Today, technology surrounds children everywhere. However, with the incredible blessings of the digital era — such as instant access to countless learning resources — comes a big problem: cyberbullying. School administrators can help teachers, students and parents prevent cyberbullying and protect the well-being of the school community.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is the use of electronic devices, cell phones, and social media as means of making fun of someone, hurting them, or sending them threatening messages. According to 2020 research by Patchin & Hinduja, one in five tweens (9-12 years old) has been cyberbullied, cyberbullied others, or seen cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying and offline bullying exist in tandem as 93% of those who experienced cyberbullying also experienced bullying at school. Statistically, bullying is the most reported discipline problem in public schools with most cyberbullying happening in middle schools, followed by high schools and elementary schools. The reasons for being bullied reported by students include physical appearance, disability, race/ethnicity, gender, religious views, and sexual orientation.

School Bullying

Effects of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying at school is a serious threat to a child’s well-being and can result in lower productivity, or even worse — dropping out of school. One study reported that 93% of cyberbullied students have experienced feelings of sadness, powerlessness, or hopelessness. Bullied children and youth can experience issues such as sleeping problems, headaches, stomachaches, and bedwetting.

Cyberbullying is even more dangerous because there is no break from it, as it continues outside of school hours when children are dealing with it on their own. In this case, it can make them feel lonely and increase the risk of suicide, according a study led by Gary Giumetti and Robin Kowalski in 2014.

In their study examining the incremental impact of cyberbullying over traditional bullying, Giumetti and Kowalski found that cyberbullying uniquely predicted academic problems such as greater absenteeism and poor grades in school (as well as increased depression, anxiety, and poor self-esteem) over and above traditional bullying.

Cyberbullying also tends to differ by gender. Girls were more likely to say someone spread rumors about them online while boys were more likely to say that someone threatened to hurt them online (Patchin et al., 2019).

Some groups tend to struggle with cyberbullying more than others. In 2018, 48.7% of LGBTQ students experienced cyberbullying and 34.8% missed at least one day of school in a month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable with 10.5% missing four or more days (Kosciw et al., 2018).

What Can School Administrators Do?

Nearly 46% of bullied students report notifying an adult at school about the incident, as reported by National Center for Educational Statistics in 2019. That puts school administrators in a position to intervene in bullying situations and promote healthy relationships. Principals, district-level administrators, superintendents and school board members can use research-based techniques to prevent cyberbullying.

Bullying interference

Recognize Symptoms that May Mean a Child is Being Bullied:

  • Physical injuries, headaches, or other physical symptoms that aren’t known medical conditions
  • Depression, anxiety, self-harming behavior (common for girls) and anger, aggression, and engagement in risky and impulsive behavior (more common for boys)
  • Desire to skip school or avoid school-related activities
    Saying things about life being meaningless
  • Losing interest in activities or games that previously gave them joy
  • Abruptly stop using their phone
  • A sudden drop of grades

Intervention Tips to Share with Teachers and Parents:

Sharon Padgett et al. identified the following intervention tips for children, teachers and parents:

  • Save the evidence: Print copies of messages and websites. For a first offense, if minor in nature, ignore, delete, or block the sender.
  • Reporting: If a face or offensive profile targeting your child is set up on a social networking site, report it to the site host.
  • Investigate: Monitor your child’s online presence.
  • Communicate: If the perpetrator is another student, share evidence with the school personnel.
  • Parental involvement: If the perpetrator is known and cyberbullying is continuing, contact the child’s parents and share your evidence.
  • Legal advice: If the parent of the perpetrator is unresponsive and the behavior continues, contact an attorney or seek legal advice.
  • Law enforcement: Report cyberbullying to the police.
  • Mental health support: If a child expresses emotional distress or thoughts of self-harm, seek help from a school counselor or other mental health professional immediately.

Here is also a quick Tip Sheet for school administration on cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying Prevention and Resources

A 2018 review showed that cyberbullying prevention programs reduce cyberbullying perpetration of approximately 10–15% and a reduction in cyberbullying victimization of approximately 14%. Key elements of such programs include efforts to enhance resilience and positive behaviors and not just focus on reducing bullying.

Parent teacher conference image

Research has shown that short-term, well-being awareness-raising events or brief assemblies about suicide and bullying are not effective; therefore, a long-term approach must be taken.

Incorporating a curriculum that combines in-class time to discuss cyberbullying and teaching more intensive life skills is very effective at reducing cyberbullying. It is important that students not only learn how to respond to cyberbullying, but also how to not become bullies themselves.

Choosing a CASEL-aligned life skills curriculum is one of the best ways to battle a problem like bullying and other social problems because it allows students to:

    • Know and manage themselves
    • Have more positive relationships with peers and adults
    • Understand perspectives of others and relate effectively with them
    • Increase self-confidence and develop a sense of purpose
    • Decrease risk-taking behavior
    • Develop skills needed for successful career, family/work balance and engaged citizenship (Jones et al. 2015)

Studies Weekly Well-Being was developed to teach these skills, and includes Digital Citizenship in Week 30. It lays a beautiful foundation for discussing cyberbullying because it frames digital interactions with a positive lens. It is important to teach students what appropriate behaviors and language are in an online setting and then give them a chance to practice.

The foundation for appropriate digital communication lies in:

    • Social Skills (Week 9)
    • Communication Skills (Week 12)
    • Demonstrating Respect (Week 31)
    • Asking for Help (Week 8)
    • Developing Coping Strategies (Week 24) in a real life context first

Then the transition to a digital learning environment is seamless. When students know that their interactions online should be consistent with their “real life” interactions, they know exactly what to do.

Our Digital Citizenship weekly unit also teaches students how to protect personal information and how to treat others with respect in a digital world.

Find out more about our PreK-6 SEL program to help your school district battle cyberbullying.

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