So, where does cyberbullying fit in? Cyberbullying or bullying done electronically is extremely difficult for adults to detect. The reason why is that cyberbullying lurks in the virtual shadows created by Facebook and cellphones. Unless you are a fan of somebody and can monitor their Facebook account or have access to their cellphone, you cannot definitively prove that cyberbullying is actually happening.
The Forms of Cyberbullying
Sexting is the texting of sexually explicit messages or transmitting sexually explicit photos via cellphone. The problem with all these electronic forms of bullying is that once they are transmitted they are archived on a server or servers somewhere in cyberspace. Put another way, if you send a nude photograph of yourself to a lover via your cellphone, how do you know that it hasn't been forwarded to somebody else. What if you have a fight with that lover and he decides to take revenge. Well, it's not a pretty picture.
Teens, and girls in particular, seem to be more susceptible to this form of bullying. That's because they take cellphones and other forms of electronic communication for granted. Many girls feel that sexting makes them more desirable and accepted by their peers. It's the age-old story of children wanting to become adults overnight. We adults need to discuss those adolescent feelings and how to best handle them in a safe and responsible manner.
Any kind of demeaning discussion or talking about another person is a form of harrassment. Dissing, as it is commonly called, can be amusing in the hands of a skilled comedian. But when the dissing is done at the expense of one of your peers, then it is harassment. It's cruel. Making people feel bad if they have done something they shouldn't have done is one thing. Just making them feel bad by putting down their clothes or their appearance is quite another. Posting demeaning comments in Facebook or other websites is the electronic form of harassment.
Threatening verbiage and behavior is also part of cyberbullying. We all have seen those scenes in movies where somebody is walking down a shadowy street at night and suddenly a gang of nasty looking people appears. The taunting and challenging verbiage is one thing. "I'll get you for that!" said playfully is one thing. Said in a threatening manner is quite another.
Threats of physical abuse can paralyze a sensitive young person. Threatening others electronically by telling them about the horrible things you will do or say - it's all part of cyberbullying. It's very difficult to combat.
There have been several well-publicized incidents of cyberbullying. What can private school parents and administrators learn from them? Assume that cyberbullying will take place. Have policies in place to deal with it. Enforce those policies. If you don't deal with cyberbullying offensively, the consequences can be disastrous both for your students, and ultimately for your school and its good reputation.
Private schools are typically very close knit and supportive communities where nothing escapes notice for very long. Unfortunately day schools are more likely to be subject to cyberbullying than boarding or residential schools. Why? Simply because the school cannot supervise student behavior once students leave the school campus. The sad truth is that many children are not supervised at home as closely as they are in the school setting.
Every private school needs to make parents aware of the issue. Hold workshops preferably with a visiting expert whose credibility will be above reproach. Make students and parents aware of the serious consequences which will result if students engage in cyberbullying.
The only true weapon against cyberbullying is constant vigilance. That's the same weapon we parents have used forever to deal with all kinds of problems. It works.
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