We’ve all seen that scene in a movie where a kid comes sprinting down his street, pursued by a snarling bully. Just as the bigger, meaner kid reaches out to grab our hero’s arm, he slips inside his house and slams the front door, safe.
That’s the 20th-century version of bullying, where the threats were physical and home was a refuge. Today’s always-connected kids can’t just run inside their homes and feel protected, because cyberbullying goes wherever their phones, tablets or laptops do—and it can happen any time of day or night. While parents could assume that their digital-native kids know how to take care of themselves online, that’s not necessarily true: 39% percent of kids don’t enable their privacy settings on social media.
How big a problem is cyberbullying? According to CompariTech, almost 34% of students say that they have been bullied online. In a decade-long Florida Atlantic University study of 20,000 middle and high school students, 70% of students reported that someone had spread rumors about them online. About 64% of those who had been cyberbullied reported that it negatively impacted not only their feelings of safety but also their ability to learn at school.
While victims of cyberbullying are more likely to exhibit self-harming or even suicidal behavior, the perpetrators might actually see social rewards for their behavior: One study found that adolescents who engage in cyberbullying are more likely to be perceived as “popular” by their peers. As some students see themselves victimized and their bullies valorized, it’s no wonder that bullying increases absenteeism, which in turn widens achievement gaps at every level of education.
So, what can schools do to fight the scourge of cyberbullying? Like so many aspects of K-12 education, the solution starts with comprehensive and ongoing professional development. StopBullying.gov has a page of helpful steps and resources for educators, including links to relevant anti-bullying laws as well as training modules for both classroom teachers and bus drivers. Teachers might also point their classes to Delete Cyberbullying, where the homepage lays out simple steps that students can take to protect themselves and others from harassment online.
When it comes to technological solutions to student safety, solutions like Gaggle Safety Management provide schools and districts with early detection of cyberbullying and follow a student’s device. Although today’s bullying might follow kids into their living rooms and bedrooms, their schools can offer them a virtual door to slam in the face of cyberbullies, making home the refuge that it once was and always should be.