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Ask an Expert: Protecting our kids from cyber-bullying

Q. What are the punishments for cyber-bullies? How can a stop be put to cyber-bullying? Why do most cyber-bullies go uncaught? How can we better protect our children from cyber-bullies?

A. Punishment for cyberbullying falls into two categories – discipline at school that should be addressed in the


school’s bullying policy; and discipline at home decided by parents.

The best policies at school clearly define the types of behavior considered to be cyberbullying and clearly describe the consequences for engaging in those behaviors. Consequences adjust depending on the situation, and it’s important to establish and talk about these behavior guidelines before problems start.

There is no “one-size fits all” guide to discipline, but it’s important that parents and teachers monitor what children are doing online and address problems quickly.

Sound school anti-bullying policies key

For schools, an effective bullying policy is vital. Researchers Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin recommend that policies include the following:

  • Specific definitions for harassment, intimidation and bullying (including cyberbullying);
  • Graduated consequences and remedial actions;
  • Procedures for reporting;
  • Procedures for investigating;
  • Specific language that says if a student’s off-school speech or behavior results in “substantial disruption of the learning environment,” the student can be disciplined;
  • Procedures for preventing cyberbullying (workshops, staff training, curriculum enhancements).

Many people who cyberbully go uncaught because technology can allow people to remain anonymous or use an alias when using websites or text messaging. But not as many remain anonymous as you may think.

Research conducted by bullying prevention expert Susan Limber and her associates indicates that about half of those targeted knew who was doing it. Many websites and service providers, including the social media sites, will intervene when problems with harassment are reported to them. And, in serious cases, law enforcement can help investigate to uncover the identity of someone who is harassing someone electronically.

Know what your child is doing online

We can better protect our children by remaining involved and aware of their online activities. The research on cyberbullying and evidence-based practices suggests that we all have a part to play – parents, schools and bystanders.

In a perfect world, there would be no bullying of any type. Everyone would act kindly to one another in person and online.  Sadly, we know we are far from that ideal.

However, there are actions we can all take that make a difference. Here’s a start:

  • Be aware, and talk about responsible cyber behavior;
  • Encourage kids to speak up if there are problems, and take those problems seriously;
  • Contact service providers directly if the cyberbullying is happening with a particular social media or gaming site.
  • If a child appears to be struggling, seek help from a trained mental health professional.

It’s important that we not underestimate the emotional harm that can be done by constant bullying.

For more information we encourage parents and educators to visit www.stopbullying.gov. It offers a lot of valuable ideas and resources to help monitor online activities, promote proactive discussions about bullying, and effectively intervene.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.