What are schools doing about soaring rates of cyberbullying?

Published date09 February 2021
AuthorMichelle McBride
Cyberbullying among children and adolescents soared by 28 per cent during the lockdown. The younger children were, the more likely they were to become victims. The problem is particularly prevalent in young boys aged 10-16, with nearly 50 per cent experiencing more cyberbullying since the first lockdown.

While bullying has always been a problem in school, the fact that cyberbullying is so difficult to escape from intensifies the negative impact.

"In the old days you could leave the classroom or the schoolyard and go home and the bullying would most likely stop," says James O'Higgins Norman, director of the National Anti-bullying centre in DCU. "Unfortunately, smartphones mean the bullying can continue and never stop."

So, what can parents or schools do to tackle the problem?

Today is Safer Internet Day, an EU-wide initiative to promote a safer internet for young people. There are lots of free resources and webinars online for students, schools and parents.

Experts agree that education plays a key role in reducing cyberbullying but say one-off anti-bullying lessons in schools have a limited impact.

"It has to be something deeper than that, something that addresses the real concerns of children and adolescents and is led by them," says O'Higgins Norman.

DCU has developed an anti-bullying programme called Fuse which is child-led and free to all schools in Ireland.

"It is very successful," says O'Higgins Norman. "Eight-five per cent of kids that participate in it tell us that they now feel safer online and that they know how to recognise bullying online and know how to go about reporting it."

David Swaine, education project coordinator at the National Anti-Bullying Centre, helped design and develop the programme which is available to both primary and post-primary schools.

"It is clear from research that children are accessing social media at a much younger age, with or without parental consent," says Swaine.

Social media

He recommends educating children about cyberbullying from as early as second class.

"Social media is so woven into the fabric of a young person's life now and while it does have a lot of benefits in relation to connectivity, you have to be more aware of the more pernicious elements of it," says Swaine.

"It is in everyone's interest - parents, guardians, teachers, school staff and the wider school community - to be mindful of this from a very young age."

Aoife Fox, second-class teacher at Scoil Assaim Boys' National School in Raheny, completed...

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