Cyber Bullying: What Can Be Done to Address It?

School yard bullying was once limited to acts of shoving, hitting, taunting, and threats. With the latest technology, bullies can now add high-tech strategies to their arsenal of weapons.

According to Dr. Susan Limber, Dr. Robin Kowalski, and Dr. Patti Agatston, leading researchers in the field, cyber bullying is defined as bullying through email, instant messaging (IM), in a chat room, on a Web site, or through digital messages or images sent to a cellular phone.

Students can use Internet-based technologies to tell lies, spread rumors, make threatening comments, and post humiliating images and videos about each other. All of this content can be posted anonymously or under a false name — and viewed at any time by anyone with Internet access. Cruelty goes digital, while perpetrators stay faceless. This makes it doubly hard for students who are cyber bullied to respond.

Cyber bullying gained a wave of national attention in 2007 when Megan Meier, a 13-year-old in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, hung herself shortly after receiving a series of instant messages from school mates. According to the New York Times, Meier had been described on MySpace, the social networking website, as a “liar” and “a fat whore.”

Cyber bullying is so new that published studies are just starting to appear.

This early research shows that students who are cyber bullied and also cyber bully others are more likely to be anxious, depressed, and have low self-esteem. Teens who are cyber bullied are also more likely to have lower grades and higher absenteeism rates. “Research has also shown a correlation between perpetrators of online harrassment and substance abuse,” adds Patti Agatston, Ph.D., co-author of Cyber Bullying: A Prevention Curriculum for Grades 3-5 and a similar curriculum for grades 6-12. “Internet harrassers were three times more likely to be frequent substance abusers.”

A 2007 Pew Internet Survey found that almost one-third of teens had experienced cyber bullying. Thus high percentages of students are being affected by this behavior.

Incidents of cyber bullying are also likely to increase as digital technology becomes more sophisticated and affordable. When prevention and intervention are absent, the problem is compounded.

Hazelden Publishing offers three programs that can help educators and parents effectively address the serious issues of bullying, and cyber bullying in particular. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) (2007) is based on the work of Dan Olweus, PhD of the Research Center for Health Promotion at the University of Bergen, Norway. OBPP is the most researched and best-known bullying prevention program available today. With over 35 years of international research, it is recognized as a model program by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hazelden’s publication of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program marked the first time that the all of the program materials became available from one source in a unified package. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is a systems-change program that addresses bullying at the schoolwide, classroom, individual and community level. The program materials include a 150-page Schoolwide Guide with DVD/CD-ROM that provides step-by-step instructions for how to implement the program schoolwide. A 170-page teacher guide with an accompanying DVD/CD-ROM provides step-by-step instructions for teachers to implement the program in the classroom, complete with posters, class meeting outlines, video bullying scenarios, role-play scripts, and more. In addition, the program offers a 42-question survey that can help schools assess the bullying issue in their school, as well as, provide a tool for evaluating their progress with the program.

As companions to the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program or as stand alone programs, Hazelden offers two products focused on cyber bullying. One is Cyber Bullying: A Prevention Curriculum for Grades 6-12 by Susan Limber PhD, Robin Kowalski PhD, and Patricia Agatston PhD (2008). This eight-session curriculum helps students understand the nature of cyber bullying, its consequences, and how to respond when cyber bullying happens. The program includes a facilitator's guide along with a CD-ROM of reproducible handouts, posters, and materials for parents published in both English and Spanish.

These same authors have also published Cyber Bullying: A Prevention Curriculum for Grades 3-5 with Hazelden. This five-session program, based on the latest research on cyber bullying among young students, presents age-appropriate activities that teachers and parents can use to help kids learn safe and respectful ways to use cyber technologies. Guidelines for class activities begin with scripts for stories about two students — a facile cell phone user named Texter and a Web-savvy girl called Internetta. This curriculum for younger students has a very strong parent component, so parents become more aware of the issue and how to protect their child.

“Probably the most effective way to prevent and address cyber bullying is to make sure that parents and educators have an ongoing dialogue with children about it,” says Limber, a co-author of all three programs.

“With the addition of its programs about bullying, Hazelden has become the leading publisher of evidence-based programs for preventing school-based violence, says Sue Thomas, manager for business development at Hazelden Publishing.

“It’s real important that kids are taught in the classroom about bullying,” Thomas says. “The cyber bullying program for grades 6-12 is based on a lot of models that have been proven to work in prevention, including the use of peer leaders. And one thing that’s exciting about the program for grades 3-5 is the strong parent component. Kids learn about cyber bullying at home before it starts happening to them.”

Cyberbullying Resources