“All children have a right to be safe – both physically and mentally.” This slogan, of the International Bullying Prevention Association, gets to the heart of school leaders’ efforts to keep students safe from harassment. As the scope of bullying expands beyond the playground to the Internet, school leaders are using new tactics to protect students.
What is Cyberbullying?
In today’s wired world, bullying can happen both in-person and through electronic media. Cyberbullying is defined as: “When children or teens bully each other using the Internet, mobile phones or other cyber technology. This can include:
- Sending mean text, e-mail or instant messages;
- Posting nasty pictures or messages about others in blogs or on websites;
- Using someone else's user name to spread rumors or lies about someone.” (1)
Did You Know?
Cyberbullying can happen in a number of ways and it can have a negative impact on a wide scope of people in the school community. Some facts about cyberbullying include:
- Cyberbullying has grown with students’ increased use of online chat rooms, instant messaging, cell phone text messaging, and social networking websites such as MySpace, Xanga, Facebook and Friendster;
- Girls are more likely than boys to be cyberbullied, but all students and even teachers and administrators are at risk of being a target;
- Children can send and receive bullying messages both at school and at home – via e-mail, text messaging and other electronic modes of communication;
- A forwarded message that is intended for one person can be easily shared with many others; and
- A student can steal a password and change the web page of a person they do not like, using inflammatory language to spread rumors about them (2).
Cyberbullying often occurs anonymously and is a passive – and often easy – way to be mean. Whereas playground bullying is face-to-face, cyberbullies often do not witness how their message affects the bullied, making the act easier to commit (3). According to a 2005 survey of 13,000 students in grades 5-12, 19% of students admit to saying something hurtful to others online (4). McGruff the Crime Dog, a character known to many generations, now says, “If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it online.” (5)
What is Your District’s Position?
Cyberbullying can have serious ramifications for school districts, and schools need to be proactive in addressing this issue. Some school districts have been sued regarding their students’ webpages. Others have preempted student cyberbullying by suspending those who cyberbully. Where does your district stand on this important matter? Deciding on what type of policy will best address this growing problem is an important step for school districts to take. A world without the Internet simply does not exist anymore. A decade ago when the Internet first emerged, school districts decided on rudimentary policies for electronic communication, and many of those policies have not been looked at since. Regarding cyberbullying specifically, school administrators and other officials must decide on the components of the policy, including appropriate punishment measures, which websites to block from school servers, whether to limit students’ time with cell phones or when computers are available for non-academic use throughout the school day.
You can combat cyberbullying in your districts by implementing policy changes and offering educational opportunities for staff and students, including:
- Changing your district’s bullying policy (if there is one) to include ramifications for cyberbullying;
- Putting cyberbullying on the agenda of the School Health Advisory Committee (or like committee);
- Running anti-cyberbullying public service announcements at a school assembly or on the morning announcements;
- Putting up educational posters about the negative effects of cyberbullying in computer areas; and/or
- Including educational classroom activities for children about cyberbullying.
Bullying Prevention Awareness Week is Oct. 21-27, 2007.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Association of School Administrators. © AASA
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