How Can We Reduce Cyberbullying?
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How Can We Reduce Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a very present topic in modern society. Who is to blame for growing rates of peer violence, and how to find a solution that is systematic and efficient? After providing the basic understanding of the problem, this paper will try to answer these questions, discussing manners of cyberbullying prevention and adequate and meaningful treatment both of the victim and the bully.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Even though there is no consensus on the definition of cyberbullying, the following definition is comprehensive enough to study it. According to Tokunaga, cyberbullying is “any behavior performed through electronic or digital media by individuals or groups that repeatedly communicates hostile or aggressive messages intended to inflict harm or discomfort on others” (as cited in Foody, Samara & Carlbring, 2015).
An important aspect is that cyberbullying does not end in the behavior and messages. Its effect stays continuously visible online. This means that the victim can be re-exposed to the violent act over and over again, and the incident could be witnessed by a large number of people. Another crucial point is that the bully can stay unidentified and avoid punishment. The perpetrator can even be encouraged to continue with the acts of violence since the position of being anonymous puts him or her in a position of psychological power and avoidance of responsibility. This can be very likely to happen with children, since their moral reasoning is on a pre-conventional level, as their morals are still developing, which is why they are usually less aware of the consequences of their behavior (Kohlberg, Levine & Hewer, 1983). Also, cyberbullying rarely happens in isolation, meaning it is usually coming “hand in hand” with traditional ways of bullying (Wolke, Lee & Guy, 2017).
Since the purpose of this article is to give suggestions on how cyberbullying can be reduced, it will not focus on presenting the statistics. On the other hand, in order to get a clear picture of what cyberbullying is, and before proceeding to the suggested ways of reducing it, its consequences must be asserted. A longitudinal study on the consequences of bullying showed that victims struggle with it almost four decades after the period in which they were victimized, being at a higher risk of poor health, as well as social and political outcomes (Takizawa, Maughan & Arseneault, 2014). The same study notes higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and suicidality. Therefore, it can be concluded that bullying and cyberbullying have a strong and long-term impact on mental health and overall quality of life. In the modern world, where information and communication technology is a part of everyday life and where children are introduced to it at an early age, this is an important problem that should be treated systematically and efficiently.
Cyberbullying can happen to everyone. It often happens among celebrities and people who publicly share their life on social networks. However, this paper focuses on students and, in the further text, it will examine how cyberbullying can be reduced among children and adolescents.
How Can We Reduce Cyberbullying?
There are different ways to fight bullying and cyberbullying. As mentioned earlier, combating these issues must be systematic and efficient, and should include prevention, with adequate methods of treating bullying and its consequences.
When it comes to cyberbullying prevention programs, it is important to work on raising awareness of how, why, and where cyberbullying happens, what consequences it has, and why it is important to report it and speak publicly about it. Also, it is very important to educate children on the positive use of technology and the Internet as well as the ways to protect themselves online.
There are two examples of positive practices that are worth mentioning, and those are the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) and the KiVa anti-bullying program (Foody, Samara & Carlbring, 2015). The first one is empirically valid and replicated, and in its core is an improvement of peer relationship, while engaging parents, teachers, students, and the whole community. The second implements an interesting method, which includes the bystanders and works on increasing their responsibility so that they are more likely to intervene and report bullying. Still, these programs focus on bullying, not on cyberbullying.
Working on improving peer support and unifying against bullying is one of the most important things when fighting against it. As a society, and as fellow human beings, we need to show more compassion and not turn our heads away when bullying happens. Since cyberbullying exposes the victim online and makes the victim re-victimized over and over again, we need to unite in confronting this and supporting the one who suffers. On the other hand, these programs’ limitations and implications for future research deal with a lack of depth in the approach to understanding the roots of bullying.
A well-known saying is that hurt people hurt people. When addressing the possible solutions for bullying and cyberbullying, it is important to start from there. According to Wong et al., being a cyber bully is linked to poor psychological functioning and external difficulties (as cited in Foody, Samara & Carlbring, 2015). Taking in consideration that cyberbullying rarely happens isolated from traditional bullying, as mentioned before, it is important to understand the bully’s behavior.
