How to explain (and prevent!) cyberbullying

The term cyberbullying seems to be everywhere these days, from the news to concerns from parents. Cyberbullying happens when a student (or an adult) writes or posts mean things about another person using electronic devices. Cyberbullying can take the form of text messages, social media posts, or embarrassing photos or videos.

Why should we be concerned about cyberbullying? In contrast to the bullying of the past, cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day. Students aren’t safe at home or when they’re alone. Cyberbullying can happen anonymously and information can spread quickly throughout a school. In 2013, a CDC survey found that 15% of high school students reported being bullied electronically. Broken down by gender, 21% of female students reported online harassment, compared to only 8.5% of male students. And remember, those numbers are only the students who felt comfortable reporting the abuse.

How to Prevent it

  • Have clear school rules about technology use and bullying. Without rules, it can be difficult to punish offenders.
  • Encourage students to think before posting something online. Would they say that comment to the person’s face? Would they want strangers to see it?
  • Remind students that a digital footprint can last forever. Will they want college admission officers or a future boss to reject them over mean tweets? (A recent survey found 77% of employers googled job applicants.)
  • Tell students to keep their passwords safe, and to change them often. Sharing passwords can result in abuse.
  • Talk about it! Students may not realize what they see as good-natured teasing is harming a peer. Check out these detailed lesson plans from Common Sense Media for grade-appropriate lessons and discussion topics.

If a student comes to you for help, show them how to make screenshots and note times of messages. Cyberbulling can create a hostile environment for students at school, even if it begins at home. Step in as needed to make all students feel safe among their peers.

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