Diary of a Student Teacher: Is Cyberbullying a social mirror?

Bullying happens in schools. It happens in workplaces and sadly, in society in general. In my continuing quest to be a great teacher I have often wondered why so much hype is given to cyber bullying – isn’t it really just another type of bullying already rife in schools?

I came across this article and it got me thinking about why cyber bulling is having the impact it is on students and on reflection it was not as cut and dry as I first thought:

1. It’s easy to be cruel when what you say is anonymous:

Most apps and sites allow for anonymity and this can bring out the vicious side of people.  Even on facebook you are able to create fictious accounts as long as the name fits within certain parameters which I discovered when setting up my own Misses Artech fb page. Cellphone numbers are easily gained and students find themselves being barraged by abuse or threats eventually wearing them down. The spread of devices means that students are being followed once they leave the school gates and back at home.

2. There’s a pervasive fear of being the next victim:

Students fear speaking out or standing up for another student out of concern they will become the next victim.  I came across this tumblr blog where victims share microagressions, a term I hadn’t heard of before. It highlights the often overlooked assault of small comments that people experience on a daily basis regarding their gender, ethnicity or race.  Common ‘jokes’ laced with insults and put-down thrown around as part of common vernacular

3. The attacks are often well disguised: 

People are clever at hiding their tracks and students are no different. They know that a cyberbully attack would leave a black mark on their record and figure out ways to avoid being caught.  This behind-your-back meanness is a social condition and seen in many offices not just school playgrounds

4.Fighting for social status
Sociologists Robert Faris and Diane Felmlee found that “kids are caught up in patterns of cruelty and aggression that have to do with jockeying for status.”  Bullying is being seen as no longer ‘just the troubled kids’ but all students jockeying for power amongst the group.  Often students that have been bullied become bullies, “Once you start realizing that you can have higher social power by putting other people down… that’s, like, how people are moving up and that’s how they’re gaining respect.”

And I wonder how much of this power play is purely a mirror for what students are seeing in society in general, power coming at another expense?

5. The issue of popularity: 

Popularity has become a cultural currency that students are part of that continues well past high school.  People create their own bubble through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram puffing up their own daily experiences and ensuring the right filter is put over it to capture as many likes as possible to feel accepted and ‘cool’ behind a screen. It needs to be questioned why popularity is a measure of someones social status.

Personally when I was at school I was severely bullied – too tall, too skinny and too geeky – I was a walking trifeca for bullies.  Schools would treat the aftereffects and dish out detentions as I would cringe knowing that it would make it even worse.  Being on practicums this year I’ve seen that it hasn’t changed – there are still the quiet bullied and tough bullies although the stereotypical shells I was used to had vanished and on both sides of the fence I was surprised to see who I found.

What we’re doing isn’t working and I am yet to uncover on my searches a program that is having positive effects.  Looking at the role of cyberbullying I can see why the reach is so far but also on reflection how classrooms are really no different from office blocks (or some school staffrooms for that matter).  Its going to take a huge societal shift to decrease the importance of popularity power and for wellbeing messages to sink in.  I can cause change from the inside out by modelling empathy and kindness and doing what I can to flick the switch – although  I do wonder when the tipping point will be?

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