Reduce Cyberbullying through Climate Control
Sameer Hinduja & Justin W. Patchin
typically refers to incidents of students harassing, threatening, humiliating, or otherwise hassling their peers through malicious instant messages, cell phone text messages, web pages, or postings on online social networking sites. About 20% of the more than 4,400 randomly selected 11- to 18-year-old students studied by the Cyberbullying Research Center in 2010 indicated they had been victims of cyberbullying at some point in their lives. About this same number admitted to cyberbullying others. Finally, about 10% of kids in this recent study said they had been both a target and an aggressor.
One way to combat cyberbullying is to create a positive school climate. The benefits of a positive school climate have been identified through much research as improved attendance, student achievement, perceived and actual campus safety, and other desirable student outcomes, along with decreased peer-on-peer bullying. The following are ways to foster a positive climate at your school:
- Constantly demonstrate emotional support, a warm and caring atmosphere, a strong focus on academics and learning, and encourage healthy self-esteem among students.
- Offer training workshops for staff to get them up to speed on the positive and negative uses of Facebook, YouTube, FormSpring, ChatRoulette, instant messaging programs, chat rooms, message boards, and cell phones.
- Hold assemblies for students that are relevant, hard-hitting, and meaningful, emphasizing that the vast majority of kids do the right thing with their computers and cell phones and that appropriate and wise Internet participation is the social norm. This should inspire the rest to "get on board."
- Use peer mentoring by having older students informally teach lessons and share learning experiences with younger students to promote positive online interactions.
- Establish clear rules about the use of the Internet, computers, and other electronic devices, making sure to cover online harassment. Post eye-catching signs or posters in school computer labs, hallways, and classrooms to remind students to use technology responsibly.
- Create a formal behavioral contract specific to cyberbullying or introduce clauses within the formal "respect policy" or "honor code" that identify cyberbullying as inappropriate behavior. Do what you can to make sure this policy or honor code is viewed as sacred among students.
- Share important facts, reminders, and guidance about cyberbullying over the audio or video morning announcements on a weekly basis.
- Develop anonymous ways for students to report situations or incidents that may weaken the school climate (cyberbullying and other forms of harassment). Post a web form on the school's web page, create an e-mail account where messages are forwarded to the counselor or assistant principal, or provide a cell phone number to which students can text their concerns.
- Develop a website, blog, Facebook group, or Twitter page for parents and students to further inform them about your school's position and how you will respond to incidents. Send out news, reminders, and links to stories involving appropriate and inappropriate online communications among young adolescents to keep these issues in the forefront of their minds and reinforce them as priority issues for your school.
- Motivate students to initiate an anti-cyberbullying awareness or pledge campaign. Let them come up with a very cool and relevant design for their hard-hitting message, then approach local businesses and organizations to sponsor the production of T-shirts, buttons, pins, key chains, magnets, or bumper stickers to spread the word.
Cultivating a positive climate on campus will not only promote student achievement, success, and productivity, it will decrease peer harassment—online and offline.
Sameer Hinduja is an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University and Justin W. Patchin is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. They co-direct the Cyberbullying Research Center (www.cyberbullying.us), which provides many free downloadable resources to help deal with technology use and abuse among adolescents. They also hold workshops for educators, parents, and youth on identifying, preventing, and responding to cyberbullying.