emotional wellbeing
- What a friend is and what behaviour they should avoid
- The impact their action can have on others
Due to social pressures things can be easily said without thinking about the consequences. For this reason, children and young people should be taught and supported in:
- Being respectful and polite online
- Being careful of abbreviations and emojis as they could be misinterpreted
- Avoiding spreading bad news and how to recognise and deal with online pressures
- How sarcasm and humour can be misinterpreted
- The importance of respecting the law
- What they share online and remembering to ‘think before you post’
Children and young people will face barriers to reporting bullying as they may be worried about what will happen to them if they report. In some cases they could be blamed and be accused of being a ‘snitch’ or be targeted by those involved.
Here are some suggestions:
- Promote a culture where children talk openly
- Talk openly about the need for them to report if they have concerns
- Give young people the language to use when reporting
- Give young people different ways to make reports
- Make young people aware of their pastoral lead within the school
As well as raising awareness of online bullying and the safety measures that should be put in place, children and young people should be encouraged to create positive content and to explore how to balance their lives online and offline.
Parents and carers
Reaching out to parents and carers is never easy, but parents must have access to anti-bullying policies and procedures. Putting regular bulletins on the school intranet flagging any concerns or guidance can help. Schools should encourage parents and carers to talk to children about cyberbullying. Young people and their carers should be aware of the affects and consequences of cyberbullying.
Every community is different and as such the support and issues they face will be different. So, all schools should adopt a contextual safeguarding approach. This means considering the location and culture of your school and assessing the risks that young people may be exposed to, both inside and outside of the school community.
The approach supports you to consider all forms of safeguarding issues across a wide spectrum of behaviours. It recognises the different relationships that young people have outside of their family; for example, in their neighbourhood, within school or whilst online, which may act as protective factors, but may also present a risk of harm.
Identified risks should be assessed, trends noted, and a plan put into place to build safety for young people.
A more in-depth look at cyberbullying and other forms of bullying can be found in our Online safety course, Preventing bullying and Peer on Peer abuse course. You can also check out UK Safer Internet Centre and Childnet for further resources.