FIVE head teachers of schools in Sydney have emailed all school parents emphasizing their cyberbullying policies after the local press revealed a website used by 2000 or more students hosted sexual slander.
Typically these school policies stipulate that students will not engage in cyberbullying, the consequences of which can be devastating for the targets. Two of the victims in this case were pupils in one of the five Northern Beaches Secondary College schools. The head teachers acted to raise awareness of consequences amongst students and their families, giving advice that serious offences will be referred to the head teacher who will take action including “possible notification to the police and\or other appropriate authorities”.
A local spokeswoman referred to measures taken both against the offenders, and in support of the victims, but acknowledged that the schools have limited powers and cannot control Facebook. This is surely an issue for all schools and reinforces the idea of a need for greater parental involvement with children’s social networking, together with a consistent message to kids both in and out of school.
Bullying has always happened but cyberbullying is particularly disturbing in that it allows a degree of anonymity previously unknown, and people are accessible 24 hours a day through the digital cloud making them particularly vulnerable to a bully’s jibes.
In discussing this with our kids it can be helpful to use current news stories to open up the discussion, to encourage empathy and to highlight the consequences for those who overstep boundaries.
Some schools are finding it helpful to get students to develop their own peer support materials, to operate buddy systems, and to promote a communicative environment where nobody covers up for a bully and a trusted adult is made aware if one student is concerned for the wellbeing of another.
When talking with your kids, make sure they have a trusted adult they feel they can speak to… and don’t be offended if it isn’t you. Some children will avoid speaking with a parent to protect their feelings or because they believe their parent cannot help – but it’s essential they can speak to somebody.
As ever, keep the communication lines open, talking and listening. It’s important that our kids can take ownership of their part of the internet, creating and shaping the environment in a positive, vibrant and caring way – it’s like the Wild West out there at times and needs a little taming.