Teachers and parents tackle cyber bullying
- Cyber bullying tends to be focused on students’ personal devices
- This makes it much harder to tackle than traditional bullying
- We explore how schools and parents should work together to tackle the problem
Cyber bullying continues to present a tough challenge for schools. It is much harder to tackle than traditional bullying, as it tends to stretch well beyond the playground and corridors, and the term itself is imprecise – referring to everything from threats to abusive messages
Cyberbullying presents a complex set of challenges for schools – and, with no official statistics, it’s almost impossible to quantify.
These days bullying usually happens on students’ personal devices, which are difficult to monitor – a problem made worse by the fact that technology is developing so quickly it’s tough to know what the next platform or medium for abuse might be.
Cyberbullying is an issue on which schools and parents must work together. Parental engagement is at the core of a school’s response – and the need to constructively support parents around this difficult topic is important.
Cyberbullying – prevention and education
“We see parents as partners in their child’s education, and want things to be open so that they can talk to us if there’s a problem,” says Jo Hellman, a primary school deputy headteacher. “Equally, if we have identified a bullying issue, we need their support to help stop it.”
Hellman believes cyberbullying can be tackled by educating young people and their parents/carers on positive uses of technology.
“Banning phones doesn’t solve the problem,” she says. “In our computing lessons, we inform children about how they can independently use technology while staying safe.”
By showing students how to use the internet, apps and emails to research homework and ask teachers and peers questions, schools can empower young people.
Charlotte Palmer, a primary school teacher, also believes that setting out guidelines to teachers, parents and students from day one can prevent cyberbullying. “Our policy is written every year by staff,” she says. “We attend annual training on e-safety where we learn about the new technology and concerns. Parents are also asked to sign a copy of our e-policy agreement.”
Instead of administering school rules through enforcement, this approach is consensual, creating a dialogue with teachers, pupils and parents/carers so that their approach is decided by the whole school community. By integrating internet safety into information technology (IT) lessons, Palmer’s school also plays an important role in safeguarding students’ wellbeing throughout their education.
How should schools respond?
Having a reporting system to deal with cyberbullying is a first step in responding to it – and that includes maintaining an open dialogue with parents and caregivers. “We provide school forums for parents so they can talk about worries,” says sixth form leader Jane Smith.
“It gives them confidence to talk to their children about these issues and helps them be aware of the signs of bullying. The aim is to make everyone aware of the problem, and support them by giving them information.”
While all members of the school community should be informed about the problem, it can help to have one member of staff that’s responsible for it so that they can provide appropriate support.
“As the personal, social, health and education (PSHE) coordinator for my school, I’m also responsible for recording and dealing with all instances of bullying – including cyber,” says Jo Hellman.
“Normally, teachers will be alerted either by the parent or child. They then inform me so I can give them advice and information. In serious incidents, I’ll deal with it myself, and this usually involves speaking to all children involved, and then contacting all parents.”
When investigating incidents, staff should listen to all parties involved and gather as much evidence as possible before talking to parents.
“We try to get a full picture of the incident by taking statements prior to contacting parents,” says secondary school teacher Paul Donaldson. “Parents are understandably naturally defensive of their children, which is why it is important to impartially gather details before any decision about sanctions, such as exclusions, are made.”
Working together to reduce the risk of bullying
Robust risk management and planning are proactive ways schools can reduce the threat of bullying.
In instances of severe bullying, students and parents can be referred to counsellors or social workers, and those relating to hate crimes should be reported to the police.
“When harmful content has been posted online, service providers and social networks will often remove the worst of it,” adds Jane Smith.
The 2011 Education Act also includes the power for schools to delete content in certain instances, such as when an abusive or offensive message or image is distributed via text message, email or apps such as Instagram.
The UK Safer Internet Centre can provide legal advice about when to intervene in such instances; it can also help schools contact providers and online platforms when attempting to remove offensive content.
Despite the complexity of the issue, Smith believes that staying alert to signs of cyberbullying comes down old fashioned observation, something teachers and parents can certainly work together on.
“Students who are being bullied can react in different ways,” she says. “Sometimes they become quieter, sometimes their works suffers, and sometimes their attendance decreases. However, if you’ve spent time getting to know your class, you should be able to recognise if something’s not right.”