By guest blogger Michelle R. Davis
As schools and districts start using more technology in their classrooms, cyberbullying continues to be ongoing problem for educators. But dealing with online negativity can be difficult and school officials are still determining how to navigate existing laws and school policies. An updated edition of “Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying” by Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin has recently been released, just in time for October’s national bullying prevention month. Hinduja and Patchin are also co-directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center.
Hinduja recently spoke with Education Week about the new information contained in the book. It was particularly important to update the publication, he said, because of the ever-changing nature of social media, student online habits, and the Internet itself.
MD: What’s new in this book for educators?
SH: Back in 2008 (when the last edition was published) we talked about Myspace, which is now completely irrelevant. In the new version we cover many social media sites and messaging apps including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Ask.fm, Yik Yak, and Kik. We also discuss gaming and cyberbullying. Students can be exposed to cyberbullying in gaming chats. We provide clear specifics on how to work with social media companies, Internet service providers and cellphone service providers to investigate and get things taken down. These companies have become much more responsive.
MD: The laws around cyberbullying and how and when educators are permitted to take action seem very complicated. How can educators figure this out?
SH: This area is always evolving. The book includes new discussions of court cases informing educators on when they can intervene. We go into search and seizure laws in great detail. What they need to know is written for a layperson, it’s not legalese. We look at online behavior off campus, portable devices on campus, and give specific ideas of what school policies should look like and how all of this relates to each state’s bullying laws. We look at the court cases coming down the pike and show when educators need to step in.
MD: Are there new approaches for schools and districts that you suggest in the book?
SH: We recommend that educators revisit their policies for portable devices on campus because they have historically been prohibitive. More schools are now being permissive, which is a great way to go. Kids are going to be using their devices even if there are rules in place against it. Instead of trying to control that, we should set a standard and believe that the students are going to do the right thing, while having policies in place if they don’t. Kids think adults are out of touch banning things that really can’t be banned. Also, the reality is that more and more curriculum is going to be delivered by technology and there are going to be more and more 1-to-1 programs out there. With all that, we need to embrace technology. I understand the importance of rules, but it’s not wise to have this coercive atmosphere where we constantly have to confiscate devices. We have sample policy language around this in the book.
MD: What are some other things educators need to think about when it comes to cyberbullying and schools?
SH: We have been focusing on the role of the school climate. When it improves, the result is increased academic achievement, lower absenteeism and fewer behavioral problems. It’s also highly relevant to online issues. Improved school climate promotes connectedness and belonging and a higher morale across the school.We have added a lot of best practices in the book. We tried to feature those educators who understand what cyberbullying is and know what to do to prevent it. We also discuss parents’ roles in this and students’ roles as well, including ideas to enlist students themselves as agents of change. We also reviewed programs, like PBIS (Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports) and the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, then recommend the best of the best based on research.
MD: Do educators need stricter policies in place around cyberbullying?
SH: Many times educators want to send a hard and fast message when it comes to cyberbullying and they feel the need to suspend or expel students. But sometimes they overstep their boundaries in terms of discipline and attorneys get involved and that can be disastrous. We advocate for creative sanctions, like taking away extracurricular activities for a few weeks. The vast majority of teens (who are cyberbullying) have just made a mistake, they’re responding spontaneously, they’re upset and emotional and they act out. We don’t want to label them a delinquent or criminalize it. These kids are completely redeemable. In some situations the penalties should be pretty strict, however, which might include cyberbullying based on sexual orientation, race, or gender, which in many places is a hate crime.
MD: How involved should students be in anti-cyberbullying efforts?
SH: Peer-to-peer initatives are important. Most kids are not going to be victims or bullies, but they will be bystanders. Enlisting kids to be agents of change, and helping them to push through their hesitation and fears and do so in a way that will lead to success is what we’re going for. Anonymous reporting systems can help. Kids in general are hesitant to talk to adults either because they’ll be labeled a tattletale or they don’t trust adults. But kids do want to speak out and come through for their friends.
Want more ed-tech news? Follow @EWmdavis on Twitter.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.