Just because it’s not happening in your classroom, that doesn’t mean bullying isn’t happening right under your nose. With technology making retail, information, and other conveniences easily accessible through a smartphone or any access to the internet, the same applies to communication with others. Unfortunately, some students and other children, teens, and even adults abuse this communication tool to bully others online, sometimes with the advantage of anonymity on their side.
As a teacher, you may have your own lesson plans or measures against bullying in the classrooms. Unfortunately, most teachers that teach against bullying have outdated ideas on the subject that what they tell their students may not apply to the way bullying is practiced today. While emotional, verbal, and physical bullying still exists in the classroom, the effects of cyberbullying are just as bad and degrading on students’ physical well-being, mental health, and overall self-esteem.
This lesson plan on cyberbullying focuses on two aspects: the bullied and the bully. For the first part, we talk about cyberbullying in general, how to spot if you’re being bullied, what to do, and measures your students can take against cyberbullying.
In the second part, we discuss what accounts as cyberbullying, when to know when your student is stepping over the line, and how to avoid cyberbullying others. This lesson plan is applicable to students of all ages, though some changes may be needed to adjust to your students’ level of maturity and your own teaching style.
This is a cyberbullying resource meant to help teachers learn about cyberbullying and how to effectively teach their students about avoiding being a bully as well as knowing what to do should they face a cyberbully of their own. After educating your students in cyberbullying, your students should be able to:
- Understand the characteristics of cyberbullying.
- Recognize when they are being cyberbullied by their classmates.
- Perform the appropriate action against cyberbullies.
- Avoid cyberbullying their classmates.
Background on Cyberbullying
Before the internet became a ubiquitous part of students’ lives, bullies from both male and female students have existed for a long time. From the stereotypical jocks who bully the less physically fit students, to the mean girls who look down on everyone outside their clique, bullies exist for a number of reasons, both having to do with internal and external factors of the bullies themselves.
For bullying to occur, there has to be habitual and repeated actions against the victim. For example, let’s take two students, Alex and Billy. If Alex bumps into Billy along a crowded hallway and Billy angrily pushes Alex so hard that Alex falls to the floor, then this isn’t bullying. Billy may have difficulty controlling his temper and reacting to negative situations and may get into trouble for this if Alex is physically injured or if Billy refuses to apologize, but the fact that Billy wouldn’t actively seek out Alex to hurt him another time makes this an example of non-bullying.
But if Billy decides to tease, shove, and threaten Alex with physical violence if Alex doesn’t give him money, then this is a form of bullying. Based on US legislation, regardless of which state the two live in, if Alex reports Billy to school authorities and Billy is found guilty of bullying, the school can use state legislation to punish Billy – often this leads to suspending kids like him. In worst cases, a bully may even be forced to leave the school permanently.
Legislation on Bullying
As of 2019, all 50 states have anti-bullying legislation. Georgia was the first state to create laws against school and workplace bullying in 1999, while Montana was the last state to implement laws in 2015. While all the laws generally ban bullying from schools, some legislations are stricter than others.
New Jersey currently has the strictest bullying legislation in the country, as every case of bullying (from simple teasing to severe physical and emotional bullying) must be reported to the state authorities. These authorities grades every school in the state based on their anti-bullying policies, the number of bullying incidents that have occurred in the school, and how the school plans to effectively deal with each bullying case. All school faculty are required to treat every reported bullying case seriously, and bullies may be suspended or even expelled for cases ranging from minor to major.
Also known as online bullying and cyber harassment, cyberbullying takes the verbal and emotional bullying and makes it easier for the bully to reach out to their victim because of the ease of communication provided by the internet. As such, it is arguably more dangerous as cyberbullying has the effects of traditional bullying but sometimes without the witnesses or jurisdiction provided by a student’s home or school.
If Alex were bullied in school, someone would be bound to see it or news would eventually make its way to a faculty member or school administrator. If someone were to bully Alex outside his home or inside by one of his siblings, all Alex would have to do is call for a parent who will diffuse the situation and protect Alex from the trauma of bullying.
In cyberbullying, however, the forms of communication make it difficult for Alex to seek help. If someone sends him a hateful message, he may feel like his parents are powerless to stop it as they can’t do anything about it. Since this is outside of school hours, he may also believe that the school has no power to do anything said to him online. It’s even possible that Alex’s bullies use anonymous accounts.