Bullies are often victims themselves, meaning they have experienced or witnessed violence, and this is perhaps the core of the problem. Usually, a bully is a person who does not have a good model of behavior and did not receive enough care and love while growing up. That is why it is crucial to teach children how to understand themselves and their emotions, especially when they are overwhelming. What often happens is that bullies feel a high charge of energy in their bodies as a consequence of a traumatic experience that the body has locked in itself. This is how trauma works: it is stored in the body, and the autonomous nervous system is in constant survival mode and almost constantly aroused (Rothschild, 2000). Therefore, the bully feels the urge to discharge this tension, and when violence is the way they understand best (because it is the only thing the bully experiences), they will discharge it this way.
Furthermore, it is important to offer the victims of bullying and cyberbullying an opportunity to get adequate therapy treatment. The school and school psychologist have, or should have, an important role in this. But since there is a heavy self-stigmatization and isolation among the victims of cyberbullying, and they are more likely to seek help on the Internet (Foody, Samara, & Carlbring, 2015), another method of therapy can be a good option: online therapy programs.
Making therapy accessible and visible to the students, their parents, and schools is crucial when fighting cyberbullying. Still, it is important to note that therapy is not always affordable or accessible and there are, unfortunately, many prejudices involved, especially in more rural areas. As a method to fix these issues, there should be a national program for implementing mental health strategy, as well as a curriculum that is rooted in mental health education. Imagine children saying: “Today, I have emotional regulation class, where we will learn about anger management.” Reactions to this would be of surprise, but frankly, this should be a common occurrence regarding children.
Problems of modern society form a vicious circle, where it is difficult to distinguish between the cause and the consequence. Who is to blame for the growing rates of violence among the ones who should be the most careless and playful people in the world? Is it the society, the family, the school, the peers, or the bully? Then, if blame is placed on the society, there is a failure to acknowledge that these people are the ones who form society. If the family is blamed, those parents were children once, and their adulthood is mostly influenced by their childhood. So maybe the blame rests upon the parents’ parents? Schools play a very important role and should address bullying, even when it is happening outside of the school, as it does impact its functioning.
Nevertheless, it is of no use to point a finger at the one that is considered guilty. All members of society must take responsibility for the world they are leaving to the youth. It is easy to forget that what is the most important for children is not to be handed a smartphone when their parents are tired, or to receive pocket money that will end up being spent on junk food and carbonated drinks. The community must teach them how to create healthy habits and how to deal with themselves and their own emotions, so that they can learn how to channel it in a good way. For example, mindfulness classes could be conducted at school and at home. Mindfulness is an ancient technique that comes from Eastern cultures, and it is all about learning how to be present in the moment and not to identify with emotions and thoughts. When learning mindfulness, participants learn how to breathe more consciously, which brings relaxation and relief. It helps to learn how to manage overwhelming sensations and emotions and deal with problems. There is a rising number of studies and programs that examine how mindfulness helps children and how it can be included in the everyday dynamic of a school (Weare, 2012).
Cyberbullying is unfortunately just one of many problems today, and it triggers reactions in people in various ways. Everyone would agree that it must be fought in a way that is systematic and efficient. It is necessary to have a national strategy that will be implemented in schools that will involve all witnesses of bullying and members of society. It is not enough to work only on punishing the bully, but also to understand why this kind of behavior happens. It is important to educate children on the ways they can manage their emotions and learn to deal with the world better.
Burnett, R. (2011). Mindfulness in schools: Learning lessons from the adults, secular and Buddhist. Buddhist Studies Review, Vol. 28, No 1. DOI: 10.1558/bsrv.v28i1.79.
Foody, M., Samara, M., Carlberg, P. (2015). A review of cyberbullying and suggestions for online psychological therapy. Internet Interventions Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 235-242. DOI doi.org/10.1016/j.invent.2015.05.002
Kohlberg, L., Charles L., Alexandra H. (1983). Moral stages: A current formulation and a response to critics. Basel, NY: Karger.
Rothschild, B. (2000). The body remembers: The psychophysiology of trauma and trauma treatment. New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc.
Takizawa R., Maughan B., Arseneault L. (2014). Adult health outcomes of childhood bullying victimization: Evidence from a five-decade longitudinal British birth cohort. American Journal of Psychiatry 171(7):777–784. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2014.13101401
Weare, K. (2012, April). Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People. Retrieved from: www.mindfulnessineducation.com/uploads/5/6/3/9/5639790/evidence_on_mindfulness_in_schools.pdf
Wolke, D., Lee, K., Guy, A. (2017). Cyberbullying: A storm in a teacup? European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 26, Issue 8, pp 899–908.