Strategies for Fighting Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is everyone’s business and the best response is a pro-active or preventative one. From the outset, we can reduce the risks associated with Internet use if we engage in an open discussion with our children about their online activities and set up rules that will grow along with them.

Strategies for homes and schools

In order to fight cyberbullying effectively we need to change the culture in which it happens, starting with helping kids understand that what may seem like “just a joke” can have a powerful effect on someone else. It’s also important to teach them that cyberbullying may be less common than they think it is: kids and teens often overestimate how common bullying actually is, even though most say that their own online experiences are positive. [1] Knowing the facts is important because when young people believe that bullying behaviour is the norm, they are more likely to engage in and tolerate it – and when they understand how uncommon bullying actually is, bullying rates drop.

Strategies at home

  • Both schools and homes should create online agreements or contracts for computer use, with input from students or kids. Make sure your agreement contains clear rules about ethical online behaviour: research has shown that bullying rates drop when kids know that it is against the rules and how to report it.[2]  You can use our tip sheets Family Online Rules and Social Media Rules to come up with appropriate rules for your home.
  • With younger children who visit games sites, rules should deal with online interactions: never provide personal information and don’t share passwords with friends.
  • For teenagers, social activity online is intense. This is the time to discuss the nature of your teen’s online interactions and, more specifically, his or her responsible use of the Internet. Sexting can easily lead to cyberbullying, particularly if the relationship sours.

Whether your child is a tween or a teen, talk to them about responsible Internet use:

  • Teach them to never post or say anything on the Internet that they wouldn’t want the whole world – including you – to read.
  • Talk to them about reaching out to an adult at the first sign of a threat. Don’t take for granted that your child will: only 8 percent of teens who have been bullied online have told their parents. [3]
  • Chill! Kids refuse to confide in their parents because they’re scared that if they find out about the cyberbullying, they will take away their Internet or cell phone. [4]
  • Teach your children that what goes on online is everyone’s business. Let them know that action must be taken when cyberbullying is encountered. Not reporting it is tantamount to approving it.
  • Encourage kids to speak out against bullying when they see it. Popular sites like Facebook and YouTube provide tools to report inappropriate content, and the “comments” features associated with individual pages can provide opportunities for witnesses to speak out. See the section on Strategies for Empowering Witnesses below for more information on how to do help them do this.

We also need to teach kids how to react to an online bully. Give them the tip sheet What to Do if Someone is Mean to You Online and make sure they understand the key points:

  • Don’t fight back. A lot of times bullies are looking to get a rise out of the kids they are targeting, and fighting back just gives them what they want.
  • Save the evidence. Tell your children to make sure they have a record of what happened if somebody is mean to them online. If it’s something that was sent directly to them, make sure they save it. If it’s something that can be deleted (a tweet, a status update, etc.) have them get a screenshot (http://www.take-a-screenshot.org/).
  • Talk to somebody. Make sure that your kids know that they can always come to you or another trusted adult if they are in trouble. If there’s no one they can talk to offline, remind them that they can contact Kids Help Phone (http://www.kidshelpphone.ca) and talk to one of their trained counselors.
  • Remind them that it’s not their fault if they are being cyberbullied. Nothing they do makes it okay for people to be mean to them, and nothing about them justifies people being mean to them.

See our Parents’ Guide to Cyberbullying for more information and the Resources for Parents section for practical tools for helping your kids avoid and deal with cyberbullying.

Strategies at school

Schools have started to become more proactive about confronting bullying, but too often these efforts fall into stereotypes, emphasize unrealistic worst-case scenarios, and are presented as one-time-only interventions. Youth participants in MediaSmarts’ Young Canadians in a Wired World study repeatedly said that they had experienced anti-cyberbullying programs – usually one-time assemblies – that not only failed to resonate with them but made them take the issue less seriously. They were also often reluctant to report bullying because they felt that teachers were likely to escalate a situation into more than what it was, possibly as a result of teachers being bound by zero-tolerance policies. [5]

Effective intervention programs, on the other hand, have a number of characteristics in common: they include the whole school; they provide support both for targets and perpetrators after an incident; and they work at multiple levels – in the classroom, school-wide, and in connection with parents and the surrounding community.[6] 

By teaching young people to make wise online decisions and to use technology ethically and responsibly; by helping adolescents to think before they act when they are communicating online; and by supporting them in becoming active citizens in creating the online communities we all would like to live in, we can empower youth to speak out and challenge bullying behaviour – wherever it is encountered.

See the Resources for Teachers section for practical tools to teach students to behave ethically online and for addressing cyberbullying in your school.

Strategies for Empowering Witnesses

Witnesses can have a huge impact on cyberbullying. When they take positive action they can shut a situation down, help a target feel less impact, and even change the culture of online spaces. However, while a majority of Canadian youth want to intervene when they witness cyberbullying, they often choose not to. Most often, this is because they are afraid of making things worse for the target, or of becoming targets themselves.

Impact! How to Make a Difference When you Witness Bullying Online is a resource that can be used at home or in the classroom to encourage and empower youth to act when they witness cyberbullying.

Impact! How to Make a Difference When you Witness Bullying Online

Impact! was inspired by research that was conducted in 2015 by MediaSmarts and PREVnet, Canada’s Centre for Excellence on research and resources for bullying prevention, on young Canadians’ experiences as witnesses to cyberbullying. Its purpose is to empower young people to stand up to cyberbullying by providing them with a range of strategies for taking action, to give them practice in using those strategies, and to help them decide which strategies are appropriate in different situations. The title was chosen to underline that online meanness and cruelty – even if it’s “just a joke” or happens in the context of drama – can have serious consequences, and to make students understand that they can have an impact when they witness cyberbullying.

The centrepiece of this resource is an interactive tool that guides users through their decision-making process by asking questions such as “Is it clear who’s the bully and who’s the target” and “Do you think the target being threatened or in danger right now?” Each answer guides the student towards a list of options that are appropriate to the situation and sample “scripts” which they can use when talking to targets or bullies.

The tool is supported by a lesson plan for grades 7-9 that uses roleplaying to develop empathy and to let students practice the different strategies they learn, as well as a series of classroom posters that challenge the reasons students frequently give for not intervening such as “I want to say something, but I don’t think anyone will listen to me” and “I’m afraid that if I speak out, I’ll be next.”

 


[1] Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites. Pew Research Institute, November 9, 2011.
[2] Tannenbaum, Barbara. “Bullying: How Educators Can Make Schools Safer,” Edutopia, September 19 2010.
[3] Mishna, Faye, Alan McLuckie, and Michael Saini. Real-World Dangers in an Online Reality: A Qualitative Study Examining Online Relationships and Cyber Abuse, 2009.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Steeves, Valerie. Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Talking to Youth and Parents. MediaSmarts, 2012.
[6] Craig, Wendy. Testimony before the Senate Committee on Human Rights, December 12, 2011.

 

Resources for Youth

Stay on the Path

Stay on the Path: Teaching Kids to be Safe and Ethical Online is a series of resources that aims to promote and encourage ethical online behaviours with young people. The resources include a four-lesson unit on search skills and critical thinking; a self-directed tutorial that examines the moral dilemmas that kids face in their online activities and strategies for helping youth deal with them; and three tip sheets for parents on how to teach kids to be safe and ethical online.

Learn More