Sticks and stones may break my bones but Cyberbullying may break me

Children today are living and learning in a very different environment from when we grew up – digital advances and the development of virtual learning spaces both benefit and endangers today’s young people.

Focus on the harm it causes has revealed how young people’s wellbeing has become increasingly compromised with greater exposure to the risk of indecent behaviour, sharing of personal details and images with online contacts; stalking, sexual online contact and behaviour, online gambling and cyberbullying. (UNICEF, 2011).

Bullying in its simplest form has historically been an issue between young people; emotionally in the form of playground chants and malicious gossip to the more direct physical abuse. The greatest difference in today’s digital age are the mediums in which an individual can be bullied – all the traditional channels still exist and are exploited no doubt, but in addition there are mobile and online technologies that ensure that bullying is no longer reserved for school time only but is also continued into the home environment. Children are now also vulnerable to be taunted via email, twitter, Facebook, texts, online games amongst other shared social spaces.

Cyberbullying has become a sophisticated method of teasing peers – from Cyber ‘stalking’ the individual, posting hurtful comments on online chat rooms through to stealing the victim’s identity and posting a fake profile for all to see.

As teachers we are in a difficult situation, quite often the main bulk of the abuse happens outside of school hours and is not visible to the naked eye yet we can see that something is going on. Parents too will have noticed a change in behaviour. Intervening requires there to be a substantial support network in place for both victim and abuser as both quite often than not will have identified themselves in those particular roles. Young people will commonly downgrade the severity of the abuse from both sides and quite often than not the abuser was once a victim.

Advice guides schools to employ both rehabilitative and sanction-based approaches as well as developing educational programmes to educate young people about online protection, prevention and behaviour (Diana Award), but what does this mean and how do we know if we are having a positive effect? What measures are in place to assess our policies? Do we really understand the magnitude of 21st Century Bullying? What kind of support network is in place to deal with incidents such as Cyberbullying?

Find out more about Cyberbullying by visiting: http://www.swgfl.org.uk/Staying-Safe/For-Schools/Advice/Cyberbullying.

USEFUL LINKS

O2 - Keeping kids safe