What’s the cure for cyberbullying in schools?
Thursday, February 02, 2017
Most of us can probably recall someone who tried to bully us during our school days. Back then, bullying incidents occurred mostly in person, where they could be witnessed by others — maybe even teachers or administrators.
For today's students, it's not so simple. With the internet now woven into their social lives, they're susceptible to online bullying — cyberbullying — which has become more prevalent than ever.
Cyberbullying is similar to other types of bullying, except it takes place online and through text messages sent to cellphones, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. The perpetrators can be classmates, online acquaintances and even anonymous users, but most often they do know their victims.
Speaker and author Gabriella van Rij is on a mission to put a stop to cyberbullying.
"We lose children's lives because they read this stuff online, and they believe it and they feel so humiliated to a point of no return," van Rij said. "It's something no child should ever have to go through."
Cyberbullying messages and images can be distributed quickly and anonymously to a wide audience, and often it's difficult or near impossible to trace the source. So people are more likely to post or say things they would never have the courage to say in person, van Rij says.
"I always say to the students, read it out loud before you press that enter button. And if you're laughing, you know you can't put it there," she said. "Because usually you laugh at yourself and you go, that's mean."
According to a survey by the Cyberbullying Research Center, 38 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds said they had been bullied online in their lifetime. And a study published Jan. 30 in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that kids who are chronically bullied are more likely to score lower grades and tend to dislike school more than other students.
So why do students bully their peers?
It stems from the desire to be popular and gain affirmation by putting other students down, van Rij says. And most of that starts with their own insecurities.
"Each role we play, we get something out of it," she said. "The bully and the victim are mirror images of each other. The bully is as insecure as us."
It's important for students to understand they have the power to be an active witness and not just a bystander — and that's what can help stop the cyberbullying, van Rij says.
"People think you can't help someone online, but you can," she said.
To stop an online bully, the student should first write a comment or intervene online in some way to ask the bully to stop or delete the post, van Rij says. If that doesn't work, the student should tell an adult, who should report the incident to the student's school.
Additionally, parents can help stop cyberbullying before it even happens by talking to their kids, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. A few suggestions to teach kids include:
- Don’t respond to mean messages online from anyone. Instead, print it out and show it to an adult.
- Never open emails from someone you don't know.
- Always be as polite online as you are in person.
- Don't send messages when you're angry.
Additionally, parents should stay in the know about their children's online activities. For example, they should set up email and chat accounts with their children, and make sure they know the children's screennames and passwords.
But perhaps the most important change we can make to stop cyberbullying might also be the simplest: dare to be kind, says van Rij.
"It's your choice every day to get out of bed and say, 'I'm going to try to be kind, I'm going to try to help someone,'" she said. "Be the difference."
And that's something we can all do on a daily basis, she says.
"I'm talking about purposeful acts of kindness," she said. "Be kind — go out of your way to make it about them and not about you. Your life changes when you do it."
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