Cyber bullying: Know the signs

With tech playing an ever-increasing role in children's lives, this year's Anti-Bullying Week focuses on managing cyber bullying

Each year the Anti-Bullying Alliance coordinates a week which aims to raise awareness of bullying and highlight ways of preventing and responding to the issue, and this year it runs from the 17to 21 November.

With the Internet and digital technologies playing an ever-increasing role in children’s lives in and out of school, more and more focus is being placed on cyber bullying specifically. According to statistics on bullying collated from Government reports and research by the NSPCC, 38% of young people have been affected by cyber bullying. It comes as no surprise then that the issue ranks high on the list of priorities for schools and parents.       

It goes without saying that the Internet offers endless educational and social benefits for young people. As with everything though, there are risks too, and vulnerable children can often expose themselves to danger without even realising it. So, the big question is – what can schools be doing to identify, manage and work to eradicate cyber bullying? David Hills at Petra’s Planet for Schools, specialists in digital literacy and e-safety for schools provides some top tips.

Get to know the law

If you suspect that an inappropriate image, or a photo that constitutes bullying has been shared within your school, the device through which it was shared may be confiscated. Such images should not be viewed unless there is a clear reason to do so, such as checking the device to see if any offence has been committed. School staff should not go searching through a pupil’s device for no reason, and should always act within the school’s protocols, safeguarding and child protection policies.

Raise awareness

The Family Lives’ website is a great port of call for advice on how to spot the signs of cyber bullying and raise awareness as a result. It also offers practical guidance for teachers on how to identify bullying and offers tips for dealing with specific issues. Class projects are an effective way of raising awareness of bullying amongst the students themselves; showing examples of the emotional scars that bullying, and cyber bullying in particular, can cause, may increase their empathy and understanding.

Keep parents informed

Parental engagement in schools is constantly improving, with modern technologies enabling messages to be sent directly, and consequently acted upon. Updates and information on bullying policies and incidents should be no exception; the more involved parents are, the more they can help schools to tackle the issue of bullying. 

Bullying.co.uk (also part of the Family Lives charity), offers advice on what parents need to know about bullying in schools and academies, so why not direct parents there as an additional source of information? Keep them in the loop! 

Encourage internet use…in a safe way

You don’t want to scare students away from using technology because of cyber bullying, and schools can invest in technologies that have been designed specifically for educational use. One of the main reasons we developed Petra’s Planet for Schools was to enable them to teach children social media skills, but in a perfectly safe environment. 

The curriculum aligned digital literacy platform is designed to teach children how to communicate through social media safely, before they inevitably start using sites like Facebook and Twitter outside of school. The online environment provides schools with a variety of lesson plans which can lead to creative learning, and a productive approach to making those skills part of ongoing professional development. 

Knowledge is power

It might seem obvious, but knowledge really is power. The more informed schools are about cyber bullying, the better. With this in mind, a general rule of thumb for any young person using the internet is: If you are not prepared to explain it to your teacher, do not post it online.