Building a classroom against cyberbullying
Being bullied can be devastating to children’s still-developing sense of identity and self-worth. With the increase in device usage, there are more opportunities than ever for that bullying to take place online.
Ninety-three percent of children who have been victims of cyberbullying report negative effects, most commonly feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or powerlessness. Cyberbullying has been shown to lead to symptoms of stress, trauma, and fear for one’s physical safety. As many as half of victims don’t know who the perpetrator is, leaving them to question the trustworthiness of even those closest to them.
Because a great deal of cyberbullying goes unreported, teachers may be first ones to identify cyberbullying and intervene on behalf of the victim with the emotional support they need.
How to identify cyberbullying
Spotting cyberbullying in action can be very difficult, as it’s rare for a student to exhibit bully behavior while the teacher is watching and is often done anonymously. However, the Cyberbullying Research Center offers a few warning signs that cyberbullying is taking place:
Signs a Student Is Being Cyberbullied
- Withdrawing from devices
- Withdrawing from friends and family members
- Uneasiness about going to school
- Statements that indicate depression (e.g. feeling life is meaningless or no longer enjoying things they used to)
Signs a Student May Be Cyberbullying Others
- Suspicious / hidden device use, not allowing you to see what they’re doing
- Increasing callousness toward peers and/or increasing behavioral issues
- Using multiple online accounts
Of course, many of these signs are easily missed, and not all students will display them. That’s why part of the responsibility for stopping cyberbullying falls on schools.
Curbing cyberbullying and its harmful effects
While teachers may not observe cyberbullying taking place firsthand, they can still help curb it and reduce the trauma it may cause. There are three key ways to help:
- Teach kids tolerance and acceptance
It’s important for 21st-century learners to be taught the tenets of digital citizenship. That includes fostering an environment of tolerance, acceptance and respect for all kids — including those considered “poorly behaved.”
Digital citizenship is not as intuitive as it may seem. Kids get conflicting messages all the time as they see adults interacting online in negative ways. Teaching digital citizenship will help set expectations and build buy-in from students to be their best selves — or at least not cyberbullies — when they’re interacting online.
- Share examples of cyberbullying
It’s important to not only define cyberbullying but outline some clear examples of it. Kids may not automatically recognize a behavior as aggressive or understand the way it is making the victimized student feel.
Take time to cover as many examples as you can. Many kids may be shocked to realize they’ve been engaging in cyberbullying. Consider going a step further and recommend steps students can take to apologize and reconcile with the victim if they realize they’ve been mean.
- Talk about the feelings that come with being cyberbullied
Not all students talk about cyberbullying when it happens to them. This means not only do they not see the issue resolved, but they also don’t have the opportunity to have their feelings validated by a caring friend or adult. Educators can validate the feelings that come with being bullied by leading a class discussion about processing hurt feelings.
One simple way to accomplish this is to describe a cyberbullying scenario and ask students how they would feel being on the receiving end of that. Support discussions with statistics about the mental health consequences to the victim and explain how what seems small to the perpetrator can have an outsized effect on the victim.
Use software to detect what you wouldn’t otherwise see
All of these strategies can make a difference in reducing cyberbullying within your class. But the most insidious kinds of cyberbullying may not be curbed by education or empathy training alone.
LanSchool is a classroom management software that enables teachers to view students’ screens as they work, even when they’re learning from home. This can help teachers spot negative chat messages and interactions that show an imbalance of power between students. It can also help identify students who are withdrawing from online engagement — which can be a sign they’re being cyberbullied.
Lenovo NetFilter+ provides keystroke alerts so teachers receive a notification when students are using terms that fall under the umbrella of cyberbullying or self-harm. This can help not only identify cyberbullying behavior, but recognize students who are suffering emotionally. When teachers know someone is struggling, they can open up a conversation or follow the school’s protocol for reaching out to students in distress.
Cyberbullying is too impactful to ignore. Using a combination of tools and teaching strategies can go a long way toward helping victims. Of course, there’s no substitute for your intuition as a teacher. Sometimes just knowing that there are caring adults in charge — even in cyberspace — can be a powerful message.
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