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Cyberbullying - 21st Century Harassment

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
May 10, 2010

21st Century Harassment - Sent Electronically Yours

During most discussions of harassment and intimidation related to students, cyber-bullying is sure to be mentioned. And, while this hot topic may not be one of the most pressing problems facing  principals rest assured it will be one of the more troubling issues facing students.

For principals, there is not always a clear line of distrinction between whether or not this type of behavior is a school matter.  however, as a school administrator, there are things that can be done to help students, parents and staff understand individual responsibilities related to techno harassment.

Provide Parent, Student and Staff Education 

While most people have some knowledge of this topic, they sometimes underestimate the extent of a student’s involvement, or, when aware of the problem, may not know how best to help.

Through the use of parent education meetings, newsletters, staff development, student forums, faculty and student handbooks, and school newspapers, principals should provide the following information to students, staff, and parents:

  1. A definition of cyber-bullying - Cyber-bullying is often defined as using an electronic device to send damaging or hurtful messages about an individual with the intent to hurt a reputation or friendship with others.
  2. The venues for this destructive behavior– social networking sites, text messaging, emails and instant messaging - can all provide a ‘place’ for harassment. 
  3. The types of cyber-bullying – Provide information related to the various ways this behavior may manifest itself.
    • Flaming - online fights using electronic messages
    • Harassment - repeatedly sending insulting messages
    • Denigration - posting gossip or rumors
    • Impersonation - pretending to be someone else
    • Outing - sharing secrets or embarassing information
    • Cyber-stalking - repeated harassment or threats
    • Dissing - Using disrespectful language or tone
  4. Appropriate student responses to the behavior
  • Tell the harasser to stop - Send the perpetrators a private message or verbal warning to stop sending the messages or to remove the information from a website
  • Ignore the harassment - Although this is sometimes difficult to do, ignoring the harassment may take away the 'thrill' from some perpetrators
  • Have parents contact the parents of the bully - Although not a very popular idea with most adolescents, this strategy will work with some.
  • File a complaint with the website service – Most social networking services will have provisions for filing a complaint if material is considered libelous or hurtful to others.
  • Tell a trusted adult at school – There is merit in informing school officials of the behaviors occurring on and off campus. This allows personnel to closely monitor any negative interaction happening on campus or at a school sponsored event.
  • Contact the police or an attorney – Not all types of cyber-bullying are law violations, but sometimes they meet that threshold. Any type of threat of violence should be reported to the appropriate authorities. It begins a paper trail, and puts the perpetrator on notice to cease and desist.
  • Help friends – If you know someone is being victimized, make sure you don’t participate in the intimidating behavior, and be a friend to them in time of need.
  • Don’t react emotionally; react with dignity – Remember the real winner in this type of conflict is not the one that has the last word; it is the individual that keeps control of his emotions. “Getting even” is not an appropriate response

5.       Appropriate adults responses to the behavior

  • Recognize warning signs - There are a number of warning signs that may indicate cyber-bullying is occurring, i.e. sadness or anger during or after internet use, withdrawal from friends and activities, decline of grades, depression, wanting to dropout of school, suicidal thoughts, etc.
  • Beware of legal liabilities.  Remember adults may be held legally liable for the behavior of juveniles.  Parents and school officials need to carefully monitor the usage of electronic devices knowing they may be financially liable if harm or damage is done to others. 
  • Have conversations about social responsibility – Have a serious discussion related to social responsibility and what it means at school, home, and within the community. 
  • Include cyber-bullying and sexting in the student code of conduct – Make certain this offense is clearly defined with appropriate disciplinary consequences outlined in the document.
  • Notify law enforcement if a law violation is suspected – If the violation occurs through the use of school owned equipment or if it happens at a school event, school personnel should contact local authorities.

Remember, electronic harassment and intimidation can be detrimental a school’s educational climate. Disruptions, fights, and even extreme acts of violence may result when the problem is ignored.

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