Cyberbullying is the use of technology to deliberately and repeatedly bully someone. Groups and individuals can be both the perpetrators and targets of bullying.
What is it?
Cyberbullying can include:
- abusive texts and emails
- posting unkind messages or images
- imitating others online
- excluding others online
- inappropriate image tagging imitating others online.
Children and young people can also be affected by hostile behaviour that does not fit the definition of cyberbullying. For example, a one-off insensitive remark or joke online or via text is not cyberbullying by definition. However, the impact can still be widespread due to the rapid spread of the content and the relative permanency of the message sent. Because of this, these types of incidents still need to be treated seriously.
How does it differ from face-to-face bullying?
While cyberbullying is similar to face-to-face bullying, it also differs in the following ways:
- it can give the person doing the bullying a sense of being anonymous, so they may behave in ways they wouldn’t offline
- it can occur 24/7 and be difficult to escape
- it is invasive, impacting students’ social worlds at school and home, online and offline
- it can have a large audience—readily shared with groups or posted on public forum
- it is very difficult to delete bullying comments and images.
Potential signs of cyberbullying
Research has indicated that students are reluctant to report cyberbullying incidents, as they feel adult intervention may make the situation worse. It is important therefore to understand the following potential signs of cyberbullying and other social or mental health issues. These can include:
- decline in academic performance and social interaction increased social exclusion and peer rejection
- dislike and avoidance of school—sometimes resulting in higher absenteeism
- increased reluctance to participate in regular school activities, including classroom discussions
- poorer physical health and sleepiness
- complaints of feeling unwell although parents report no specific illness
- increased negative self-perception
- becoming withdrawn, appearing depressed or anxious, having mood swings, crying for no apparent reason
- suicidal thoughts—this should be reported to the administration and the parents/carers immediately for appropriate action.
Any significant concerns should be discussed with the student and their parents or carers. Students should be provided with options for psychological support including school counselling or anonymous counselling through the Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, or the Cybersmart Online Helpline.
Responding to cyberbullying
Schools that have a cyberbullying policy or procedure should refer to that in the first instance. If your school does not have anti-bullying procedures the steps outlined in the Cybersmart cyberbullying policy can be used as a starting point.
Schools are encouraged to develop their own anti-cyberbullying policies and procedures. More detailed information to guide this process is provided in the Cybersafety policy guidance section, including links to specific state and territory resources for use or adaptation by schools. The Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s eSmart system also provides a framework to help Australian schools manage cybersafety and deal with cyberbullying and bullying. Managing the risks It is critical that schools work towards developing a culture of protection against cyberbullying. Bullying and cyberbullying incidents are a ‘red flag’ to schools indicating that the participants need assistance to prevent long term social and mental health issues. Schools can manage the impact of cyberbullying by increasing the connectedness and resilience of students to enhance their overall wellbeing.
Strategies may include:
- Ensuring every student has a teaching mentor that they feel connected to, activities they feel a part of and that they feel valued as a member of the school community.
- Encouraging all students to be active bystanders by speaking up and safely defending others, if they see or hear of bullying. This can be supported by booking a Cybersmart Hero activity for upper primary students. The activity provides a live, online cyberbullying scenario which helps students to develop strategies to become effective bystanders.
- Implementing social skills education, in particular resiliency training. Reach Out, Kids Matter and MindMatters provide excellent teacher resources to develop student social skills and resiliency.
- Implementing a cybersafety curriculum which includes cyberbullying episodes from Hector’s World for young children, Let’s Fight It Together for early teens, Tagged for older teens and Cybersmart Access for students with special education needs.
- Developing and implementing anti-bullying and anti-cyberbullying policies.
- Integrating these teacher resources into the school curriculum to equip students with practical cybersafety skills and knowledge.
- Booking an Outreach Professional Development workshop for teachers and Internet Safety Awareness presentation for students and parents. These are free to all schools.
- Refer any student with social, academic or mental health difficulties to students support services.
Bullying. No Way!
Bullying No Way! promotes working together to create environments where every student and school community member is safe, supported, respected, valued—and free from bullying. The site provides a wide range of games, classroom resources, downloads and facts.
Provides information for educators, parents, carers and young people to strengthen their awareness and understanding of digital citizenship. It encourages technology users to become responsible digital citizens.
Aims to strengthen the mental health and wellbeing of children and achieve greater support for children experiencing mental health difficulties, and their families. Kids Matter provides resources, program guides and school stories for early childhood, primary and the transition to school.
A national mental health initiative for secondary schools, this site provides resources and a professional development program that supports Australian secondary schools in promoting and protecting the mental health and social and emotional wellbeing of school communities.
National Centre Against Bullying—Alannah and Madeline Foundation
News, research, information and resources to combat bullying.
Also links to the new e-Smart program which provides a framework to help Australian schools manage cybersafety and deal with bullying.
Provides free access to self-paced online training modules and lesson ideas on youth mental health and wellbeing.