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Responding to cyberbullying: The top 10 tips for schools

One in five Australian students are victims of cyberbullying, and one in four reports of online harassment include “direct threats of violence or harm,” according to e-Safety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant. And the problem is becoming “more complex, urgent and serious” she told the National Press Club earlier this month.

That won’t come as news to teachers and administrators. The spike in bullying behaviour online has been one of the most disturbing unforeseen consequences of the BYOD revolution in today’s schools.

Despite the frustration, the majority of educators agree that blaming technology - and attempting to ban it from school grounds entirely - is a case of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. But the challenge remains. How to get the best out of classroom tech while minimising the worst?

Evidence-based strategies

The good news is that evidence-based strategies for dealing with the cyberbullying crisis are emerging. Two researchers whose work has been seminal are Dr. Sameer Hinduja, a professor in the School of Criminology  at Florida Atlantic University, and Dr. Justin W. Patchin, a professor of Criminal Justice in the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin. Together, they are co-direct the Cyberbullying Research Center (www.cyberbullying.org).

Hinduja and Patchin advocate placing “school climate,” or culture, at the centre of cyberbullying prevention. It’s an approach they out line in detail in books like School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time and Bullying Today: Bullet Points and Best Practices.

Top-10 Tips

But while prevention is better than cure, educators still need to know how to deal with incidents when they happen. Here are Hinduja and Patchin’s top-10 tips:


  1. Thoroughly investigate all incidents so you can direct resources and, if necessary, initiate disciplinary action to students who require it.
  2. Enlist the support of a school liaison officer or other member of law enforcement,  especially when behaviours include a possible threat to the safety of students or staff.
  3. Once you identify the offender, develop a response that is commensurate with the harm done and the disruption caused.
  4. Contact service providers if threats or explicit content (ie, sexting) are transmitted via phones. Providers keep data on their servers for a limited time that may be useful evidence.
  5. Instruct parents to contact a solicitor.  Some instances of cyberbullying just don’t fall under the school’s duty of care. In these cases, parents may want to pursue other, legal avenues. While not ideal, this is an option.
  6. Work with parents to convey to the student that cyberbullying behaviours are taken seriously and will not be tolerated whether they occur at school or not. Anything that disrupts the learning environment at school is subject to discipline.
  7. Keep all evidence of cyberbullying. Keep a file with screenshots, message logs, or any other evidence so that you can demonstrate the seriousness of the behaviour and its impact on the school. This is especially critical if you intend to formally discipline students (ie, suspension or expulsion).
  8. Contact and work with the website, game or app on which the abuse occurred. By now companies are used to working through cyberbullying cases and can be a resource to assist you in removing offending content,  gathering evidence, or putting you in touch with someone who can help.
  9. Use creative informal response strategies, particularly for relatively minor forms of cyberbullying that do not result in significant harm. For example, students may be required to create anti-cyberbullying posters to be displayed throughout the school. Older students might be required to give a brief presentation to younger students about the importance of using technology responsibly. It is important to condemn the behaviour while sending a message to the rest of the community that bullying in any form is wrong.
  10. Remember that the goal is to stop the bullying. This objective should guide your intervention efforts. Do whatever is necessary to stop the bullying. It might be a simple talk with the aggressor, or it might require a more significant response. Follow up to make sure the bullying has stopped. If not, pursue additional remedies until it does.

The digital learning revolution has created new opportunities and new challenges for schools. Family Zone Education Solutions takes a uniquely holistic approach to keeping students focused, safe and balanced online. To book a demo or learn more, visit familyzone.com/schools

Topics: Cyber Experts, Mobile Apps, Cyber Safety, cyberbullying, sexting, screens in school, BYOD

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