Cyberbullying requires community response

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From the School Board with Adam Davies

‘Few online issues have captured the public's attention more than cyberbullying.’  So wrote Valerie Steeves in the recently released report titled Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Cyberbullying: Dealing with Online Meanness, Cruelty and Threats (published by MediaSmarts, available online at mediasmarts.ca/ycww/cyberbullying-dealing-online-meanness-cruelty-threats).

Her report was not an exhaustive analysis of the topic. Instead it was ‘a snapshot of the kinds of behaviours young people find upsetting and the types of strategies they use to respond to them.’  Steeves was careful to provide a broad definition of the term cyberbullying, describing it as a range of behaviours from name calling (‘mean and cruel behaviour’) to criminal harassment (‘threats’).  The data was collected in 2013 from 5,436 students in grades 4 to 11. There was participation from 140 schools across the country; surveys were provided in paper and electronic formats; respondents self-identified and self-reported; and analysis was done on a question by question basis, thus the results are based on the number of respondents who completed each question and not the total number who completed the survey.

To my mind the most interesting part of the report was the section titled ‘Rules and Attitudes about Cyberbulling in School and at Home’.  According to the survey only 62% of student respondents knew their schools had rules in place to deal with cyberbullying. This suggested there was ‘very little correlation’ between rules at school and a student's ‘meanness or threatening behaviour’ online, and as Steeves concluded ‘school rules have very little impact on student behaviour’ in regard to online activities. The data clearly indicated that school rules and policies regarding cyberbullying were ineffective. The number of respondents who agreed that such rules were ‘often’ helpful was over 60% in Grade 4 but fell to only 17% in Grade 11. To quote Steeves, this ‘ambivalence towards schools rules may in part be a reflection of students’ perceptions that adults are overly sensitive to their interactions and have trouble identifying bullying when it occurs.’  Seventy-six percent of all respondents agreed with the statement ‘Sometimes parents or teachers call it bullying when kids are really just joking around’, and interestingly 80% of the respondents who self-identified themselves as recipients of mean/cruel or threatening behaviour agreed with that statement.

This is not to say that schools have no role to play. Sixty-two percent of students indicated that teachers were the leading source of information on how to deal with cyberbullying, even though they were amongst the last people they would turn to when in trouble (teachers were ‘the least likely adults that students will approach for help, other than police officers’), and teachers remained the leading source of information from grade 5 through to grade 11. Parents were the leading source of information on how to deal with cyberbullying only in Grade 4, and afterward their number declined whilst that of ‘friends’ and ‘online reading’ about cyberbullying increased.

The important role for parents was found elsewhere.  The data indicated that students who have ‘a rule at home that you must treat people online with respect correlates with lower levels of mean and threatening behaviour’.  In her analysis Steeves found that students who had no rules at home about treating people with respect online were ‘59% more likely to be mean or cruel than students with rules’ and ‘twice as likely to make threats’ online.

This report is a clarion call to abandon the older policies of ‘monitoring young people's communications and applying zero tolerance policies in schools’ and to move toward a more practical solution whereby young people are provided with ‘the skills they need to build healthy relationships and understand the ways that technology can shape their communications.’  It seems cyberbullying must fall under the ‘watchful eyes of parents and teachers’ and so there is a crucial need for schools and parents to work together to develop rules about proper online activity for students.

 

Adam Davies is a member of the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board.

 

Organizations: Central Regional School Board

Geographic location: Chignecto

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