Cybersafety, Cyberbullying and Digital Citizenship
Cyber safety and responsible use of digital technologies are very important at St Andrew's. Students are given instruction in their classes regarding these issues. Formal programmes on these are undertaken in Year 7 Tutor Groups and in Year 8 fortnightly class called Digital Citizenship.
It is important that while we have the tools to aid student learning, students use these tools in a responsible way. If students do not learn how to use these communication tools responsibly, cyber bullying can result. Cyber bullying is another form of bullying. St Andrew's treats cyber bullying very seriously whether it has occurred to students at school or at home. Cyber bullying is treated in the same way as conventional bullying.
While cyber bullying is similar to conventional bullying in its aggressive nature and its effect of harassment, it can occur anytime and in any place - in the classroom, during break times and in the family home. The School has banned all social media apps from students' iPads. It is the School's position that social media use has no place during school hours and as the iPad is a School learning device, social media apps have no place on the iPad whatsoever. Airwatch blocks social media apps at School but does not stop the use of this at home or on students' mobile phone if they are accessing data from their phone carriers through 3G or 4G networks.
It is important for parents to be aware of some of the different negative uses of social media and take proactive measures to best respond if cyberbullying occurs.
Types of Cyber Bullies
The Vengeful Angel
These are children who have been victims of bullying and are now retaliating by cyber bullying. They may have been the outcasts who have been victims of traditional school bullying.
The Power Hungry
These most typically resemble the school-yard bully who likes to exert power. He/she thrives on an audience to watch or reinforce his/her actions. They may also bully online to vent anger or hostility because they feel their life is out of control for reasons not related to school (eg divorce, separation, illness of a parent).
The Mean Girls
These are children who bully out of boredom. This type of bullying occurs more for entertainment than for any desire to hurt the victim, although knowing their bullying results in embarrassment or humiliation is part of the entertainment.
The Inadvertent Cyber Bully
These are children who have responded to cyber bullying they have received in a similar way.
How Cyber Bullying is Different to Conventional Bullying
While cyber bullying is similar to conventional bullying – aggressive, power imbalanced, and repetitive – it has some important differences. A child can wield great power in cyberspace. There is power in being anonymous, in assuming a false identity, in being able to spread rumours and lies to a wide audience and to be able to harass a victim anywhere and anytime. A single act in cyberspace can be forwarded to thousands of others over a period of time by many people. From a victim’s perspective, they could feel repeatedly bullied by one act.
The cyber bully is often anonymous leaving the victim to wonder if the bully is one person or many, a girl or a boy, a friend or an enemy, older or younger, from school or elsewhere. Conventional bullying may happen only at school, but cyber bullying can happen 24/7.
The fear of having computer privileges removed or curtailed by parents can be an even greater fear for victims of cyber bullying than the bullying itself.
Bystanders can be more likely become involved in the cyber bullying they witness. Size isn’t a factor in becoming involved in cyber bullying and anonymity provides the tendency to forget the human side of the target of cyber bullying and make it easier to join in. This behaviour is called ‘disinhibition’. Disinhibition is the tendency for people to say and do things that they would not do if their identities were known.
Children Not Reporting Cyber Bullying
It is very likely that children will avoid telling their parents about a cyber bullying incident unless families have discussed cyber bullying ahead of time. Children benefit most when parents are proactive and educate rather than just being reactive and responding immediately by restricting and punishing them. Parents may benefit from beginning every response to disclosures, no matter how upsetting, with, “Thankyou for telling me that. You did the right thing by letting me know.”
Warning Signs of Cyber Bullying
Because children can be reluctant to tell an adult about cyber bullying, the following are some warning signs:
- Child may be upset after being online
- Child appears upset after viewing a text message, or using mobile phone
- Child withdraws from social interaction or peers
- Possible drop in academic performance
- Paying attention to your child’s social relationships and any changes to these relationships can help alert parents to cyber bullying instances.
Some parents choose to read all their child’s email, or become a ‘friend’ on their social networking site even read all the child’s mobile phone text messages, but this could be seen as a huge invasion of privacy. However, monitoring their children’s communication more closely may be necessary for parents who are aware of instances of cyber bullying.
It is more helpful for parents to spend time talking with their children about the appropriate way to interact online, and about family guidelines for computer use. It is important for the parents and children to agree about when the children should notify the parents if they receive negative messages or view harmful material online. It makes sense that if the child is using a social network site like Facebook, the parent will view it occasionally and the child understands this.
If you believe your child is being cyber bullied or if you have any concerns over social media use, please contact your child’s Head of Year or Head of House.
What to Do if Your Child is Cyber Bullied
1. Save the Evidence
Parents must teach their children to save any evidence of cyber bullying. Children should be taught to save and/or print out any threatening or harassing messages they receive and not delete them. Parents should ask that their children to show them the threatening or harassing message. If the parent or child does not know who sent the message, they should contact the school in order to investigate through our IT department.
If children ever receive offensive material by website, they should turn the monitor off (not the computer) and notify their parents. Parents can then take screen shots of the web pages using the ‘Print Screen’ button, paste them into a Word document and print out copies. If an offensive SMS message is received on a mobile phone, do not delete it. Instead show the phone to the teacher. It is important for the child not to respond to the offensive comments.
2. Ignore, Block or React?
An chat message from a friend that reads, “You idiot” may seem upsetting to a child but may be missing some key words such as a winking emoticon like ;) In such a situation it may be best to ask for clarification or just ignore the message. Often ignoring a single mean message will end the cyber bullying, whether the individual’s identity is known or not. If the messages continue, they can be blocked using the phone or computer. If despite ignoring mean comments and blocking the sender’s messages, the cyber bullying continues, parents may find it helpful to send one message saying that the authorities will be contacted if the messages persist.
