As technology continues to permeate our lives inside and outside the classroom, educators, administrators, and students should work together to prevent the development of a cyberbullying culture. Research indicates that cyberbullying is detrimental to students and, in some cases, has been proven to be the cause of self-harm and suicide. Educators and parents need to find ways to actively engage our students and make sure they feel safe in their school community.
The current cyberbullying research indicates that cyberbullying is a huge concern for schools—even more so than traditional bullying. Anti-cyberbullying strategies must be consistent and implemented in a school-wide policy that is clearly and efficiently communicated to all stakeholders (parents, students, teachers, administrators, etc.).
The research also shows that strategies are more effective when students play an active role in determining policy. Students should be engaged in leadership training to help them articulate their feelings about this issue and learn how to engage key stakeholders on the importance of student-related challenges.
Much like the evolution of the online and social media worlds, the world of anti-cyberbullying legislation has evolved very quickly in the past few years. Since the mid-2000s, many school districts and states have moved forward with legislation to protect students from harmful online activities. Ultimately, the courts have stipulated that legal emphasis must be placed on not only where the cyberbullying incident takes place but also on “the technology used to carry out the cyberbullying—that is, school-owned equipment or personal resources.” Because of these stipulations, legal ramifications of cyberbullying can be difficult to ascertain and not necessarily helpful in solving the problems that appear in our classrooms.
Here are some key things to remember when developing an anti-cyberbullying policy in your school or district.
1. It is important to include your entire community.
Creating a concise and consistent policy that is clearly communicated to the school community is not the only aspect of community engagement; there must also be an engaged leadership team, a supportive school culture, training and education, a safe environment, and shared ownership of the process.
2. Do not focus only on the negative.
Developing a successful strategy should be as much about encouraging positive student behaviors as discouraging negative student behaviors. Rather than focusing on policies or painting a picture of the internet as a dangerous place, it is important to acknowledge the benefits of online activity and teach students how to behave in appropriate ways.
3. Include students in the process.
Creating and implementing these policies is a fantastic way to offer opportunities for student leadership. Because many educators and parents understand that peers play a significant role in influencing one another, it is important to tap into these natural connections and bonds to promote more positive behaviors.
The Cyber Friendly Schools Project (CFSP) in Australia is an example of a successful student leadership program. The CFSP involved several different student leaders and provided them with several hours of training. The student leaders felt more capable of making a difference in their schools, more sense of belonging, and a greater sense of agency after receiving the training. When designing something for the students, we must work to actively involve the students as much as possible.
With more technology in our classrooms and homes, it is more important than ever to be aware of what our students are engaged with on social media and online platforms and what they’re experiencing with each other. Cyberbullying affects many students; it is not a matter of if our students will be impacted, it is a matter of when.
Given the significance and impact of cyberbullying, it is essential for educators, students, and parents to work together to create strategies and policies that place power in the hands of the students and seek to encourage positive online behavior. Clear and effective strategies that involve all stakeholders and reinforce positive online behaviors are essential to creating a safe online experience for our school communities.
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