As students move more of their interactions to online spaces, we must prepare them to maintain appropriate interactions within those spaces, and identify and manage harmful interactions. Students have long been provided with safety, behavior, and social learning opportunities in school. A logical extension of these lessons reaches into their online behavior and activities. The reach of the lessons that we the teachers provide for our students goes far beyond the classroom and into their daily lives, much of which happens through digital platforms. Digital safety and citizenship, community building, and lessons on appropriate relationship development are key to the social and emotional wellbeing of our students.
Cyberbullying is one important component of digital citizenship and safety that students, parents, and teachers need to be keenly aware of. If unreported and not dealt with appropriately, cyberbullying can have devastating consequences to the emotional and physical wellbeing of its victims. Cyberbullying is defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other devices (Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W., 2015).” This bullying can be broken down into categories: flaming, harassment, denigration, impersonation, outing, trickery, exclusion, and cyberstalking (Siegle, D., 2010). Teaching students about the different types of cyberbullying gives them the vocabulary to identify, discuss, and report cyberbullying if it happens to them. It helps them identify the boundaries of what is appropriate behavior online. Having the vocabulary to communicate about cyberbullying is only one piece of the puzzle.
Comprehensive anti-bullying programs that dive deep into the culture of a school can promote a positive environment where the number of bullying incidents is reduced and a positive climate emerges (Ansary, N. S., et. al, 2015). According to Ansary’s research, a comprehensive anti-bullying program includes a number of different components, including promotion of positive school culture and climate, commitment to implementation with fidelity, clear response strategies, ongoing training for all faculty, students and staff, anti-bullying lessons/curriculum, and monitoring (2015).
One particularly dangerous realm of cyberbullying and cyber-crime occurs when children engage in bullying that involves the exchange or exposition of inappropriate pictures of other children. Although according to J. K. Mitchell, only a small percentage of students are engaging in this behavior, the severity of the act warrants attention (2012). It is important to instill in our students the potentially devastating consequences that engaging in these exchanges can have. Consequences can range from embarrassment, to criminal charges, to severe shame and trauma that leads to self-harm. Preventing these types of situations is in everyone’s best interest.
Setting our students and teachers up for success by developing a comprehensive and integrated digital citizenship, safety, and anti-bullying program is in the best interests of our school communities and the well-being of our students.
Ansary, N. S., Elias, M. J., Greene, M. B., & Green, S. (2015). Best practices to address or reduce bullying in schools. Kappan, 97(2), 30-35. Ansary_Elias_Greene_Green_Bullying.pdf
Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2015). Bullying beyond the schoolyard: Preventing and responding to cyperbullying. (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Mitchell, K. J., Finkelhor, D., Jones, L. M., & Wolak, J. (2012). Prevalence and characteristics of youth sexting: A national study. Pedatrics, 129, 13-20. Mitchell_Prevalence_&_Characteristics_of_Youth_Sexting_2012.pdf
Siegle, D.(2010). Cyberbullying and sexting: Technology abuses of the 21st century. Gifted Child Today, 32(2), 14-16, 65. Siegle_Cyberbullying_and_Sexting.pdf
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