Hi everybody! Today is very exciting because guest blogger Amanda Ronan from Teach.com will be sharing her ideas for school counselors to prevent and handle cyberbullying in schools. You can read her contribution below 🙂
What School Counselors Can Do About Cyberbullying
Bullying has always been a topic of concern among educatiors and is especially troubling for school counselors who are often charged with dealing with the after-effects of the teasing and taunting. Traditional bullying includes things like physical assault, threatening, exclusion, and rumor-spreading. With the modern prevalence of technology, many of those same bullying events have found their way online as cyberbullying.
Cyberbullies torment and threaten their victims via social media, text messages, email, and other online forms of communication. They post fake images and spread rumors about their victims, who are usually excluded from group communications. Cyberbullies often create fake accounts and impersonate their victim. With this account, the bully posts mean things about other people or shares information meant to shame or embarrass the victim. Sometimes these aggressions are done anonymously. Other times, the person doing the cyberbullying is well-known by the victim and peers alike.
Dealing with cyberbullying is a challenge for schools. The bullying events often take place outside of school hours using computer and devices that are not school property. But the effects of cyberbullying most definitely impact students’ school experiences. So, while you may not personally witness the bullying, as a school counselor or educator, you are very likely to see the emotional and mental aftermath of cyberbullying.
Teachers need help supporting their students who are victims, as well as perpetrators of bullying. Administrators need advice about what sorts of school rules need to be in place around the issue of cyberbullying. The school counselor is a great person to provide support and information about how schools should react to cyberbullying and proactively try to stop it. Here are a few ways counselors can help combat cyberbullying.
Teach digital citizenship.
Teaching digital citizenship will help students better navigate in the world online. A strong digital citizenship curriculum includes information about being safe on the Internet. It teaches students about maintaining privacy and understanding scams and phishing. The curriculum should explain to students how to communicate with others in respectful ways, noting that sometimes it’s best to say nothing or not leave a comment. Students should also consider what they leave behind as a digital footprint. One important part of teaching digital citizenship is to emphasize the fact that once something is published online, it is nearly impossible to make it disappear completely. Warn your students againt sending sensitive information or images electronically. These things can come back to haunt them years in the future.
Help and be an advocate.
When you are aware of a cyberbullying situation, the best reaction you can have is to listen carefully. If students think they will be punished for what they share, you will lose their trust. Students who are victims of cyberbullying need support and understanding. You should take the time to counsel them and find ways to help them additional support if needed. You might team up with another trusted adult, such as the student’s advisor. In addition, the person who is doing the bullying needs to be educated about what they’re doing and why it’s wrong. An immediate punishment without help them to understand why they’re engaged in these relational aggressions will not help change the situation.
Update the code of conduct.
If your school’s code of conduct does not already include points about cyberbullying, you should work with the administration get the document updated. As a school counselor, you are the resident expert in students’ social and emotional growth. The code of conduct is the definition of expected behaviors for every stakeholder at the school. While cyberbullying may not take place on campus, it affects student behavior and student achievement at school, so it needs to be addressed in formal ways.
Keep an eye on emotions and relationships.
You may not work with every student every day, so you need to help teachers become more aware of the emotions and relationships happening in their classes. Often there are subtle changes in the way students relate to each other when cyber bullying is going on. For example, a normally popular student might be sitting away from the group, or a quieter student might seem even more timid. If teachers just listen to the conversations their students are having coming into or leaving class, they may hear about what’s going on online.
Encourage students to report cyberbullying.
No matter the cyberbullying or digital literacy curriculum your school uses, the number one emphasis for students needs to be to not let things go unreported. This can be difficult for students who don’t want to be seen as “snitches,” but bystanders stepping in is often the only way bullying will cease. Teach students how to find the inner strength to stick up for others and to call out bullies. In addition, you can implement an anonymous reporting program so that students can let you know what they’ve seen or heard in a way they feel comfortable.
Help parents set limits on tech.
Parents need help and guidance understanding the online environment in terms of cyberbullying. Most of the parents that you’re working with today did not grow up in an online environment and so don’t know how to translate the school yard bullying to what’s happening on the Internet. Hold a parent information night, and emphasize the need for parents to set limits on tech usage at home, especially if that time is generally unsupervised.
Build a cohesive, supportive community.
A strong school community with a supportive culture is a great way to keep cyberbullying at bay. When students at school are required to work together in meaningful ways, they get to know each other as people. Collaborative and supportive work helps students develop empathy for others that they might not normally spend time with. Train teachers in social and emotional relationship building programs and activities that they can do in their classrooms on regular basis. As a school counselor, you may need to constantly remind teachers to include this time and remind them why it’s so valuable. They feel the burden of the lack of time teaching content as it is, so give as much support in the classroom as possible.
Know your obligations under state’s anti-bullying laws.
Many states have begun to draft anti-bullying laws. These laws outline the definition of bullying and the expected response by schools and administrators. Counselors and teachers are also held accountable for reporting issues that they observe or that are reported to them. Be sure that your staff development includes training teachers in understanding what their responsibilities are. It’s also important to understand, as a counselor, what your responsibilities are and if they’re any different than the classroom teacher.
School counselors have the training and understanding to help make schools feel safe and supportive. You can create anti-bullying programs that address online incidents, help students feel comfortable discussing what’s happening online, and make sure your school has a clear plan in place to deal with cyberbullying.
Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs occasionally for Teach.com, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children’s fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.