Definition of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is a growing trend with school-aged children. Current estimates are that as many as 20 to 35% of children and adolescents report experiencing cyberbullying as a bully, a victim, or both (1 & 3).
There is no standard definition of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying has been defined as “an individual or a group willfully using information and communication involving electronic technologies to facilitate deliberate and repeated harassment or threat to another individual or group by sending or posting cruel text and/or graphics using technological means” (4).
How is Cyberbullying Different from Traditional Bullying?
Despite the subtle differences, definitions share the following components which make cyberbullying distinct from traditional bullying:
- Access: It is virtually impossible for victims to get away from cyberbullies. Because most students have access to computers and cell phones at home, cyberbullies have access to and can reach their victims almost all the time. Victims do not have a safe haven as they do in cases of traditional bullying.
- Reach: Unlike traditional bullying, due to technology, the cyberbullying audience has few to no barriers and the audience easily grows almost exponentially.
- Anonymity: Cyberbullying is not a face-to-face interaction and cyberbullies hide behind technology. Anonymity which is inherent in electronic communication fosters lack of inhibition. As a result, normal behavior restraints can disappear, allowing adolescents to act harsher than they would in real life.
Initial research has demonstrated that being a victim of cyberbullying may negatively impact students’ physical, social, emotional, and cognitive functioning (2). Experts also claim that it is important for schools to ensure that they take reasonable precautions to protect their students from online aggression and respond to reported cases of cyberbullying in order to maintain a safe school climate (4 & 5). Experts also claim that school personnel need to understand what cyberbullying is, how it affects students, and what they can do to create a safe school environment. The goal of this article is to provide initial steps in addressing cyberbullying in schools.
Using the Three-Tiered Model
A three-tiered model focused on prevention and intervention incorporates a “whole school” approach to bullying prevention that educates school staff, students, and parents and facilitates changes in beliefs, behaviors, and social norms that foster support and trust. A primary emphasis of many school-based bullying prevention programs is to intervene at Tier 1 to broadly educate students, staff, and parents and change the normative climate so bullying is seen as unacceptable. Additional supports and services may be needed to respond to potential and actual instances of cyberbullying at Tiers 2 and 3. At Tier 2, school interventionss target groups of students at risk of being involved in cyberbullying. And lastly, at Tier 3 school interventions provide intensive, and individualized support. Use the Three-Tiered Model to anticipate, plan & prepare, and educate the larger school community on cyberbullying prevention. The following is an example of initial steps in addressing cyberbullying in schools:
Develop a Plan
1) Create a Team. Form a team to focus on cyberbullying or expand the current bullying team to include cyberbullying.
- Review or create a bullying prevention and intervention program that includes traditional and cyberbullying behaviors.
- Work to change norms about bullying and school context to target and prevent school bullying.
2) Assess. Gather data on the current level of cyberbullying at your school to determine the extent of the problem.
- Consider a whole-school survey or surveying targeted groups including teachers/counselors, students and parents. Schools may wish to create their own measure or use an available measure.
- Gather resources. Willard (6) has sample student and staff surveys for download on the internet. Disciplinary referrals or reported incidents of cyberbullying may provide useful data.
Beginning Prevention/Intervention Efforts
1) Awareness of Cyberbullying. Many parents and students may not realize the dangers associated with electronic media so education should be broad and include school staff, students, parents, and other relevant community members.
- Provide resources to help students and parents identify cyberbullying and report it to the appropriate school staff.
- Students should be informed of ways to stop cyberbullying if it is happening to them (1).
- The free CyberSmart curriculum (cybersmart.org) provides downloadable lessons and activities to educate school staff, students, and parents and emphasizes core character values (caring, honesty, respect for self, responsibility & fairness) as the underlying message of cyberbullying education.
- Educate parents about the risk of cyberbullying and provide methods they can use at home to prevent or intervene with cyberbullying behaviors. This information can be delivered to parents via workshops, online training, brochures and pamphlets, Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) meetings or via a newsletter that is sent home with children (1).
2) Create Policies and Procedures. Preventative interventions that target school bullying by changing norms about bullying and school context may decrease electronic bullying so schools need clear policies. Clearly establish the fact that technology will not be used for bullying or harassing others. The following points should be addressed/considered:
- Include a section about cyberbullying in the student handbook.
- Require students and parents to sign off annually on clear rules, expectations and consequences regarding online and cell phone use and behavior.
- Include specific disciplinary processes and procedures for those who use technology improperly.
- Establish a process for students to report cyberbullying (Mason, 2008). The majority of cyberbullying incidents go unreported so consider allowing student input/involvement in the reporting process.
3) Formulate a Plan to Respond to Victims. School psychologists and other support staff are critical in working with victims of cyberbullying. This type of work may include the following:
- Interviewing the victim to determine their current level of distress and providing counseling or other services deemed necessary.
- Meeting with the victim’s parents and provide any relevant referrals to community mental health services or law enforcement (1).
- Offering groups for students who are experiencing cyberbullying to problem-solve, work on conflict resolution skills, and teach appropriate response strategies.
4) Plan for dealing with reported cases. Even with good prevention efforts in place, a plan for handling reported cases of cyberbullying is necessary (1).
Cyberbullying is a growing problem and cannot be ignored by school administrations. To implement school-based cyberbullying intervention, administrators should use the three-tiered model—a model focused on prevention and intervention and incorporates a “whole school” approach to bullying prevention.
To prevent a majority of online incidents, at Tier 1, set clear policies and procedures for students, teachers, and parents, coupled with a broad education initiative to establish a school climate that does not tolerate cyberbullying. Secondary or Tier 2 interventions should target students at risk of being involved in cyberbullying. For example, forming student groups to teach problem-solving and conflict resolution skills paired with a clear, nonthreatening avenue for students to report cyberbullying incidents will provide support to these students. Lastly, at the tertiary level, intensive, individualized interventions should be provided.
- Diamanduros, T., Downs, T., & Jenkins, S. J. (2008). The role of school psychologists in the assessment, prevention, and intervention or cyberbullying. Psychology in the Schools, 45, 693-704.
- Hindjua, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2008). Cyberbullying: An exploratory analysis of factors related to offending and victimization. Deviant Behavior, 29, 129-156.
- Kowalski, R. M., & Limber, S. P. (2007). Electronic bullying among middle school students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, S22-S30.
- Mason, K. L. (2008). Cyberbulling: A preliminary assessment for school personnel. Psychology in the Schools, 45, 323-348.
- Willard, N. E. (2007a). The authority and responsibility of school officials in responding to cyberbullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, S64-S65.
- Willard, N. E. (2007b). Cyberbullying and cyberthreats: Responding to the challenges of online social aggression, threats, and distress. Champaign, IL: Research Press.