I recently read a great article shedding by Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D. shedding some more light on cyberbullying. As a parent, I’m keenly interested in making sure my kids feel safe, whether at school our outside of it. In his article, he stated that adolescents have been bullying each other for generations. The latest generation, however, has been able to utilize technology to expand their reach and the extent of their harm. He defined cyberbullying as: “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” Recent research has found that cyberbullying leads to negative emotions such as sadness, anger, frustration, embarrassment, or fear, which have been linked delinquency and interpersonal violence among youth. It has also been tied to low self-esteem and suicidal ideation, school difficulties, assaultive conduct, substance use, carrying a weapon to school, and traditional bullying offending and victimization.
One of the strategies that I particularly was drawn to was that of creating a positive climate to decrease the prevalence of cyberbullying, and bullying / harassment in general. This seems as intuitive to me as turning on the light to shed the darkness. This is very much in line with the research of Frederickson and Losada who identified an ideal ratio of 3-5:1 positive to negative behaviours to help teams and other relationships thrive and fluourish.
In terms of macro-level solutions Hinduja says, it is essential to cultivate a positive school climate, as research has shown a link between a perceived “negative” environment on campus and an increased prevalence of cyberbullying offending and victimization among students. School climate generally relates to the social atmosphere of a “learning environment” or how students and staff perceive the quality of the relationships at school. In general, a positive climate is one that engenders respect, cooperation, trust, and a shared responsibility for the educational goals that exist there. When we asked students to report the quality of climate at their school, was asked them whether they felt that teachers cared about them, that teachers really wanted them to succeed, and whether students trusted and respected the teachers, among other aspects. Much research has shown that a positive climate at school contributes to a variety of positive behavioral, emotional, and academic outcomes at school. Our research demonstrates that students who report a positive climate at school also experience fewer problematic behaviors online. We have long known that what happens online affects what is going on at school. We now know that what happens at school appears to be affecting what is going on online.
Finally, we strongly believe in empowering teens to use the power of technology to promote positivity. Online bullying is awful because it seems like everyone sees the hurtful content. But the ubiquity of social media use among teens also means that we can encourage kindness far and wide. From pledge campaigns, to flash mobs, to anonymous Twitter feeds which compliment random students for being awesome, young people from around the world are spearheading initiatives to really make a difference.