Australian Institute of Family Studies researcher, Elly Robinson said schools should work closely with parents and be prepared to share responsibility for what happens outside the classroom, as cyber-bullying incidents tend to occur outside school hours.
“Schools are increasingly recognising that cyber-bullying is more likely to happen outside of, rather than in school. As a result there is an increased trend for schools to be prepared to share responsibility for what happens outside school hours to ensure continuity of care.”
Ms Robinson said parents also play a vital role in addressing and preventing cyber-bullying by learning to use social media and other technologies.
“Internet use has become virtually universal among Australian teenagers. As a result young people are exposed to an increasingly open and collaborative online social culture which allow them to access information and maintain friendships,” she said.
“However, parents need to discuss with their children how to respond to cyber-bullying and other negative online behaviours. They should also develop an online use plan for their family that includes details of appropriate online topics, privacy setting checks and how to respond to inappropriate online posts.
“Parents also need to encourage their children to tell them about cyber-bullying incidents and to be prepared to respond appropriately in ways other than restricting their child’s use of the technology.
“The key is not to restrict technology because it makes young people not want to tell adults what’s going on. There are also many positive benefits to online activities that young people may miss out on.
“Parents should report any cyber-bullying incidents to the school as soon as possible and ask the school for help in dealing with the matter. The 24/7 nature of cyber-bullying highlights the importance of parental involvement in preventing and addressing cyber-bullying in partnership with schools.”
Ms Robinson said it was important to recognise that many social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, avoid parental consent to collect personal information by setting a minimum age of 13 years old to create an account.
“Parents should encourage children aged less than 13 years old to avoid creating social networking accounts and outline why this is important. Open discussion and monitoring is also important instead of relying solely on online filtering tools.”
Cyber-bullying includes mean, nasty or threatening text messages, instant messages, pictures, video clips or emails that are sent directly to a person or others via a mobile phone or the internet, and is characterised by repetitive behaviour rather than one-off incidences.
Australian estimates suggest that between 7-20% of school-aged young people have experienced cyberbullying.
Ms Robinson said it was unclear whether cyber-bullying was more or less harmful than ‘offline’ bullying. Some young people may underplay or deny the harm, or shrug it off, but others experienced decreases in their mental health,” she said.
“It is important that parents find a balance between monitoring behaviours and allowing young people to independently and age-appropriately negotiate their own boundaries.”
Ms Elly Robinson is Manager of the Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) information exchange at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.