More than 90 per cent of Australian teenagers own a smartphone 1 and even 67 per cent of primary-school-aged children own their own screen-based, mobile device ,2  With such pervasive use of technology in schools, it’s no surprise that bullying has spilled over from the schoolyard into cyberspace, with at least 15 per cent of secondary school students reporting experiencing cyberbullying one or more times in the previous four weeks. 3 This demonstrates that, while technology has solved many problems and increased effectiveness and efficiency in many areas, including teaching, cyberbullying is a pervasive threat that needs to be addressed, according to ESET.

Cyberbullying often starts at school and extends to the online world. Given the pervasiveness and complexity of technology, teachers often struggle to address these issues and, often, educational institutions believe that issues relating to the digital world are outside the school’s scope. However, online abuse and harassment can have a bigger impact on the students than in-person bullying, and educational institutions should teach their students how to handle situations like cyberbullying.

Nick FitzGerald, senior research fellow, ESET, said, “Everything on the internet can become more powerful. Feeling empowered and disinhibited by social media’s ability to reach huge numbers of people, online bullies can become bolder and more abusive as they feel egged on by the online mob. Therefore, online bullying can get out of hand very quickly, so young people need to know how to respond if they’re targeted by cyberbullies.”

ESET has identified four ways that schools and teachers can address and prevent cyberbullying:

1. Educate students to be good digital citizens
Education should be all encompassing and digital citizenship should not be left out of the curriculum. Today’s children will never know a world where lives aren’t lived online, so teaching them to be good digital citizens is just as important as learning how to be a good person in real life. When teaching kids about respect and social conventions, it’s important to include the realm of the internet and ensure that they are also taught how to behave and communicate through digital media.

2. Emphasise awareness over banning
While banning phones and other technological communication forms in school might fix the cyberbullying problem momentarily, it is a short-sighted solution. With students connected 24/7, cyberbullying can start to happen as soon as students are out the gate. A positive approach to technology can be more effective, and teachers could bring technology into the classroom to focus on its ethical use.

3. Support peers in reporting cyberbullying
The potential for retaliation often prevents bullying victims, and their peers, from speaking up. It’s essential to set a strong anti-bullying culture in schools that extends to cyberbullying. This should mean that students know they can safely report abuse to the school as well as to the online platforms themselves, and expect that appropriate steps will be taken.

4. Encourage open communication
It is important to remember that, while students know a lot about how technology is used and how it works, adults have more real-life experience. Students’ digital identities can essentially feel the same for them as their real-world identities so, if a student approaches a teacher or other responsible adult with an online problem, that adult needs to seek out ways to deal with it.

Nick FitzGerald said, “With this in mind, exploring topics like technological risks, safety on the internet, and appropriate online behaviour are vital to encouraging dialogue and ensuring that students know what to do and whom to go to for help when faced with cyberbullying.”

1 Roy Morgan, 2016
2 The Australian Child Health Poll 2017
3 NSW Department of Education survey: Tell Them From Me, 2018

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