At present schools have been able to turn a blind-eye to cyberbullying. As the offence occurs out of school hours, schools have been only too happy to handball the problem to the parents of the bully. Whilst I believe that parents are ultimately responsible for the actions of their children, I ask that schools do more to help deal with this ongoing problem.
The reason why I feel schools should involve themselves more actively with this issue is that most cases result from pre-existing schoolyard bullying. Having started in the playground and classroom, the bullying then gets transferred online. Whilst the school isn’t liable for what goes on after school, the problem is often a result of what started during school hours.
To me, the best schools are the ones that work with the parents in a partnership for the wellbeing of their students. For a school to excel it needs to show that it cares about its students beyond its working hours. That is why a teacher or staff member that is aware of cyberbullying must be able to do more than discuss the issue with the class. They must be able to contact parents, impose sanctions and actively change the situation at hand.
We also have to understand what cyberbullying is and why kids do it.
I disagree with ABC online columnist, Hemu Nigam, who is of the view that cyberbullying is about “hating” others:
Suicides from cyberbullying are extreme cases that draw attention. Media and government attention are creating a panic around the wrong issue. The issue isn’t so much that a child killed himself because he was cyberbullied. He did it because he was subjected to hate crime — harassment based on sexual preference, race and the like — couldn’t get it to stop, and felt hopeless, eventually leading to suicide. Thus, the attention needs to go to the source. How do you teach young people to be kind, open, or at the very least accepting of kids different from them?
If we are to ever put a stop to bullying — wherever and however it takes place — we must step back for a moment and think of what we have done for many years before “cyber” became an indelible part of our language.
I am reminded of this lesson my father taught my brothers and me as we were growing up. Like many kids do, we would say we “hated” something or someone. Perhaps it was a certain food or a person in our school. My father always reminded us not to hate by not allowing us to use the word “hate.” We could simply express our feelings by talking about what we didn’t like about a thing or agree with about a person.
As we adopted this house rule, we found ourselves talking about things and people we liked more than the things and people we didn’t like. Today I find myself sharing the same lesson with my own children. I am hearing them talk about things they like about a person or thing without mentioning hate. The lessons that strengthen tolerance begin in the home, “cyber”-connected or not.
It is my belief that cyber-bullying is often based on “dominance” and “popularity” rather than “hate”. I don’t think most cyberbullies hate their victims. Instead, I think they see them as stepping-stones to wider acceptance from their peer group. Often the victims are minorities or outcasts. The pressure to be in the “in group” has always been high. For an “in group” to exist there needs to be a clearly defined “out group”. It is often seen as a sort of right of passage for someone seeking popularity to kick the easy target.
If my theory is right, there is even more reason for schools to see cyberbullying as a problem that they have a significant share in.