Addressing bullying in the digital world

Stephen Clarke

Stephen Clarke is managing director of Contact Group, specialists in providing communication solutions to the education sector, including Text Someone, Call Parents and Truancy Call.

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The recent survey by charity BeatBullying shows that children starting secondary school are the most concerned about being bullied. The research identified that 56 per cent of primary children feared they might be bullied for being too clever, or not clever enough. Forty-eight per cent surveyed were afraid that they would be bullied for not being good at activities like sports or for not having the latest phones or games. Fear of being bullied can eventually lead to unhappiness, loneliness and a drop in grades.

Though schools already have an anti-bullying policy in place under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, it is important to revisit these policies to ensure that they are updated to protect students from new threats such as cyberbullying.

With anti-bullying policies, staff members have a responsibility to recognise bullying and to take action when it is happening. However, unlike the traditional tell-tale signs in the form of torn or dirty uniforms or bruises, signs of non-physical bullying are typically more ‘hidden’ therefore not as easy to identify. In fact, according to NSPCC research, one in five children is bullied online, so it is important that schools have a strong focus on cyberbullying in their overall anti-bullying policy.

Cyberbullying is when students are harassed in a deliberate, repeated and hostile manner through Internet and mobile services like web-forums, social media sites and instant messaging. Almost all these activities take place outside school hours and off school premises. Schools can help victims of cyberbullying by offering ways in which they can safely and discreetly seek help. Discretion is a key factor because cyberbullies almost always conceal their true identities.

Whether bullying is through traditional methods or cyber, reporting and the encouragement of reporting is key. Some schools choose to have ‘bullying boxes’ located in the middle of busy hallways, these do not have the discreteness a worried student may hope for. More recently, reporting bullying via mobile phones can help those who are not comfortable reporting incidents face-to-face.

It is possible for students to report bullying via text message or through a mobile app, as used by Leicester City Council for the schools in their area. This technology is designed to capture information in real time, with the option to include pictures as evidence. Text messaging is instant and a great medium because it is a common form of communication with which 99.9 per cent of students are familiar.

For many children, bullying results in sleepless nights, so having a system that allows them to text their concerns in the early hours is important, as is a facility which automatically messages them back to assure them that help is at hand. Equipped with the full details, schools can address issues swiftly and efficiently.

Once schools have a safe reporting system in place, they should frequently notify students that they are there to help and remind them of the various help options available.

Schools have a duty of care to all students. Bullying is totally unacceptable in any form and schools should provide students with a range of options to help report bullying, safely and securely, without fear of repercussion.

How does your school combat bullying? Please share in the comments below.

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