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Cyber Bullying
Safeguard Your Students Against Cyber Bullying

Cyber bullying is on the rise, and states such as Arkansas and Washington have recently passed legislation to help curb it. Since cyber bullying is a relatively new phenomenon, it wasn't included in previous bills requiring schools to create bullying prevention policies.

Washington State's bill was signed by Governor Christine Gregoire on May 9, 2007, and went into effect on July 22. It requires schools to include cyber bullying in school district harassment-prevention policies.

“Our students should be safe when they are at school. In fact, that security is necessary for them to learn and to succeed,” said Governor Gregoire. “Harassment and intimidation from cyber bullying hurts their ability to learn; this is why Washington schools have had anti-bullying policies in place since 2002, and it’s important that these policies now include cyber bullying. Every child deserves a safe, supportive school environment.”

Cyber Bullying by the Numbers
How prevalent is cyber bullying? A 2004 i-SAFE survey of 1,500 students in fourth through eighth grade found that:

42 percent have been bullied while online, and one in four more than once.
35 percent have been threatened online, and nearly one in five more than once.
53 percent admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online.
According to an MSN/UK report, one in eight children (13 percent) feel that cyber bullying is worse than physical bullying. Why? Because cyber bullying can happen any time of the day, whereas physical bullying is limited to in-person contact. Also, "cyber bullies" can remain anonymous, which children find a distressing factor. But this is also what makes it appealing to those on the giving end.

In Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats, Nancy E. Willard, a leader in issues of Internet safety and ethics, highlights the following social norms of online communities, which can be used to rationalize harmful behaviors like cyber bullying:

"Life online is just a game."
"It's not me. It's my online persona."
"What happens online, stays online."
Although cyber bullying does not necessarily occur on school grounds, schools can help keep their students safe by addressing it in bullying-prevention policies and classroom lessons.

School Policy Tips
Simply adding "cyber bullying" to the already existing language in a bullying-prevention policy won't be enough. Since cyber bullying has many unique aspects, it's important to add language that specifically addresses it.

Keep in mind that the most effective policies are district-wide. Here are some guidelines.

Define It
Include a definition of cyber bullying to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Keep the definition simple so that students can understand it too. For example, the Committee for Children definition of cyber bullying is “Cyber bullying is when one or more people intentionally harm, harass, intimidate, or reject another person using technology.”

Spell It Out
Include a list of examples of cyber bullying, for example:

Sending mean or threatening messages to a classmate via email, IM (instant messaging), or text messages.
Spreading rumors about classmates through email, IM, or text messages.
Creating a Web site or MySpace (or other social-networking) account that targets another student.
Sharing fake or embarrassing photos or videos of classmates with others via a cell phone or the Web.
Stealing a classmate's login and password to send mean or embarrassing messages from his or her account.
Include Steps for Staff and Students
List the procedures that staff and students should take to maintain a safe and respectful school environment.

Staff examples:

Teach lessons to educate students about cyber bullying.
Respond quickly and sensitively to cyber-bullying reports.
Take seriously families' concerns about cyber bullying.
Look into all reported cyber-bullying incidents.
Student examples:

Treat each other respectfully, in person and online.
Refuse to cyber bully or to let others be cyber bullied.
Refuse to participate in or encourage any form of cyber bullying.
Report cyber bullying to an adult when you become aware of it.
Since cyber bullying may not actually be committed while your students are in school, it's important to involve families. Chances are you'll need to work closely with students and families to make sure that cyber bullying concerns are taken seriously and dealt with successfully.

Angela Fountas
Staff Writer
Committee for Children

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