Cyberbullying: What can be done?
Cyberbullying is one of the fastest growing issues that children experience today. In 2016 approximately one third of middle and high school students reported that they have been a victim of cyberbullying (Fowler, 2018). Our society is so dependent upon technology that this should not be shocking. Children are connected to their phones, iPads, iPhones, and other devices that they are almost always connected to social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat and other messenger services. For these children there is really no escape from the dark side of the internet where their bullies can always connect with them. Cyberbullying has been called an ‘epidemic’ by the mainstream media. What can parents, guardians, school administrators, teachers and even the websites themselves do to combat this apparent epidemic?
The current First Lady of the United States created a ‘Be Best’ initiative that focuses on well- being, social media use, and the current opioid crisis (whitehouse.org). A part of this initiative, social media use, will have a focus on polite and respectful behaviors taught at an early age (whitehouse.org). This initiative is a start to continuing the conversation, but it is doubtful it will have an impact. Currently there is a school curriculum, that approximately half of US schools are using, that was created by a nonprofit to combat cyberbullying (Fowler, 2018). This curriculum is a digital citizenship course that focuses on keeping certain information private, using the internet safely, and being a good citizen while online. This curriculum is initiated in kindergarten and follows the students into high school. In Finland, there is a national anti-bullying campaign that focuses on increasing the empathy of bystanders. Finland’s program teaches kids through role-playing and computer simulations how to intercede to reduce bullying with their peers (Fowler, 2018). The program is teaching the children of Finland, “see something; say something” All of this is a great start and possible examples for the US and our own cyberbullying issues. The sad part about cyberbullying is that many adults are the culprits behind the keyboards. Of course, children are mean and rude to each other but sometimes adults do not realize that the other person is a child. As a society, adults need to be better models of behavior for the children who are watching, listening and modeling those adults who are closest to them.
Unless they are a cyber-guru, most parents struggle to keep up with new and upcoming apps (applications like Twitter, Facebook, etc.) that their children are using. Parents also cannot take the stance that this behavior is normal or just a part of growing up. In a recent study, parents were found to show that they believe their children, compared to other children, were not likely to be affected by things that they are exposed to on TV and the internet (Eckstein, 2012). Parents have the belief that their child is above others. Unfortunately, no child is immune to bullying, traditional or online. When on the internet most, if not all, websites that have comment sections or the ability to ‘chat’ with other members, have ‘bully- reporting’ tools and guidelines for their users. Every State, for about the last decade, also has their own laws and/or policies against bullying (Fowler, 2018). Cyberbullying can happen quickly and aggressively, often happening outside of school consequently making it difficult for schools to monitor (Yang, Stewart, Kim, ; et al, 2017). All the blame cannot be placed on just the adults, many kids do not know or understand the line between bullying and being rude (Fowler, 2018).
Aside from the First Lady’s initiative and schools teaching good online citizenship, the federal government was, at one point, also proposing legislation to battle cyberbullying (Stanbrook, 2014). Fortunately, the federal government cannot silence the First Amendment of the Constitution unless the bullying crosses into the muddy waters of discriminatory harassment. Discrimination is also a fine line that bullying can play into if gone too far and on a repeated basis. How does society police this, though? Should we allow the government to be interfering on everyday conversations? Who and what decides what is just rude conversation, bullying, or harassment? How does anyone fully understand a text or tweet where sarcasm and jokes can be obscure? Where would the line be draw? This situation has more questions than answers.
Right now, there is not one teaching tool, program, or initiative that has shown improvement with cyberbullying. Schools, parents, and caregivers need to continue to play active roles against all bullying, traditional and on the web. Through education, prevention, monitoring, and enforcement hopefully at some point soon there will be change. However, parents must be vigilant on what activities and behaviors their children are participating in online. Parents cannot shrug off their children’s behaviors online, especially if they are mean-spirited. Adults with children in their lives need to be quick to identify and address these bad behaviors (Stanbrook, 2014). Social media and internet companies also need to be able to play a more active role in stopping cyberbullying.