Effects of Cyberbullying
Just because it’s happening online doesn’t mean it won’t have any effect on a student. In fact, it can have long-term consequences on the victim, including a lower self-esteem, depression, suicidal tendencies, and emotional damage.
If Alex faces frequent cyberbullying, you may find that his demeanor at home and school can change drastically. He becomes more scared, frustrated, angry, and depressed, and because this is happening online, he might think he has no outlet to deal with his bully. Unlike a bully at school who can be reported and who Alex doesn’t have to see outside of school hours, Alex can see the taunts of a cyberbully each time he opens his social media accounts.
In worst cases, a victim of bullying may be driven to commit suicide. In 2012, a 15-year old girl named Amanda Todd was driven to kill herself due to the cyberbullying. Her bully followed her for years, sending compromising photos of her to everyone in her school and blackmailing her. Eventually, Todd was driven to kill herself by hanging after suffering anxiety, depression, and panic disorders. Prior to her suicide, she practiced self-mutilation and tried to commit suicide once by drinking bleach, but was rescued.
At this point, you’ll want your students to understand the severity of cyberbullying. Those who are experiencing cyberbullying need to understand that this isn’t just something they can continue to tolerate. On the other hand, those that are aware that they bully others need to understand how far the effects of their bullying can go.
For the Bullied Students
Why Do Cyberbullies Bully?
Your lesson plan must start by answering with the “why?” portion, especially if you’re teaching younger students. Often, we’re told that people are supposed to be nice to each other, so you have to explain why some students in their school (or even in your very classroom) are being excessively mean.
You have the free reigns of providing students with an answer you see fit. However, you must never answer in such a way that bullying is justified. If the victim is a girl and the bully is a boy, you can’t just dismiss the boy’s action and say “boys will be boys.” It’s time to end the mindset that a boy’s actions towards a girl should be accepted because “they secretly like her” or because he’s much rowdier than girls are.
In general, bullies exist because of an imbalance of social or physical power, among other factors. A “jock” may have more physical strength, and his act of physically harming a weaker student asserts his dominance over students who relate more with the victim that the jock’s own peers.
One way of explaining bullies is using animal analogies. If you look at other animals like monkeys, you can see that there is a social hierarchy there. Monkeys fight for power or position, and for a monkey to assert their dominance, they have to appear more physically and verbally more intimidating than others around him.
Some people seem to portray this behavior as well, even though it’s not necessary in a civilized community. By asserting their dominance through their actions, they’re getting the message that they’re someone you shouldn’t mess with. However, there are some people they cannot bully to assert their dominance – such as faculty, staff, and people within their circles – so to assert their dominance and avoid looking insecure, they find someone significantly weaker in terms of physical or social status.
Cyberbullying is just a byproduct of bullying throughout the years. Why stop in the playground when the internet now provides easy communication to anyone? Because of this, bullies can now bully even more efficiently any time of the day. They may even bully a victim anonymously, thus avoiding the consequences of getting caught all the while degrading their victim’s will.
Recognizing Cyberbullying Tactics
Your students can find cyberbullying through texting, social media, gaming, or any virtual place where communication is possible. It’s not always limited to the messages sent to your students, but also other people who send or write about nasty comments online about your student.
There are times when your student may have a friend or acquaintance with just mean-spirited humor, but there’s a fine line between joking around and cyberbullying. Make sure your student watches out for the following tactics and some examples:
- When the bully post comments or rumors that are hurtful or embarrassing (e.g. Billy tells everyone that Alex can’t afford to study because he’s too poor)
- Telling someone to kill themselves (Billy tells Alex he is a waste of space and should just die)
- Posting mean pictures or videos (Billy uploads a photoshopped photo of Alex on a fat naked man’s body)
- Posting hateful names or content discriminating a person’s identity (Billy making fun of Alex for being ugly)
- Creating a webpage dedicated to mocking someone
- Leaking a person’s private information available to the public (Billy gives away Alex’s phone number, credit card numbers, etc.)
- Sharing compromising photos of any person (Billy sends a nude photo of his ex-girlfriend)
These are not the only ways cyberbullying happens; you’d be surprised how creative bullies can get when they want to bully their targets.
What Happens When You’re Cyberbullied?
