Cyberbullying occurs when someone is threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another person over the Internet, cell phones or other electronic devices. Research suggests that as many as 25 percent of children in the United States report have been subjected to cyberbullying. It can occur as a direct attack or by proxy. Direct attacks are messages sent directly to victim, whereas cyberbullying by proxy involves getting others to help with the bullying.
Cyberbullying includes playing tricks by pretending to be someone else, spreading rumors, forwarding malicious electronic messages, posting sexually explicit pictures or messages (sexting) without the consent of the targeted person. Many times, teens who cyberbully don’t think it’s a big deal. They are frequently encouraged by their friends who also think it’s just fun. They don’t expect to get caught or face any consequences for their actions.
Although it is difficult for school administrators and school resource officers (SROs) to successfully discipline students for cyberbullying that takes place off campus without being sued for exceeding their authority and violating the students’ rights, it is possible for schools to work together with law enforcement, students, parents and staff to address cyberbullying.
Local law enforcement and school resource officers (SROs) should become aware of these occurrences and address them proactively to prevent more dire situations that can result from cyberbullying such as suicides, retaliation or other acts of violence.
Here are a few keys to combating cyber bullying in your area:
- Educate – Students need to understand that cyberbullying IS a crime. After all, the acts that fall under the traditional definition of bullying are often prosecuted as harassment, theft, and assault. Many of the consequences are the same and cyberbullying can be just as harmful as some of these offenses. Once students start to think of cyberbullying as a crime, it may deter participation.
- Keep your eyes open – Law enforcement should take the initiative to talk with administration, staff and parents to help identify and address cases of cyberbullying early. Often, parents are not even aware of how their child may be using the home computer or their cell phone. It is the parents’ job to monitor their kids and to help thwart this kind of activity. School staff can report suspected incidences to SROs, giving them leads to investigate and the ability to intervene early.
- Open door policy – The school should maintain an “open door policy,” encouraging students to report abuses, whether they are the ones being bullied or they are aware of an incident. This is a great way for school administrators, SROs and, if warranted, law enforcement to become aware of cyberbullying activities and also enables them to intervene before situations escalate.
- Leverage social media – Depending on the social media site and the situation, SROs can open accounts under an alias to help monitor online activities. This is another way to increase awareness of cyberbullying activities.
With a proactive approach, cyberbullying can be addressed and minimized. There are resources available to assist students, schools and parents with this pervasive issue. The Cyberbullying Research Center is dedicated to providing up-to-date information about the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of cyberbullying among adolescents. The important thing is to take a proactive stance.
About the authors:
ROSALIND W. JACKSON is owner of Train Intervene PreventT, a consulting business that caters to proactive organizations focusing on workplace violence prevention strategies. She is production manager for the Security Executive Council, an organization that provides strategy, insight and resources to risk mitigation decision makers, and also serves as a source of information and support in matters involving workplace violence. Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.
JEFF FLORENO serves as director of security operations and strategy for Wren, providers of physical security solutions that create safe learning environments. Floreno directs new product development efforts and provides security expertise to Wren’s education customers. Floreno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Wren’s solutions, visit www.wrensolutions.com.
This article was also published on Wren’ School Safety Blog.