4. Addressing Cyberbullying in Schools

As we learn more about cyberbullying, the question inevitably arises: What can we do about it? In fact, a lot can be done. Effective programs, strategies and initiatives have been developed all over the world. Activities to fight cyberbullying can be online-based or take plalce in-person, they can focus on awareness raising or skill building, on individuals or groups, they can be designed as preventative measures or intervention plans… it would be impossible to list and analyse all possibilities.

This section of the manual is designed as an overview of guidelines, ideas and resources on how to tackle cyberbullying. Guidelines can provide a useful framework for all concerned to reduce cyberbullying and its negative effects1, but of course they need to be followed by practical and effective action plans.

We will be focusing specifically on guidelines and suggestions for school environments. Throughout the world, school environments are (apart from online environments) the most utilized platforms for cyberbullying prevention and intervention. School-based efforts to fight cyberbullying seem to be most effective if a whole-school approach is used and if school-family-community partnerships are involved. Key elements of a school-wide approach are building a supportive school culture, development of skills and knowledge about cyberbullying among school staff, students and parents; consistent implementation of policy and practice to reduce cyberbullying behaviours; and partnerships between staff, students, families and the wider community1.

During 2008-2012, an interesting international study was done in 29 (mostly European) countries, including Germany, Slovenia, Poland, Italy and Hungary1. In addition to a comprehensive review of available literature and research on cyberbullying, one of the project objectives was to analyse existing nationally published guidelines connected to technology use and cyberbullying from different countries. The aim was to disseminate best practices and to develop a set of common guidelines applicable on the European level.

Researchers reviewed 54 national guidelines (two per country) and scored each document on a number of criteria. They found that the most common target groups were parents (addressed in 41 documents), young people (35 documents), teachers (32 documents) and schools (23 documents). The key findings were that the existing guidelines varied greatly in covering important aspects of cyberbullying. Many documents emphasized skill building, awareness raising and modelling appropriate behaviour. School policies were often mentioned but not elaborated on. Few guidelines recognized the importance of peer relationships, peer leadership and peer influence, although research consistently recognizes them as important aspects of cyberbullying.