Online Bullying in your school – how to spot and prevent it

In today’s ‘connected’ schools, as technology plays an ever-increasing role in our children’s learning experience, so too grows their exposure to the risks that are found online. In this article, we’re going to turn our focus to online bullying (or cyberbullying) which is defined by as “wilful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices.”

Unfortunately, this phenomenon has become widespread and is known to result in a host of negative effects in children including depression, anxiety and low self-esteem with these symptoms often lasting well past adolescence.

Girls have reported more instances of cyberbullying by peers, with 2 in 10 girls and 1 in 10 boys being subjected to it in 2014 according to a survey carried out by the Department of Health.

Here are some more sobering statistics:

  • From years 2012 to 2015, ChildLine’s counselling sessions prompted by online bullying incidents have increased by 87%
  • In the 7 to 11 year age group, 40% of children have reported knowing someone who has been bullied online
  • In the 13 to 22 year age group, 70% of young people have been subjected to online bullying at some point

Online bullying often takes place during evenings while the child is at home, but its negative effects invariably spill over to school and interfere with the victim’s learning environment too. This is arguably the most disturbing aspect of online bullying – it follows the child and gives a sense that there is no respite or safe haven from it at home or at school.

Often when a pupil becomes a victim of online bullying, they will ‘internalise’ it instead of sharing the problem with parents or teachers, so school staff and parents should look out for the following ‘red flags’:

  • A change in moods after using mobile phone or social media sites
  • A noticeable increase or decrease in the use of mobile phones or social media sites
  • A sudden or prolonged avoidance of socialising with peers
  • Evasiveness and refusal to share information about online activity
  • An over-reluctance to go to school or pretence of being ill to avoid school
  • A sudden drop in academic achievements

What can school staff do to help the victims of online bullying and minimise the chances of it reoccurring?

  • Don’t ignore the problem – the impact of online harassment should not be underestimated and occurrences should not be dismissed as ‘kids just being kids’
  • Learn the terrain – get familiar with social networking sites and online slang and terms. Use this knowledge to emphasise positive online behaviour and set clear boundaries on what won’t be tolerated
  • Evangelise the power of prevention – remind your pupils that once they pass on something sensitive via a digital medium, what happens to it is out of their control forever
  • Find the right response – those who participate in online bullying should face consequences but the behaviour should also be separated from the pupil. Use your authority to teach guilty parties the right way rather than using punishment alone.
  • Communicate with the parents – encourage parents to be involved in their child’s online lives and use the school as a medium to spread the word about online safety. Create workshops for parents about online bullying and share the school’s online bullying policy.

We hope that we’ve given you some useful tips on protecting your pupils from the harmful effects of online bullying. For more in-depth advice and guidance, you can download resources from the Department of Education here.

More in-depth advice from the Department for Education for parents who are concerned about online bullying can be found here.

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