3. Request Intervention Assistance From the School
We need to be aware of bullying situations that involve students in order to keep students safe. Cyber bullying out of school hours, using home computers or phones between students is still a school matter. Parents should print out a copy of the evidence of cyber bullying and show it to the Head of School (Junior, Middle or Senior), whether they know the identity of the cyber bully or not. Sharing such evidence with the School can enable us to help the student and discover and/or punish the cyber bully.
The School will often report cases of cyber bullying to the police especially if they involve:
- Threats of harm
- Stalking or harassment
- Pornographic images
What to do if Your Child Witnesses Cyber Bullying
Parents can help their children become ‘empowered’ bystanders by discussing the following strategies with their children:
1. Speak out against cyber bullying
Children can let cyber bullies know that their actions are wrong and that they need to stop. This may or may not be a safe option for some bystanders. Some young people are assertive and have strong social support. Sometimes too there is strength in numbers and a group of friends can confront the cyber bully, either face to face or online, and tell them to stop.
2. Support the student being bullied
Talking to the victim either face to face or online and letting them know that their friends think cyber bullying is wrong can give a lot of support. It is easy for a victim to feel friendless when they are cyber bullied. In some cases friends have posted positive messages to counteract the negative ones.
3. Tell a trusted adult
Many bystanders and victims avoid telling an adult about cyber bullying. Parents may find it helpful to explain to their children that they will not be punished for another person’s bullying behaviour or their own reluctance to stop the cyber bullying. A parent’s role should be to help improve the situation, not find fault.
What to Do if Your Child is a Cyber Bully
A child who engages in bullying behaviour is not necessarily a ‘bully’ everyday of his or her life. However, bullying behaviour can lead to serious consequences and possibly can require some counselling.
If the child appears truly remorseful for his or her actions, it might be appropriate for them to write an apology to the child who was bullied and other family members who were hurt.
Parents should also see this challenge as an opportunity for learning. Consider the lessons that children may learn from this event. Parents may reflect that this is a time to focus closely on issues that are important to them as a family. By teaching empathy and modelling compassion for others, parents will be less likely to see their children engage in bullying behaviour. Parents should actively discuss bullying behaviour and bystander strategies to prepare children for situations they may experience.
Preventing Cyber Bullying at Home
The following are some practical strategies parents can take to prevent cyber bullying and encourage safe use of computers and technology in the home:
- Parents should talk to their children about the dos and don’ts of each new piece of technology that enters the home. Such discussions should include maintenance, safety and forbidden uses.
- Parents should support the age limiting polices of online sites. For example, the age limit for Google Accounts and Facebook is 14, yet children regularly lie about their age to register.
- The computer/iPad should be used in a visible area where it can be more easily viewed. Wireless homes become trickier especially with mobile phones that have this capability. Setting up family rules ahead of time (such as handing in phones once students return home) is advisable.
- Having regular family time such as around the dinner table where ground rules and potential inappropriate use can be discussed is recommended.
- Parents should look for opportunities everyday to educate their children and communicate values through discussions rather than lectures. Some children do not recognise their mean and harassing online behaviour is bullying. Parents need to be able to apply their consistent messages about values to new situations and settings, such as cyberspace.
- Parents may wish to explain to their child that communicating online is prone to misunderstanding because of the lack of non-verbal cues. It is helpful to teach children to use emoticons to help clarify messages.
- Parents can also discuss with their children the importance of taking time to ‘cool down’ if they are upset or angry with a friend or classmate before sending or posting a message online. Once an angry message is sent, it may be forwarded to classmates or viewed by others and escalate a conflict. It is best to talk face to face with a peer if they are having a disagreement.
- Despite the attraction of disinhibition, parents should tell their children that they are not, in fact, invisible online. Any communication posted online or sent electronically can usually be traced back. The police have a high-tech crimes unit that can assist in serous instances.
- Parents should discuss with their children the importance of protecting their passwords to social networking sites, gaming sites and the school intranet. Peers who are friendly one day, may turn on them the next. Parents, though, should know their children’s passwords, screen names and account information.
- Making use of filtering or blocking sites can protect children who are naturally curious from violent, pornographic or otherwise inappropriate sites. In cases where the parent believes their child is abusing their privileges, tracking software can be installed that records every site visited and every keystroke made. Parents should remember though that teenagers can get around this by going to a proxy site that advertises ‘anonymous surfing’. A proxy site is a third-party site that shields the real IP address from view. The site works by opening a browser within the actual web page so that the user can visit blocked websites without putting the actual web address in his or her browser. By doing so the user is able to surf the web privately. Thus communicating with a teenager about why it is inappropriate to view pornography or send mean messages may be more useful than relying on a filtering program.
- Social networking sites and even online gaming can be predatory environments for children. Parents should be able to access their child’s social networking site by knowing their password and username. They should monitor just how much information their children are allowing others to see online and what type of people they are admitting to the site. Teenagers’ brains have not developed the capacity to properly assess risks and consider consequences. They often do not think being exposed to online predators will happen to them. It is up to parents to act as that part of the brain through setting clear expectations and consequences.
- Parents should ‘google’ their children’s names occasionally to see what is posted online about family members. Parents may also need to check for common misspellings of a child’s name as well as their screen names. In addition, parents can use the www.google.com/alerts function to set up regular searches of their children’s names online. Google will notify by email every time a child’s name appears online.
- Lastly, remember that children are the real experts on how children interact online. Allow your child to be the ‘expert’ and show you around the popular sites their friends are using. This is a great opportunity for parents to build a positive relationship with their children by letting them be the teacher for a change.