Show your students the effects of keeping silent. If you’re exposed to cyberbullying for a long time and nothing is done to stop the bully, you may not realize it, but your mind reacts to the bullying accordingly, slowly changing your personality.
- A student may be emotionally distraught after accessing the internet. They then project their negative emotions towards the people around them.
- They suddenly become more secretive with their friends and families about what they do online. They may also start withdrawing from social gatherings in school or within the family.
- Their distraction may cause them to perform poorly in school.
- When they get texts or messages, they tend to get nervous (Is it Billy? Is it my mom?)
What Children Need to Know
While social media is neither a part of the school or the home, a child’s well-being is the responsibility of both parents and the school. A child needs to understand that their parents and school authorities have the power to stop the bullying even if it is virtual.
We’re in an age where we’ve become so dependent on technology that you can’t tell your students to just avoid social media to stay away from the bullies. Don’t make your student believe they have to adjust and the bully gets away scot-free and continues to stay on social media.
The first thing your students have to understand is that bullying is not their fault. The fact that they have a bully says more about the bully than the student. Let them know that talking to a teacher or parent is the first and most responsible thing they can do.
While lesson plans on cyberbullying may be a bit outdated, the legislation I mentioned means that schools have provisions on cyberbullying and handling it. Some stricter schools may even get the help of local authorities to track down anonymous bullies.
A bullied student must also learn how to handle the bully or bullies. It may seem like a good idea to fight back, but what your child should do is keep a record of these messages or posts which can be used as evidence against the bully.
For the Bullies
On the other side of the bullying resource is for students who are bullies, whether they know it or not. For some, teasing and mean jokes may be harmless fun. But what is fun for them may already be distressing for the person who becomes the victim.
It’s actually possible that your student has become the bully, whether they know it or not. Herd mentality is very prevalent in schools, which is people, even if they know they are doing something wrong, may continue to act that way because they’re influenced by the way others thing and are pressured to act the same way.
Let’s say that Billy continues to bully Alex. He makes snide jokes about Alex in class, some of which make the rest of the students laugh. Billy continues to bully Alex online, publicly and for everyone to see. Chuckie is a classmate who begins to see that people are partaking in ridiculing Alex. So, he thinks there’s no harm in being in the joke and joins in. Chuckie thinks this is all just fun and games, when really, he’s actually become a bully himself.
Recognizing You Are the Bully
We all think we’re the heroes of our own stories, so it’s difficult for some people to accept that they are the bully. Encourage your students that it’s never too late to do the right thing, and if a student realizes that they’ve committed cyberbullying, the best thing they can do is apologize and actively make sure they never do it again.
This is the best case scenario. However, in more severe cases, there are some bullies who are actively aware that what they are doing is wrong but they continue to bully their classmate. In some cases, these children are actually a product of their own problems at home and at school. Because they cannot project their anger at the root cause, they’ve decided to take it out on their weaker classmates. Talking to a counselor can help them understand whether or not that have unresolved anger issues or need an outlet to divert their strong negative emotions.
In other cases, a child may bully others as a result of entitlement. In such case, you may need the help of their parents to enforce rules. Restricting their social media use or internet use only for academic purposes can help them understand how they need to be responsible when communicating with others online.
In all cases, though, never let a bully’s actions go unpunished. Your student may be a genius, a gifted athlete, or one of the best students you know, but never let that be the reason that they get away scot-free. Otherwise, it will be hard for them to understand the consequences of their actions as they’re given a pass for their negative traits.
Tips for Teachers
- Teaching these lessons to your students is pointless if they think you are unwelcoming or unwilling to help them should they ever come to you for help. Make a habit to stress that you are always willing to lend an ear and will act appropriately when they report cyberbullying.
- Sometimes, you may need to be the one who approaches your student and ask what is wrong. Often, they may not tell you what is bothering them. Do not force them to tell you, but at the same time, don’t give up when you know something is wrong. Allow them to feel safe in your presence; chances are, they’ll eventually admit what is really bothering them.
- In serious cases, be ready to contact your student’s parents or guardians. If you feel like they’re likely to do something drastic to stop the bullying inform school authorities immediately.
Cyberbullying is a serious form of bullying that makes your students feel unsafe, whether at home or in school. Teach your students the right way to deal with cyberbullying, and remind those guilty of cyberbullying that their actions can drastically harm their classmates and schoolmates in the long run.