The rise in the use of social media amongst children has meant that bullying has transitioned into the online lives of students, making it almost impossible for them to escape. As this type of bullying becomes more common, teachers and parents are better understanding ways in which it presents itself and how to counteract it - this article will help to further this understanding, outlining signs of bullying (both traditional and online) and ways to prevent it.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is defined as deliberate and repeated harm that is carried out via electronic means and can manifest itself on instant messaging sites and social media platforms.
This form of bullying can be more harmful than traditional bullying as it is accessible to anyone, making the act of bullying easier to carry out. Online bullying doesn’t involve face-to-face interaction and this makes it easier for the bully to share or publish something harmful against their victim because they can hide behind a screen and don’t have to witness the impact of their actions.
In almost half of all cyberbullying cases, it is not possible to identify the perpetrator. Moreover, when any type of content is published online, it is available for everybody, making it easier to spread and share. Perpetrators can use electronic devices or social media platforms to humiliate their victims through posting harmful messages, sharing videos/photos without their consent - all without having direct contact with them.
According to CNN, the UK government is considering to impose new rules on social media companies because of the “overwhelming pressure” it puts on young people and the ‘prevalence of online bullying’. Ofcom found that the number of children aged between 12-15 who had admitted to being bullied online via social media has almost doubled from 6% in 2016 to 11% last year.
Not only does bullying affect students, but it’s also a major worry for parents, with 40% of 5-15-year-olds’ parents stating they are worried about their children being bullied through social media. Social media giants like Facebook and Whatsapp are leading the way in the fight against cyberbullying and have plans to take action against such behaviours in the future, as well as controlling the content that children are exposed to.
It is a part of our duty of care to look out for warning signs of bullying, raise awareness of all forms of bullying and provide support to those who are affected or worried. The more we do to prevent bullying, the less negative the consequences our students will have to suffer, such as negative academic development, depression, and in more severe cases, suicide.
What is traditional bullying?
Bullying is a repeated behavior that is intended to hurt someone either emotionally or physically. This is an issue that in most cases affects children that might seem to be different to their peers because they are from a different country, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or because of other aspects such as appearance or disability.
Traditional bullying can take different forms such as physical assault, teasing, threats and name-calling. These actions can make the lives of many children extremely challenging and as a result of the stress and pressure it puts upon a child, can have a direct negative impact on their performance.
A 2016 report found that more than one out of every five (20.8%) students report being bullied, and 33% of students who reported being bullied at school indicated that that they were bullied at least once or twice per month.
Students who are under these threats have reported that they are more likely to experience bullying in the hallway or stairwell at school (42%), inside the classroom (34%), and the cafeteria (22%). However, bullying isn’t limited to just these places, and regardless of where bullying takes place - the victims of bullies feel insecure at all times, sometimes to the point where students don’t want to go to school anymore.
A change in mood
Loss of/or change in appetite
Bruises or marks on the body
Missing or damaged clothing/possessions
Sleeping badly and having bad dreams
Worrying about school or trying to make excuses to not attend
Wetting the bed
Decrease in academic performance
Increase of personal insecurities
Negative effects on relationship with family and friends
Exclusion from social events
Loss of weight or changing appearance to try to fit in
How to stop bullying
There are different ways we can tackle bullying, in either form it presents itself in, but this will differ depending on whether you are a parent or working within a school. Below, we’ve outlined ways in which both parents and schools can help to stop bullying.
How to stop bullying in schools:
Schools play an instrumental role in the prevention of bullying and should have clear guidance on how to tackle this outlined in their behaviour policy. A key way to not only prevent bullying, but to encourage students to stand up against bullying, is through culture.
Schools can foster a positive culture by ensuring all stakeholders know their stance on bullying, the consequences bullying has on someone, as well as the sanctions a bully will face. By clearly communicating this all of the school and parenting body, schools are not only raising awareness, but they’re also ensuring there are no blurred lines regarding the actions that will be taken when bullying does occur. By nurturing an inclusive, open and friendly culture schools will not only help to promote friendship between peers, but they will also help students to feel safe and comfortable enough to confide in someone if they are being bullied.
The recent announcement regarding changes to the Ofsted framework will also help in the fight against bullying by holding schools accountable. A behaviour policy which addresses bullying and an anti-bullying policy have always been a necessary compliance for schools, but now, Ofsted inspectors will be taking into consideration the work schools are doing surrounding bullying into a school’s overall rating.
Steps schools can take to help foster a positive environment which puts a stop to bullying include the introduction of “Friendship seats” or “buddy bench”, where younger children can go if they don’t have anybody to play with, posters around the school raising awareness, or by holding students accountable for their actions by making students sign agreements relating to their behaviour.
Schools can also harness the power count on PSHE lessons to educate students on the how to report bullying, the implications of being bullied, what to do if they’re being bullied, how to identify bullying and how to support someone who is being bullied etc, that are intended to examine bullying in a more structured and academic setting.
However, when bullying does occur within a school, either cyber or traditional, schools can apply sanctions such as:
Calling the bully’s parents in to school
Internal exclusion within school
What to do if your child is being bullied:
As a parent, it’s difficult to hear that your child is being bullied and it’s common to feel helpless but there are steps that can be taken to help tackle bullying head-on.
Control your feelings
It’s natural to feel upset, angry, guilt, fear and helpless when you find out your child is being bullied, but it’s also important to but on a brave face for your child. With a strong, calm and collected demeanor you’ll be able to fill your child with confidence and think out a strategic action plan on how you’re going to tackle the situation together.
Simply listening to your child and allowing them to open up to you about their experiences are the first steps in putting a stop to bullying. Knowing what is going on in your child’s life in as much detail as possible is instrumental in tackling bullies. When your child speaks to you about what’s happening them, try your best to listen without getting upset and always reassure them that it’s not their fault that they’re being bullied.
It’s common for children not to want their parents to report bullying to their school for fear of making the situation worse - in these circumstances it is important to remember you do not need your child’s permission to report bullying. It is often in the best interest of your child to report bullying when it occurs, as the school can work with you to put a stop to it. No school wants their students to bully or be bullied - furthermore, reporting bullying will give schools the opportunity to speak to the perpetrator and find out motives behind the bullying. It’s important to remember that students who bully are often either bullied themselves or have issues going on at home. Making them known to your school means that the school can not only reprimand the bully, but they can figure out if there is more that needs to be done with the child in question.
Other actions parents can take to tackle bullying include:
Communicate with their child about this topic
Approach the school
Seek out counselling for their child
Record incidents in as much details as possible
Request a change of classroom
Bullying and online bullying are an issue that affects so many students. In order to stop it, we must first recognise it, speak up against it, and provide support to every child who needs it. With the necessary action from schools and the involvement of parents, we can take the steps that our students and children need, putting a stop to bullying and instead promoting positive relationships and championing good mental health.