Bullying in and out of school is not a new problem. And not all of it is in the playground scuffles of old. With the rise of technology and the age of social media, it’s becoming more difficult to identify and resolve the different forms that bullying now takes.
Over half of 12 – 15 year olds in the UK have faced some form of bullying over the last year, including cyberbullying. The National Centre for Social Research has found that 47% of young people have reported being bullied by the age of 14. The same study shows that in that same age group, girls are more likely to be bullied, than boys.
Part of our job as professionals in the education world has always been to combat the ever-changing battleground of bullying, from face-to-face confrontations to cyber attacks on social media and viral videos. There is no doubt that in a teaching job you will face bullying, online and offline, and great teachers and schools are developing ways to effectively support young people and tackle bullying.
What is cyber bullying?
Cyberbullying can happen on any digital devices like phones, computers, and tablets often through social media platforms, text and instant messaging apps, like Whatsapp or Messenger, online gaming communities, and online forums, such as Reddit.
Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing harmful or false content about someone else, and can include sharing personal or private information that causes embarrassment or humiliation.
Much like physical bullying, cyber bullying has definite signs that can be seen and prevented. However, given the private nature of many aspects of the online world, others aren’t so easy to prevent. Signs of physical bullying such as belongings getting ‘lost’ or damaged, physical injuries, and poor attendance or results at school are often easier to detect than the emotional damages cyber bullying can cause, like low self esteem, personality changes, or a refusing to let others see personal devices.
According to the Office of National Statistics, around one in five young people aged 10 to 15 years in England and Wales have experienced at least one type of online bullying behaviour in the year ending March 2020, which equals to 764,000 students.
At the same time young people are spending more time online than ever before. Research company CHILDWISE found that between September and November of 2020, children between the ages of 7 and 16 estimated that they were spending an average of three hours and 48 minutes online each day, with these figures increases the older the young person gets.
While social media gets a bad rap for a lot of cyberbullying, some platforms are finding ways to combat it and use their networks to help those suffering. Sites like TikTok have opened up a whole new avenue of mental health awareness and help pages that people can access. People like Dr. Julie Smith, a clinical psychologist, posts ‘Tips From Therapy’ and ‘Things People Learn in Therapy’ content on their page, and Dr. Melissa Shepard making sense of youth depression with their videos about recognizing the signs of depression so you can seek early treatment, derealisation, and parental misconceptions about childhood depression symptoms (and what they mean).
What can a teacher do?
There is no one simple solution to preventing bullying which suits all schools. The most successful schools tend to be those where attitudes about bullying are openly discussed and where preventative measures have been agreed by the whole school. Most schools strive for a supportive culture, with an emphasis on shared responsibility and importance is placed on respecting everyone’s rights within the community. It is part of your teaching job to create an open and inclusive culture where everyone feels comfortable to speak up.
Listening to the children in your care and acting on what is said, is key. It’s also important to check up on whether current practices are making a difference to the emotional and physical wellbeing of an individual student, a group, class, school and even the wider community. Alongside zero tolerance bullying policies setting up reporting, listening and intervention systems can make for a more structured way of logging bullying. But it is also key to be flexible and put the student needs first.
There are so many online guides and toolkits out there such as London Gov’s guidance, Teachers Toolkit, and Young Minds resources. There is also lots of guidance on how we can combat the amount of online cyberbullying happening both in and outside schools on TikTok and Instagram, and the Anti-Bullying Alliances has ten key principles that set out the basics of preventions as well as their vast toolkits and information on combatting bullying in a wide variety of environments.
Bullying isn’t new. It has just morphed to a new area. It’s up to great teachers to continue to challenge it so that no student is harmed.
Have you helped tackle cyber bullying at your school? We’d love to hear how.