Cyberbullying continues to grow and present itself as a huge challenge for schools, government policy makers, stakeholders, parents and the community—but is regulating access to technology and social media the answer?
Though the online platforms may be relatively new, cyberbullying should not be separated from bullying. Both behaviors are about relationship power and control, otherwise known as “relational bullying;” therefore, it requires a relationship management-based type of approach in dealing with its impact and prevention.
When conducting my Digital Age Parenting classes, one of the things I share with parents is information about how their child is using a device to say and do things to hurt someone or put themselves in danger. However, the device is only facilitating the interaction between the person and the situation.
Dr. Satira S. Streeter, a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder and executive director of Ascensions Psychological and Community Services, explains that parents shouldn’t limit access to the internet; rather, more focus should be on the behavior instead of their child’s technology use.
Because the internet is now integral to learning and social interactions, focusing on technology alone, grounding children from using it at home, expelling children from school because of its misuse, and tougher laws are not the answers. So, then, what are the answers?
The Relational Bullying Basics
Relational Bullying (or Relational Aggression) is a form of bullying that common amongst youth and more so among girls. It involves social manipulation such as group exclusion, spreading rumors, sharing secrets, and recruiting others to dislike a person. Relational bullying can be used as a tool by bullies to both improve their social standing and control others.
And though relational bullying has been around for quite some time, the concept of bullying is getting more attention now than a few years ago. One of the reasons for this additional attention is the proliferance of cyberbullying caused by many youth feeling that apps offer anonymity, which can therefore decrease accountability—especially since many youth believe cyberbullying can’t be traced by law enforcement.
A number of lives have also been cut short due to the growth of cyberbullying.
In the recent December 2016 case of a high school senior that committed suicide due to cyberbullying, the victim appeared to have done everything right: She told her father about the bullying incidents, and she also told the police. However, because the app used to bully her was one of anonymity, the police could not trace her harassers.
What more could have been done? We may never know the answer; however, this issue needs to be addressed within a broader social context and a range of developed and taught skills, rather than simply limiting access to technology and its platforms. After all, human behavior is learned.
(Next page: 3 ways to address the larger issue behind cyberbullying)
1. Teach Resilience as a Skill
Teaching social and emotional resilience in schools and communities will have a greater effect than policy regulation or legislation in dealing with cyberbullying. Children should be taught a range of social and emotional skills early in school so that it will assist them in dealing with these issues. Skills like pro-social values, emotional skills, social skills and high-order thinking skills would better equip them should they be the victim of this unwanted behavior.
Lack of knowledge creates gaps, and allowing students to be part of the solution through their learning will enhance their ability to prevent and intervene in bullying situations sooner rather than later. If school is about preparing children for life, then digital literacy topics like cyberbullying should be no exception.
2. Create Better Resources
Scholars also need to be involved in the creation of materials or resources for the promotion of socially acceptable behavior, as well as front runners in raising awareness.
3. Allow for Community Involvement
Finally, platforms that allow for open discussions about what users do online and offline are also needed. Educating every area of our communities is just as important as the young people within them.
Dr. William Blake, principal of Stephan Decatur Middle School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, says he and his administration spend 85 percent of their time dealing with conflicts between their students that began on social media or text messages. He says that by educating and raising awareness, and forming partnerships with school, family and community organizations like SafeCyber that educates communities on topics like cyberbullying, that number will begin to drop.
More Effective than Turning to Law
Because cyberbullying knows no geographical boundaries and commonly occurs outside of school, the ethical and legal issues regarding cyberbullying provide concern for teachers, schools and parents due to limited clarity. Therefore, I argue that initiatives and programs which focus on the enhancement of positive relationships and the development of behavioral skills are more effective in dealing with the impacts of cyberbullying.