The Dark Side of the Internet: Understanding and Combating Cyberbullying in Schools
Internet is certainly one of humanity's greatest inventions, capable of enormous and extraordinary potential but, as such, remains a tool that can be used for the noblest of intentions as well as to hurt people near and far from us.
Within this misuse of the internet, it is necessary to include the phenomenon of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a particular type of bullying that, for years now, has alarmed parents and school operators, and can affect boys and girls throughout their school career.
But what are bullying and cyberbullying? What are their differences? What behaviors should parents and teachers introduce to combat these phenomena? And how can you act when you are a victim of bullying?
In this article, we try to give some answers to this complex topic!
Understanding the menace of cyberbullying and its impact on children and adolescents
To explain what cyberbullying is, we must start with the definition of bullying. The Miur defines bullying as:
a series of violent and intimidating actions exercised by a bully, or a group of bullies, on a victim!
Bullying can be verbal, physical, persecutory and, in most cases, takes place in the school environment. However, new technologies have introduced another phenomenon that is even more insidious and invasive, which is translated into cyberbullying. The Miur also defines cyberbullying as:
a set of aggressive and intentional actions, by a single person or a group, carried out through electronic tools (sms, mms, photos, videos, emails, chat rooms, instant messaging, websites, phone calls), whose goal is to cause harm to a peer who is unable to defend themselves.
The differences between the two phenomena lie in the time factor and the dimension in which the phenomenon manifests itself. "Classic" bullying is limited to the school context and lives its time in the "school time" or, at most, in the school-home and home-school journey. Cyberbullying, on the other hand, has no temporal or spatial limits and often becomes a stronger persecutory phenomenon precisely because of the possibility of acting anonymously and in the absence of a real interpersonal relationship between the parties. In fact, the absence of an emotional response in the other person can lead to even more aggression and make the individual feel even more helpless and tormented.
According to UNICEF, 246 million children and adolescents worldwide suffer some form of bullying every year. In Italy, 20% of adolescents and children are victims of bullying or cyberbullying annually. However, girls in our country are much more subject to cyberbullying: in fact, these types of violence affect 7.1% of girls compared to 4.6% of boys. UNICEF also estimates that 1 in 3 students worldwide has experienced bullying between the ages of 13 and 15. The latest Italian data are a bit dated, UNICEF itself reports the 2014 ISTAT data but without fear of contradiction, phenomena related to cyberbullying have increased in the last 7 years.
But sticking to the 2014 data, 1 in 2 boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 17 has experienced an act of bullying and 63.3% have reported witnessing mistreatment of some students towards others.
The ministry of education's guidelines for school operators and parents
The Ministry of Education has been committed for years to preventing and combating any oppressive phenomenon in the school environment and has often updated guidelines for the prevention and elimination of bullying and cyberbullying. These guidelines are aimed at all school operators (school principals, administrative staff, ATA staff, teachers, etc.) and all parents.
School operators are assigned the task of evaluating interactions in social groups that are created in the school environment and identifying harmful or potentially harmful behaviors. The Ministry of Education provides training modules and training and information activities for all school operators and parents to combat these phenomena. The participation of boys and girls is also fundamental through the use of peer education activities, which connect students and students or former students and students with each other.
The MIUR recommends activating psychological counseling services or listening centers managed by specialized personnel, creating working groups aimed at combating these phenomena, updating school regulations with procedures aimed at sanctioning behaviors, and developing teaching modules that concern civic education and digital education to counter and prevent bullying and cyberbullying in the future.
We could define the role of school operators and parents in 3 verbs: educate, observe, and listen. It is essential that everyone is attentive and vigilant to these phenomena, identifying "pathological" attitudes that may appear in the school and extra-school environment. The simple repression of cases does not help to reduce the phenomenon in the long term. Targeted actions and education on the phenomenon are needed, which must be directed both at students and parents and school operators.
Knowing the world of one's children and students is essential to understand the dangers as well. The internet is objectively a place where all young people and adolescents live a good part of their lives; to prevent bullying and cyberbullying phenomena, it is always better to know and not demonize social media, apps, games, and in general the entire digital ecosystem. This attitude also allows for effective and easier communication between young people and "the world of adults".
The work is actually threefold: while it is essential to protect people who are victims of bullying and cyberbullying, it is equally important to educate bullies or cyberbullies not to repeat certain mistakes. In addition, the function of "outsiders" to the phenomenon should be encouraged, educating them not to remain silent and to help and support peers in difficulty.
Resources and support for victims
Beyond data, definitions, and the tasks of parents and school operators, it is important to turn to those who are victims of bullying or cyberbullying. If you are a victim of these phenomena, remember that there are many people ready to help you. Talk about your discomfort with a parent, relative, teacher, or any trusted adult. Do not be ashamed or afraid, they will help you face even the toughest situations; remember that they were young too and surely they can know what is happening to you and they will know how to help you.
Remember that there are also associations that can help you, Telefono Azzurro has a number (1.96.96) to report bullying episodes and help you, your parents, and your teachers to counteract the phenomenon. In addition, there is an online chat that has the same goal. If you want to access the chat or consult the hours when you can call Telefono Azzurro, you can click here!
Remember that law enforcement can also help you and are on the front line to curb these phenomena. Bullying and cyberbullying can also lead to criminally prosecutable offenses. Their help can be crucial.
There are still other initiatives, largely ministerial, aimed at preventing and eliminating these phenomena. We recommend the portal of Connected Generations and the portal of the Ministry of Equal Opportunities dedicated to the general direction for students, integration, and participation.