65% of year 4 students experienced covert bullying

It seems ironic that a young student in the USA, Jessica Barba, was recently suspended for highlighting the dangers and traumas that many students struggle with when they become the targets of cyber bullying.

What started out as a school assignment ended up as an online anti-bullying video which was so convincing it caused a stir among parents. Surely she should have been commended rather than suspended for highlighting this very real and growing problem in schools around the world.

Covert (hidden) bullying and cyber bullying is any form of aggressive behaviour that is repeated, intended to cause harm, characterised by an imbalance of power and is hidden from, or not seen by adults. It can include the spreading of rumors or attempts at socially excluding others by any form of new technology.

Susan McLean, cyber bullying expert and Generation Next speaker says

“Schools must embrace technology for the wonderful tool that it is, not dwell on the problem that it might become. Be proactive in all areas, educate your  whole community, students parents and staff and make sure that your policy documents are relevant, circulated to all members of the school community and are regularly updated. Students must be encouraged to come forward and report problems and breaches of policy must be dealt with sensitively and efficiently.”

So what can schools and parents do to help students deal with cyber bullying at school?

Whole school approach – Develop and implement a whole school approach which involves students, staff and parents. This will help everyone to understand, prevent and deal with bullying, including covert and cyber bullying.

Define the roles – Ensure the roles of parents, staff and students in preventing and dealing with cyber bullying are understood and followed. Provide continual support to staff and parents in their roles through facilitating ongoing access to training.

Changing technology – cyber bullying evolves, adapts and changes with the new advances in technology. Make sure that prevention policies and procedures are kept up to date. Involve the students as they are usually on the cutting edge of new technology and will know how cyber bullying is adapting to the changes.

Back to behaviour – Address the root causes of bullying and associated behavioural issues. Educate and empower students with knowledge of the causes and implications of bullying and the role of the peer group in encouraging or preventing bullying behaviours.

Banning doesn’t work – it has been found that banning students from using personal technologies does not reduce the incidents of cyber bullying, rather it is more likely to make the students reluctant to report bullying for fear of having their devices confiscated.

Safe space – Ensure school spaces where technology can be accessed are highly visible to staff.

Susan McLean, cyber bullying expert will be talking about Practical Strategies that can be used to combat cyber bullying at the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young People Seminars held around Australia by Generation Next. For details and registration go to Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: Australian Institute of Criminology. NBC New York.