We have seen the impact of cyber bullying on the lives of young people. Most of the emotional traumas endured by teenagers are linked to social interactions they have in school and extend to after-school hours over the Internet. Policies, guidelines and protocols will only be effective when parents coordinate with school authorities and work in tandem outside campus as well.
We live in an era of technological innovation. Everything is becoming digitized and technology has changed the way we see and do things. It is estimated that the current technologies we have will only represent about 1% of that which will be available in the year 2050. This makes dealing with technology related threats increasingly challenging. As technology has become fully integrated into the lives of young people, teenagers are becoming more addicted to the digital medium and are comfortable spending extended hours with digital devices and on the Internet.
The bullying that starts at school orally can follow a child or young person home through virtual means. The Internet provides people with virtual protection and anonymity, which may inspire confidence in some to be rude and offensive without fear of punishment. Schools have a wider and vital role to play in providing physical safety as well as online safety for students. The consequences of what teenagers do online has an impact upon their academic performance and hence the school. For instance, if a school student attempts a drastic or harmful measure on account of cyber bullying, the school administration will be accused of not providing safety and Internet guidance for students.
Now that some countries have declared cyber bullying as a punishable crime, we have to ensure that our schools take preventative measures against cyber bullying, rather than wait to react after an incident has occurred. Ideally, the school administration should have discussions with parents and educators on a regular basis to identify situations where students are prone to cyber bullying and other online threats. There are various signs to look out for and aspects to highlight:
- Student attendance records – to detect frequent absenteeism
- Student academic records – to detect decline in academic scores
- Observe their behavior on the playground – teasing, fights, and misunderstandings
- Student input on key interests and concerns
- Conduct open discussions among students to help them interact with school administration informally
- Student technical baseline – to assess their online knowledge
- Student online activity time – to know from parents the amount of time spent online and where
- Student online boundaries – to know extent of parental control
All of this input will help you understand your students better and also help you identify problems they face or might be prone to.
It is highly recommended that you convene a meeting with parents and conduct workshops and professional programs on cyber related threats. Share true incidents of cyber bullying and show how their involvement can make a difference in their children’s life. Get parents to join school initiatives to prevent cyber bullying. Work in collaboration with parents and have statements of agreement such as:
- We will supervise our children’s online activities.
- We will teach them to respect everyone online and in the real world.
- We will teach them to make friends with real people rather than exclusively virtual people.
- We will teach them never to meet an online friend in person without our knowledge.
- We will not allow underage children to access social networking sites.
- We will supervise their access to digital and media devices.
- We will learn more about computers so that we can enjoy life with our children.
- We will make sure that children feel comfortable sharing their concerns with us and will not over react if things go wrong.
- We will get to know their online friends the way we know their friends in real life.
- We will discuss safe cyber practices, help set up parental control software to control time, games and applications children use.
Encourage each parent to outline these safe cyber practices on paper and keep them beside the computer as a reminder.
Schools can also collaborate with external authorities and social activist groups and conduct anti-bullying workshops for students. These can include the following topics, among others:
- Helping students understand that cyber bullying is a serious threat
- Increasing awareness of right and wrong online practices
- Sharing true incidents of cyber bullying so that children learn how to respond
- Sharing disciplinary action outlined by the school against a cyber-bully
- Interviewing parents who have suffered due to their children being bullied
- Have activity based workshops on cyber bullying
- Require students to sign up for campaigns and take a stand against cyber bullying
Schools should become centers of service delivery, enabling enhanced collaboration among parents and experts and should help bring students and their caretakers together to combat cyber bullying.