The days before a break are incredibly hectic…there is the pressure of finals, students stressing out over grades, the push for toy and clothes collections by students, and those last minute tutoring sessions.  I can tolerate almost anything before the break, but there was a storm brewing that included bullying on social media which curtailed my holiday cheer.

Monday Morning Blues

Monday mornings are always hectic in the counseling office.  Kids are constantly in and out of our offices before running off to class, but two students stayed in our lobby waiting to talk to me. Unfortunately, the content of their conversation was not so unfamiliar to me as a school counselor. The students revealed that they had been slandered on Instagram as a thot (the Urban Dictionary defines a thot as a promiscuous girl). The girls were visibly upset and confused about what to do to reclaim their reputations that had been wounded on this popular website.  And I was wondering how was I going to help these young ladies?

Not long after talking to the girls, an administrator brought down two students who had gotten into trouble for making inappropriate comments about the contents of a video they had shared in their class of a young girl performing a inappropriate act with another student.  Apparently, the whole class was in an uproar and the teacher could not regain control.  I told the administrator that I would talk to the students and see how I could help.  As the two students waited by my door, my mind begin to race of what I was going to say to these students.

Unfortunately, these scenes are becoming more and more frequent. As lead counselor, it is my responsibility to educate my department on what to do when cyber bullying is reported by staff, students, or parents.  Although adults have the self discipline to “step away” from the internet and take a break, teens are so enmeshed in social media that cannot break away from the constant taunts or torture.  To tell a student to just ignore or stop looking at the posts is not a very effective strategy to deal with cyber bullying.  In fact, students are less likely to report cyber bullying due to the fear of retaliation, fear of ostracism by their friends, fear of embarrassment, the fear of their technology being taken away, or the fear of punishment by adults. As school counselors, we must know our role in dealing with cyber bullying: we educate the school community about cyber bullying, we implement strategies to prevent cyber bullying, we employ the correct procedures to intervene in cyber bullying situations, and we work with victims and the perpetrators of bullying.

What is Cyber bullying?

Cyber bullying (according to Beyond the Bully website) includes harassment through hurtful, rude, or mean text messages, email, or postings. Other methods include spreading rumors or lies about others through email or social networks (Instagram, Ask FM, Twitter, Facebook) and creating websites, videos, or social media to humiliate others.

Common Forms of Cyber bullying

  • Flaming-sending hostile messages or posts to make another person angry. The goal is to have the other person to respond to make him or her look bad to others.
  • Happy Slapping-recording someone being harassed or bullied in a way that shows physical abuse.  I have attached a video of Happy Slapping and its seriousness.  Some scenes may be a little disturbing.
  • Identity Theft/Impersonation-hijacking someone’s password to pose as that person in order to embarrass or humiliate them on their own social media sites.
  • Photo Shopping-doctoring photos as to put that person in an embarrassing situation.
  • Physical Threats-sending threats of violence or injury.
  • Rumor Spreading-sending messages about someone that are hurtful and damaging.

What Can School Counselors Do?

From my experiences over the last week, I have decided to create my own personal toolkit of how to respond to cyber bullying at my school.

Education of the School Community

1. School counselors need know about cyber bullying in order to educate the school community. If you are like me, you need as many free resources as possible.  Here are some great free and low cost resources:

Bullying Course for Educators-This course will provide general information about bullying and provide educators with strategies that work and do not work in schools.
Anti-Defamation League Cyber bullying Workshops-Half or full day workshops for administrators, teachers, and school counselors.
Cyber bully Hotline Professional Development Webinars-Includes webinars, papers, and videos for educators.
Pew Institute Cyber bullying Webinar-What research shows educators about cyber bullying.
Bullying and Suicide Prevention
Bullying Prevention Training-Indiana-Includes staff training, prevention ideas, web sites, and resources.
2014 Girl Bullying Conference-Chicago, Illinois-June 30th-July 2nd.

2. School counselors should educate the school community about cyber bullying and how cyber bullying impacts the school community.  When staff members, parents, and students become aware of the impact of cyber bullying, many will feel the responsibility to stand up against it in their school community.

3. Educating parents:

  • Organize and host a Family Outreach Night with materials from Common
  • Have students teach a social media class for parents.  Students can teach parents about texting vocabulary and about new social media applications like Snap Chat, etc.
  • Present information to parents using a resource called Netsmartz.

4. School counselors should train staff members about what to do when they see or hear about cyber bullying in their classroom. Stop Cyber basic information for educators, prevention, and laws.

