According to the 2010 survey by the Cyberbullying Research Center, over 20% of students from 4th through 12th grade have been the victims of cyberbullying. More than three-quarters of the nation’s teens admit that they have little or no parental supervision while online. Even more alarming than the lack of supervision is the reason that students give for cyber-bullying. 81% of polled teens admitted that they thought cyberbullying was a funny thing to do.
Lest parents and teachers think that cyber-bullying is reserved for middle and high school students, elementary students are also increasingly susceptible to being cyberbullied by their peers. As students are exposed to social sites and interacting online at an earlier age, the increase in bullying is being seen not only in the classroom, but online, as well. Unfortunately, many anti-bullying programs are not presented until students reach upper elementary and middle school which leaves younger children often confused about what is and what is not bullying.
The Impact of Cyberbullying
The topic of bullying and cyberbullying is so important to children’s safety and self-esteem that President Obama and the First Lady held a conference in 2011 at the White House on bullying prevention. Their message was clear: not only is cyberbullying not funny, but it has potentially deadly consequences. Bullying laws have been effect for years in most states, but, unfortunately, cyberbullying is slow to catch up with only 15 states currently including it as a punishable offense on its own. As parents, teachers, and community leaders, it is important that we not only be aware of the problem, but that we give children the tools to help them protect themselves.
One of the best ways to do that is to share examples of inappropriate incidences that can happen online. Role-playing is, by far, the most effective way to address this. It especially important in the elementary grades where students need those concrete examples and that hands-on learning that role-playing provides. In the classroom, encourage students to come up with ideas that would qualify as inappropriate and do a short skit in front of the class. Sometimes hearing and seeing concrete examples from their peers can be much more effective when making the impact of cyberbullying known. There are some wonderful, free online mini-curriculums available to teachers for use in the classroom like this one from the Anti-Defamation League and this one from Common Sense Media.
Teachers can also share information with parents about detecting and preventing cyberbullying. Posting information to the class website or blog, sending an email home with links to information, or even printing out an article such as this can all work in tandem to get the information out there. Some of the points that you might want to include when addressing parents are:
Possible Signs of Cyberbullying (Victim)
- Avoidance of the computer, tablets, cell phone, etc.
- Seems angry, frustrated, depressed, or scared after being online
- Becoming socially withdrawn from friends and family
- Changes of friends
- Moody, agitated, stressed, or anxious behavior
- Change in academic performance
Possible Signs of Cyberbulling (Bullying Others)
- Creates multiple accounts for social networking sites
- Nervous or agitated behavior while using the computer/cell phone/etc.
- Secretive about computer use
- Extreme agitation or anger when computer/cell phone cannot be used
Ways Parents Can Prevent Cyberbullying
- Be aware of what children are doing online. Keep the computer screen where you can see it while your child is on it. This applies to children of all ages.
- Know about the social networking sites that your child uses. If your teen is on Facebook, make sure you show him how to report abuse, block a user, and set privacy controls. Know the age limits and guidelines for social networking sites, as well. If your child is 12 or younger, it is a violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service for him to have an account.
- Know your child’s password to all social networking sites.
- Establish clear guidelines about what you expect of your child while he is online.
If your school or district does not have an Internet Safety/Anti-Cyberbullying Pledge for students to sign, create one for use in your classroom and encourage your administrators to adopt it for the whole school. An awareness rally or a special day designated during the school year to keep the issue front and center is also a good idea. Remember, any child who spends time online can be the victim of cyberbullying and it is the responsibility of parents and teachers to help keep the safe.
Reminding children about what cyber-bullying is and how they can prevent themselves from becoming victims is the first step to keeping them safe. The Attorney General created a Cyberbullying information sheet with a pledge specifically for Kindergarten through Fifth Grade students that talks about cyberbullying in language that elementary children can relate to. What one child thinks is a funny or prank text message may actually be considered cyberbullying. In some states, cyberbullying where a threat of personal injury to the person, or the person’s family is made, it may actually be a felony. In Florida, if the threatened person is under 16 years of age, there does not even need to be a threat of bodily harm for the incident to be considered a felony. Check with your state’s laws about cyberbullying and make your students aware of them.
The tips below are broken down into two sections. The first section helps you talk confidently with your students about what cyberbullying is. Remember, getting their input in the discussion and role-playing are going to be the most effective ways of getting the information across. The second section deals with important cyberbullying prevention methods, as well as, basic Internet safety guidelines. Use the points as a basis for discussion and encourage parents to do the same at home.
What Is Cyberbullying?
- Pretending to be someone else online with a malicious intent to “prank” someone else.
- Spreading lies or rumors about someone.
- Tricking someone into revealing personal information or sending personal photos.
- Sending or forwarding malicious texts or emails.
- Posting pictures of someone without their permission.
- Threatening to physically harm someone or their family.
Ways to Stop Cyberbullying and Stay Safe Online
- Block all communication from the bully.
- Delete messages without opening and reading.
- Talk with a friend or a trusted adult about the bullying taking place.
- Report the bullying communication to the Internet Service Provider or email provider.
- Refuse to forward or pass on bullying texts or emails.
- Tell the bully to stop.
- Talk to parents.
- Never share your passwords with anyone except your parents.
- Never meet someone from online face-to-face.
- Never post personal information about yourself online (i.e. – birthday, phone number, the school you attend, etc.).
Children need to feel safe enough to approach parents and teachers with incidences of bullying. Talking with them before it happens and letting them know that you support them, can go a long way toward building that trusting relationship. Do not let the school year pass without giving your students the information that they need to stay safe.
Additional Online Resources:
www.wiredsafety.org – Information for parents, teachers and community leaders
www.stopcyberbullying.org – Information aimed at students
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