Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cyber Bullying

As shown in the video published by the Virtual Global Taskforce, the Internet provides an avenue for abuse. Communication that can lead to abuse or even bullying happens in the home, sometimes in the same room as the parent or guardian. This seems like it is a problem that should be dealt with at home, but due to the lack of understanding of cyber safety, schools need to be a part of the solution. Especially since many of the social interactions and bullying that begins at school can continue anywhere through the use of the Internet.
Cyber bullying (bullying through the use of cell phones, email and Internet forums) brings with it all of the same types of hurtful, embarrassing and threatening qualities yet it has a way to penetrate places that physical bullying has not been able to do. This type of bullying is increasing in severity and frequency due to the ease of use and the ability to hide behind different technological devices.
After listening to the podcast “Cyber(Smart:)” put on by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, (2009) as well as reading some highlights from Wikipedia, I have discovered six main differences between cyber bullying and traditional type bullying:
1. Electronic bullies can stay virtually anonymous by using temporary email accounts or alias names in chat rooms.
2. Cyber bullying is very easy and requires less courage to carry out the attacking type behaviors when it is so easy to hide behind these forms of communication.
3. Electronic forums lack supervision. It is virtually impossible to supervise all of the places these students will find themselves talking and chatting together.
4. Personal messages between a bully and a victim are completely hidden from the general public’s eye and unless the victim talks to someone, which is typically not found to be done with boys or with teenagers, the communication will remain that way.
5. It can happen any time of the day. Traditional bullying usually would have taken place during school or around school, but now bullying can continue throughout the day no matter what time it may be. This is especially true if it is through a cell phone, the user will need to keep it on and close to them for legitimate purposes thus making them a perpetual target for the attacker.
6. Cyber bullying can penetrate the walls of the home, which normally has been the safe place for victims of bullying.
Cyber bullying is a serious problem that needs the attention of teachers as well as parents. The podcast mentioned that some of the cases lead to the victim even committing suicide, simply because to the victim there was no escape. Survey findings in Australia showed that cyber bullying is starting as early as primary school. It also showed that 16 % of girls admitted to being victims of cyber bullying while only 7% of parents thought their kids were being bullied. As educators, we have a role to play in creating awareness of the problem as well as providing education in cyber safety. There are ways for the victim to get away from these attacks and possible solutions need to be communicated before the victim feels like there is no way out.
It seems impossible for a teacher to handle cyber bullying when it happens around the clock and over the Internet. It is, however, a social problem and we need to educate our students and teach proper social interactions. The podcast interview goes on to suggest that we need to teach victims what to do if it happens to you so that they can get some of the power back. Clear guidelines and expectations need to be created and communicated to the students about how the school will deal with this type of behavior.
My initial question that I had when listening to the podcast was what do I tell my students? What are the important steps that victims of cyber bullying should follow? I was thankful for the nice summary given that illustrates some important steps to follow when cyber bullying is taking place.
Steps Victims of Cyber Bullying Can Take:
1. Always keep a record. Mobile (see here for mobile phone tips), chat, email, anything (includes a time and date).
2. Tell somebody. Whether it be a parent or a trusted teacher, you need to let an adult know about it.
3. Contact your phone or Internet provider. They could set up a block from that sender.
4. Get in touch with the police for serious threats and messages. These type of messages are illegal.
5. Don’t reply to bullying messages. It will only give the bully what they were wanting.
6. Change your contact details. Create a new username or email and only give that out to your closest and most trusted friends.
As educators, we must get involved. We need to educate our students every year and we need to find ways to pass this information on to our parents. It must be made clear to victims that there is a way out and hopefully through all that we do in education, there will be less incidences of cyber bullying.

Here are some very usefull websites on cyber safety:

Mobile Phone Safety Tips
Internet Safety Tips
How to Report Cyber Bullying
Chat Slang and Acronyms
How to Report Emails with Full Headers
Parent Tips

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