A growing number of schools are becoming advocates for digital learning, with a large majority of teachers using some form of technology in the classroom to aid learning and improve student outcomes. The benefits of utilising technology in the classroom are clear, however, given students’ constant exposure to the digital realm and their deep level of immersion, unwanted aspects of the schoolyard—namely, bullying—can follow them online. This can have potentially damaging, long-lasting effects on their mental health and wellbeing.
In this blog post we aim to highlight the dangers of cyberbullying, as well as the signs and symptoms to watch out for, and share a few tips on how teachers can educate students to safely use the internet.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the use of technology to bully a person, or group, with the intent to hurt them socially, psychologically, or even physically. 1 A victim can be cyberbullied by someone they know or anonymously. Cyberbullying can occur on social media platforms, online video games, post-based websites, such as Reddit, and over text message or other forms of online communication.
Cyberbullying generally consists of:
- Abusive or malicious comments online
- Sharing hurtful and inappropriate messages, images and videos
- Excluding others online
- Gossip and chat
What are the dangers of cyberbullying?
The boundaries between online and offline are becoming increasingly blurred, making it near impossible for us to truly disconnect from our online lives. This is why cyberbullying has become such a pervasive and serious issue for digital natives—it doesn’t end at the computer screen.
Most severe cases of cyberbullying involve a person the victim knows personally, such as in school. This means that the bullying could be taking place at school and then follow the victim home, extending the torment the victim is already experiencing. To put this into perspective, 84% of those who were bullied online were also victims of bullying behavior offline, with 64% of females in years 6-12 experiencing cyberbullying at some point in their school life. 2
In addition to bullies following victims online, there are important differences to note between traditional forms of bullying and cyberbullying, including:
- videos, images and personal information can spread rapidly and reach a far wider audience in minutes over the internet and social media
- cyberbullying often continues, and may even escalate to include others, even when the victim steps away and doesn’t engage with the bully (for example, other students can perpetuate the bullying by taking a picture and turning it into a meme, which in turn may spark a video, etc.)
- bullies can remain anonymous, making it incredibly difficult to regulate and track
- anonymity also means that bullying will often be more vicious and visceral, as bullies feel that there are little to no repercussions for their actions
- in serious cases, it can be near impossible to remove the offending material from the internet, serving as constant reminder and source of humiliation for the victim.
What are the signs of cyberbullying?
The reality is, in most instances, students (especially teenagers) won’t want to talk to adults (whether teachers or parents) if they are experiencing cyberbullying. Regardless of the reason, they will need support and education, both in the classroom and at home.
To help teachers and parents alike, here are some signs to watch out for:
- changes in personality, becoming more withdrawn, anxious, sad or angry
- appearing more lonely or distressed
- unexpected changes in friendship groups
- a decline in their school work
- a decline in their physical health
Additional signs for teachers:
- less interaction with other students at school
- possible peer rejection
- excessive sleepiness or lack of focus in the classroom and in other activities
- higher levels of absenteeism
- increased negative self-perception
- suicidal thoughts—these should be reported to the administration and the parents/carers immediately for appropriate action.
Additional signs for parents:
- being upset after using the internet or their mobile phone
- changes in their sleep patterns
- avoidance of school or clubs
- becoming secretive about their online activities and mobile phone use.
How to prevent cyberbullying?
While cyberbullying is not entirely preventable, there are ways to minimise its occurrence and/or impact. The key is for schools, parents and the wider community to prioritise internet safety for kids, both in schools and at home. Children need to learn to respect the online space, and develop the skills and knowledge they need to be safe and responsible technology users. While the temptation may be to restrict online privileges, this is not the right approach in the long-term.
Here are a few useful tips that teachers can share with students to help them develop positive habits and routines:
- avoid sharing private information on social media sites
- update privacy and security settings
- report incidents of harassment, and where possible, leave that website
- do not respond to messages from strangers online
- do not send anything revealing online, even to close friends
How Jacaranda can help
What’s more, for schools that do not already have their own digital literacy program, Jacaranda recently launched a new online digital citizenship education tool for Years 6-8. Jacaranda Digital Citizenship is accredited by the Australian Children’s eSafety Commissioner and covers all areas of digital and media literacy as required by the curriculum, from cyber safety and cyber bullying, to researching, communicating, socialising and purchasing online. Children learn at their own pace, inside and outside the classroom, and teachers have full visibility of results. Pricing is just $10 a student. For more information including pricing, visit Jacaranda Digital Citizenship page.
Where to go for help?
Cyberbullying should not be dismissed. It’s important that all educators recognise the warning signs and know where to seek appropriate help so here are a few options to start. Of course, schools may have their own policies, processes and/or resources that teachers should equally seek out.
- To access educational resources: The Office of Children’s eSafety Commission website has a variety of resources, including free multimedia and lesson plan resources for teachers.
- To report a case: For persistent and serious cases of cyberbullying or online harassment, contact the Australian Human Rights Commission at 1 300 656 419. Alternatively, teachers can lodge a complaint with the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner via their online complaints form.
- To offer support: Students should be provided with options for psychological support including school counselling or anonymous counselling through the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
If you would like to share your experiences or tips to address cyberbullying at school, please let us know in the comments or do not hesitate to contact us.