Cyber-bullying is affecting children up and down the country. It's not just in secondary education, it starts at primary school level. And, it's not just at home, with an average of 65% of children owning a smartphone (*Internetmatters.org), cyberbullying is happening right now in our classrooms.
Reacting at the speed of social
Whether it's kittens, the newest meme or Beyonce's latest outfit, news spreads fast on social media. Cyber-bullying works just the same way. Very quickly a negative image about child, a video or comment can be shared, liked and spread to hundreds of students. It is vital that anyone working with children reacts with that same speed following being alerted to an incident.
Parents need to be informed as they may not yet be aware, as well as having the culprits identified. Similarly to how you would deal with bullying offline, it is a very sensitive matter. It's important that the child who is being bullied feels the support from teachers and understands that there is help.
It's more than a like
It's important to understand that something that may seem trivial to us, for example a "like" on a post, is more than just a like to many children. It's the confirmation that someone else agrees with the bully. The child affected will place a lot more emphasis on these than we as adults would. Unfortunately, likes are gathered fast and without much thought on social media. Any engagement on a post ensures amplification through the extended network.
We know that kids sometimes don't think through what it means to like, comment or share an opinion. It's important for them to learn online etiquette and how to think before you click.
As with most things, preventing the issue from occurring is the best mode of defence. We know social media is here to stay and how hard it is to enforce a no-phone ban. So when it comes to prevention we need to take it back into the real world.
Conversations about the etiquette of communicating online need to start in primary school classrooms. Just as children learn their please and thank you's, they must understand how to act online. Both parents and teachers play a part in this. It is a new topic for most of us.
Role plays, open discussions and working in small groups to tackle the subject can help:
● Open up positive discussion about sensitive topics
● Promote self awareness and awareness of others
● Build self-esteem and confidence
● Teach the importance of self reflection as a means of accessing progress
● Address fears of students
Books alone on the other hand are unlikely to have a positive preventative effect. This is not where social media happens. Engagement and buy-in from students must be found on their platforms and in their language.
To ensure preventative actions take hold, schools must make cyber-bullying part of the ongoing conversation in classrooms. Integration in subjects such as Citizenship, ICT and PSHE are only a few examples of subjects that lend themselves to talking about cyber-bullying. A once-off presentation or external speaker is simply not going to be enough to tackle the speed at which cyber-bullying is taking hold.
About the author:
Diarmuid Hudner is author of several anti-bullying books and CEO of CyberSmarties.com.
CyberSmarties.com is a free social network for primary schools that allows kids to use social media in a controlled, locked down, supervised and safe environment without the fear of harassment or cyber-bullying and uses behavioural technology to instil positive online behavioural habits.