By Shanda Salvant Theriot
Do you remember how old you were when you received your first smartphone or personal electronic device to access the world wide web, gaining access to thousands of apps and numerous social media sites? For me, it wasn’t until my junior year in high school; however, according to a survey conducted by Common Sense Media, a little over half (53%) of children in the United States, now own a smartphone by the age of 11 (Kamenetz, 2019). Looking back as an educator and parent, things have definitely changed!
Although the Internet has proven to be very beneficial when it comes to communicating information remotely, it also presents some serious risks for our students, especially with access to so many apps and information at such a young age. One serious risk impacting students, families, and educators is cyberbullying. In recent times, as schools across the country transitioned to distance learning due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, very young kids were suddenly provided access to smartphones and electronic devices. Some have received only limited training on cyberbullying prevention, contributing to a significant increase in virtual bullying. This article includes four tips to help prevent bullying issues that can carry over into the classroom.
- Promote open communication.
Having open lines of communication and conducting frequent check-ins can help prevent bullying in schools (Wilbon, 2020). Schedule time during the school day to chat with your students so they know you genuinely care and that they can count on you to listen and address their concerns. Before school and during lunch and recess are great times to spend 1–2 minutes to check-in with students one-on-one. These check-ins are especially helpful when students return to school from holiday breaks and long weekends, when they’ve had additional time to engage with friends electronically. Ask questions, such as “How’s it going?” or “How was your weekend?” These small conversations not only help teachers identify and address issues, but over time will help build strong, trusting relationships with students.
- Educate students.
Educating students about safe technology use and healthy relationships has proven to be effective in schools (Broll & Huey, 2015). Prior to distributing electronic devices to students, take time to review the school’s anti-bullying policy. Providing students an opportunity to role-play various scenarios can also help them understand the impact of their actions on others when they fail to adhere to the policy, as well as teach others what to do as witnesses to such actions.
- Allow for anonymous reporting.
Anonymous reporting of bullying is critical to both the victim and the witness when reporting an incident. Placing a small bin in the back of the classroom or near the teacher’s desk can allow students to report incidents without fear of being observed by others, and it decreases concerns about the possibility of retaliation from bullies. Another option is to allow students to email their concerns. Be sure to check bins and email daily so that issues are addressed in a timely manner—without bringing attention to the reporter.
- Take the pledge.
Students need to know that bullying is a serious matter, and they play a major role in helping to ensure a safe and positive learning environment where bullying is not tolerated. One way to have students accept responsibility is by having them take the pledge to be “Bully-Free!” Purchase or create certificates and post the signed certificates where everyone can view them. The posted certificates will also serve as a reminder to students of their pledge against bullying!
Bullying is a serious issue affecting students in school communities across the country. According to Bark Data (2017), 57% of tweens and 66% of teens experienced cyberbullying as a bully, victim, or witness in 2017. Just 3 years later, in 2020, 76.7% of tweens and 82% of teens reported experiencing cyberbullying as a bully, victim, or witness (Bark, 2020).
Being proactive is key to preventing bullying in the classroom. Help prevent cyberbullying by promoting open communication, educating students on safe technology use and healthy relationships, allowing opportunities for students to anonymously report bullying issues, and pledging to do their part to create a bully-free classroom. As you kick off this upcoming school year, I invite you to help prevent bullying by incorporating these helpful tools!
Mrs. Theriot is a doctoral student at Xavier University. Her overarching research interest is focused on the effects of cyberbullying as it relates to current laws and policies. She also serves as principal at a private school in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Bark. (2017). Children and teen cyber fact sheet. https://www.bark.us/studies/2017-annual-data.pdf
Bark. (2020). Bark’s 2020 annual report: Research on children and technology. https://www.bark.us/annual-report-2020
Broll, R., & Huey, L. (2015). “Just being mean to somebody isn’t a police matter”: Police perspectives on policing cyberbullying. Journal of School Violence, 14(2), 155–176. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.1080/15388220.2013.879367
Kamenetz, A. (2019, October 31). It’s a smartphone life: More than half of U.S. children now have one. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/10/31/774838891/its-a-smartphone-life-more-than-half-of-u-s-children-now-have-one