5. When working with students, there are many creative ideas that school counselors can employ. Some of these strategies include:

  • Work with the middle school counselor to educate students in the middle school about how the high school community stands against cyber bullying. A great idea is to use peer helpers to educate middle school students about cyber bullying.
  • The first week of school, coordinate a campaign with clubs, sports teams, and organizations to teach students about cyber bullying and what to do about when they see or hear it.
  • Work with teachers to create a safe school climate by embedding social media safety in the curriculum of all classes.
  • Work with your media school specialist to engage students responsibly in technology in the classroom and library.
  • Collaborate with teachers to create a culture of caring in the classroom by using positive language and employing class meetings that directly address problems in the class community.

        Classroom Meeting Guidance  

  • Help promote digital citizenship as a way of life in the school community.
  • Educate students about cyber bullying by giving them a quiz to see if they may be involved in cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying Prevention Activities by the School Counselor

  • Use to teach about Digital Citizenship

         Digital Citizenship Lesson (Grades 9-12).

  • Educate students on the laws regarding cyber bullying

         Cyber bullying Laws in the United States.

  • Conduct assessments around bullying to determine the frequency of bullying in the school community.

         Center for Disease Control Compendium of Assessment Tools

         Safe Schools Assessment Kit

         Sign the Digital Petition
         Classroom Discussion Kit
         Beat Bullying Lesson Plans for the Classroom

  • Educate your peer helpers, SADD members, SAVE members, or an existing club to stand against bullying in your school. Here is a presentation you can use with your students: Bullying 101 for Students.
  • One group you can incorporate in your school is called Teen Angels. Teen Angels are a group of student volunteers, between the ages of 13-18, who make offline presentations to students, parents, staff about cyber bullying.

Cyber Bullying Intervention Strategies for the School Counselor 

Although school counselors are not responsible for investigating cyber bullying incidents, I feel that it is appropriate to inform parents and students of steps to take when they are involved in these types of situations.

1. Provide Guidance on Reporting Cyber bullying

  • When assisting students in cyber bullying incidents, it is important to inform them not to respond to the attacks or forward the posts, texts, or pictures to others (especially pornographic pictures).  Honestly, this is very hard for students because they feel they must respond to accusations or misinformation by retaliation or getting other students to respond for them.  In the Instagram situation at my school, one of my senior girls, who had a picture of her posted, responded using a lot of expletives and threats to the bullies (not good).  
  • Tell the students to save any posts, texts, and pictures that have been sent to them via a screen saver application.  Students should include dates, times, and descriptions of all incidents. Here are some applications that will capture your screen.


Web Snap Shot

Screen Captor

  • Ask the student to block the bully as soon as possible.
  • Report the cyber bullying as a violation of the Terms of Service.
  • Report the incident to law enforcement if the posts, tweets, pictures include…
  1. Threats of violence.
  2. Sexually explicit or pornographic materials.
  3. Taking a photo of the person in a place one would expect privacy (dressing room, restroom, locker room).
  4. Involves stalking or hate.

2. Support Students Involved in the Cyber bullying Incident

  • In order to support students who have been bullied in person or online, it is important to have an established protocol. In very serious incidents of bullying, I give the family information about an outside mental health provider as the student may experience anxiety, post traumatic stress, or even suicidal thoughts as a result of bullying. In addition, I feel that it is important to set up a safety plan for the student at school and at home in cooperation with the family. 
  • Address the bullying behavior of the perpetrator.  It is important to find out the reasons for the bullying (attention, retaliation, power, boredom, etc.). Review state and school policies with the student and consequences. It is important to build empathy in students and giving them consequences that develop character are a good place to start.  

         Some examples include:

  • Write a letter to the student as an apology.
  • Do a good deed for a person in the community.
  • Read about book about bullying and write a paper about how he or she will treat others in the future.
3. Implement Restorative Practices with students involved in cyber bullying. The purpose of Restorative Practices is to restore the harm that has been done to people in a relationship without imposing punishment.  Restorative Practices can be used to reduce violence and bullying in schools, improve behavior, strengthen classroom relationships, restore relationships, and repair harm.  If you are interested in learning more about Restorative Practices, the The International Institute for Restorative Practices can provide excellent information and training opportunities.

Difference between Punishment & Restorative Practices

How Restorative Practices can be used in schools. Video presentation by Teresa Bliss on using Restorative Practices.

Do you have creative and innovative ways that you address cyber bullying in your high school?  Please feel free to share your ideas!

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