What is cyberbullying and how can it be addressed?

“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words” can break my heart. For years, we’ve finished this phrase with “can never hurt me.” but the truth is, words have an enormous impact on how children see themselves and operate in the world.

In our very connected technological world, the use of social media has both enhanced our lives and been a challenge. The use of technology in the classroom to access resources and connect globally has created amazing new ways to learn. Students can Skype with published authors, solve problems, write music, or speak to students in another country. There are so many great uses of cyberspace!

On the other hand, technology is a test of our ability to help students become responsible technology users. Good “cyberskills” must be taught, just like reading and writing, When students misuse social media to tease, bully and harass others, it’s called cyberbullying.

Traditionally, bullying has taken the form of direct verbal, physical or social exploitation that occurs repeatedly. It is intended to isolate people or interfere with their ability to socialize with their peers. Cyberbullying is a term used to describe bullying behaviors that take place through various types of communication technologies rather than in person. Cell phones, computers, tablets and various forms of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are available 24/7, can reach a wider potential audience and have a greater degree of anonymity.

In 2011, roughly 16 percent of high school age students acknowledged being the target of various forms of cyberbullying. Being the target of cyberbullying has an impact on the ability to concentrate in school, damages self-confidence, and spoils personal relationships, causing children to feel unsafe. In really hurtful, ongoing situations, cyberbullying can impact a child’s ability to ignore the bully and may lead to depression, anxiety and inability to defend against the attacks. In severe cases, children may resort to extreme measures to stop the bullying by harming themselves or others.

What Can We Do About Cyberbullying?

Be a good role model: post appropriate information about yourself and your family

Teach your child how to use social media (or ask THEM how to use it!)

Know the sites your kids visit; learn about the sites they use

Ask to “friend” or “follow” your kids on social media sites

Block the sender

Report cyberbullying to your child’s school; it may be happening on campus as well as off

Report incidents to the website administrator

Report to the police if your child’s safety is being threatened or if the content is illegal

The challenge with social media is to maintain a sense of civility and humanity while exploring this [not so] new method of communication!

Belinda Blackburn is a School Social Worker/Consultant for School Improvement with Area Education Agency 267 (AEA 267). She can be reached at (800) 735-1539. AEA 267 serves over 60,000 students. In addition, over 5,000 educators rely on AEA 267 for services in special education, school technology, media and instructional/curriculum support. The agency’s service area reaches 18 counties and nearly 9,000 square miles.