A new dimension in anti-social behavior among students has emerged as technology has created new forms of peer harassment. The rise of social media and the ubiquity of the Internet have enabled bullying behaviors to manifest in many forms online.
Cyberbullying is unique from traditional bullying behavior in that the Internet allows for anonymous interaction. Anonymity lets students bully and reach a large audience without the threat of identification or adult intervention.
Most instances of cyberbullying go unreported; only in extreme cases involving suicide, rape or major injury are assailants identified. Students are unwilling to report cyberbullying because they fear losing access to the technology or retaliation. Victims of both traditional bullying and cyberbullying are at greatest risk.
They are likely to experience reduced academic performance and self-esteem, family disengagement, risky Internet usage, video game dependency, substance use, obesity, petty crime, gang activities, depression, self-harming, suicide and bringing weapons to school.
Further complicating the issue is that traditional bullying programs rely on incident reporting to be effective. These programs are not effective for cyberbullying, since most instances go unreported. To fill this gap, some researchers have proposed prevention methodologies that delineate cyberbullying from traditional bullying in prevention curricula.
However, while it remains important to investigate prevalence and risk factors associated with cyberbullying, the differentiation of cyberbullying from traditional bullying is not appropriate or necessary for prevention efforts. Both forms of bullying are a result of poor peer relationships and anti-social behavior, and distinguishing between the two forms dilutes the overall prevention message.
Research also indicates that reactive interventions that block access to certain technologies, or advocate policies designed to monitor student behavior, are not effective. Students are immersed in communication technologies; we have entered an era of hyper-personal communication.
Cyberbullying is a serious problem that cannot be solved by downloading an app. The manifestation of anti-social behavior must be addressed with a contextually appropriate message. While research is continuing, social scientists are nearly unanimous in their conclusions: Cyberbullying requires a comprehensive, preventive effort that addresses the underlying problem behaviors, emphasizes healthy communication habits, and promotes positive peer relations.
The Positive Action model is uniquely suited to address the underlying behaviors that are responsible for cyberbullying. The program helps students develop healthy peer relationships and encourages positive interpersonal communication. In Unit 4, students learn the importance of treating others as they would want to be treated. This message is universally applicable, regardless of the communication medium.
Further reading: What is Verbal Bullying? How to Prevent it?