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Guest Article: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying in Schools

Audrey Stokes | February 24, 2011

In this opinion article, Matt Levinson (author of From Fear to Facebook) shares Nueva Middle School’s journey toward embracing technology in the classroom.

When it comes to cyberbullying, issues that originate online often surface and play out at school. For this reason, schools need to create clear protocols for how and when to handle online transgressions that happen off campus. And parents need to understand the role of schools in helping their children and family figure out how to manage the home environment.

Cyberbullying is among the most perplexing issues that schools and families have to handle. Findings from a national study commissioned by reveal that parents want schools to take action when cyberbullying incidents happen. According to the study, 46% of parents feel that schools listen to reported incidents, but 19% feel that their child’s school is falling short in their duty to serve the needs of children and families.

It’s not a matter of pointing fingers as to which side is falling short — parents or schools. Through clear communication and by adopting both proactive and reactive strategies to addressing students’ digital lives, schools and parents can become partners in a process of helping kids overcome cyberbullying incidents.

If something happens in the home in the form of cyberbullying from a peer, parents should notify their child’s school right away. The school probably won’t have an immediate solution, but the notification starts an important dialogue between home and school, and parents and administrators can then work together to craft an appropriate response. And parents need to know whom to contact in schools: Is it the IT director, the principal, the school counselor, a teacher, or an advisor?

Schools, in turn, need to be prepared to address these issues with parents as they arise. Schools need to take the time, inside of each community, to figure out who on the school team is most comfortable on the front lines with parents to help have that initial conversation. After that, what are the steps that need to be taken to resolve the situation? What conversations need to happen with students? What programmatic or curricular pieces need to be implemented to launch the larger, longer-term work with students and their families?

This is of course the reactive phase. But what can schools do to address these issues proactively?

One successful place to start is with parent education programs. Educational sessions with parents can address challenging scenarios and give parents the language to talk with their children about appropriate boundaries. Also, parents — in hearing stories from other parents — realize that they’re not alone and have the resources and support of a community. Plus, schools can and should offer sessions that show parents how to set up their home environments with privacy settings and filters to stave off some of these issues before they arise. Every home is different, and these sessions should be optional. Schools should also make resources available to parents on their websites, at back-to-school nights, or via their newsletters so that parents who can’t attend events in person still get the information.

Schools may also choose to address digital citizenship directly with students. In terms of curriculum development, a key question is where to put digital citizenship. It can be implemented in advisory programs, media literacy classes, or social and emotional learning programs. It can also be woven into the fabric of each class where technology is being implemented. Anytime a research project comes into play, teachers can talk about source, bias, and credibility. With the use of blogs, wikis, or Ning, teachers can and should create agreements with students about appropriate use, tone, and content. In this way, students will learn responsible use and smart online behavior by enacting it within the classroom setting. When transgressions take place in the form of inappropriate posts or tone, teachers need to grab the teachable moment and work through the lessons of healthy digital conversation.

Perhaps most importantly, kids need to know that their teachers and parents or guardians are communicating and that all of the adults in their lives are supervising their behavior, both online and off. Adults need to be there for kids for guidance, support, and resolution, so that positive online culture starts to take hold.