What Should I Do? Six Strategies to Use When You Notice Cyberbullying

You hear mean and unwelcome teasing as students do math activities on electronic devices. You see exclusion when a group of students are playing an online game. You suspect that students are engaging in behaviors that are gateways to cyberbullying. What can you do?

  1. Teach safe and inclusive behavior as it relates to this specific cyber platform. Just as we teach our students to work inclusively and respectfully with reading partners or to invite others to join in while playing a math game, it is important to teach students to be kind and inclusive in the electronic world. Before students add comments about classmates’ writing on Seesaw, they need to know what a kind and helpful written comment looks like on that platform.
  2. Talk with each child who has demonstrated social cruelty separately. If you talk as a group with children who may be bullying, they will cover for each other. Assure the child that you are aware of their behavior. Avoid arguments about whether or not they engaged in social cruelty. Remind the student of classroom rules about kindness, and review the expected behaviors with the student.
  3. Separate the children who engaged in social cruelty for a time. Take away the privilege of using the online game or other application where the social cruelty occurred. Because bullying is a social behavior, these consequences will help the mean behaviors die down.
  4. Do not initiate a conversation between the student targeted and the students engaging in mean behavior. Student-to-student conflict resolution is designed for conflicts between students of equal power. It is a dangerous practice as a followup to any type of bullying. Almost inevitably, the student who is being targeted ends up apologizing for their behavior. 
  5. Talk privately with the child who has been targeted, and assure them that your goal is to keep them safe. Set up a safety and comfort plan. This always starts with removing the students doing the bullying from the environs of the person who is being bullied. Identify a safe place where the person who is being bullied can go if the abuse starts again, whether it is the counselor’s office, the library, or another place where they will feel safe.
  6. Communicate with the adults in children’s families, preferably before they communicate with you. Avoid using the word “bully.” Instead, describe the behavior.  Adults at home usually want to know what actions you are taking at school. Remember that federal law prohibits revealing consequences applied to other people’s children. Electronics are everywhere, and any cyberbullying that happens at school will also happen at home. Ask these adults to monitor electronics at home.

Written by Caltha Crowe, author of How To Bullyproof Your Classroom, 2nd Edition
(updated to include a full chapter on cyberbullying)