Cyberbullying is again in the news following the suicide of a girl hounded by ‘trolls’ on a social networking site. Her parents have demanded action against the site and are asking the government to regulate similar sites.
Imposing sanctions against one site may make a small difference, if they are capable of being enforced, but others will doubtless emerge to take its place.
Schools are ideally placed to draft behavioural policies that ensure they are explicit in dealing with the online behaviour of pupils, whether in school or during personal time. An express right for schools to monitor pupils’ online activities can assist greatly in detecting behaviour which might be of concern and could help to curb cyberbullying. Such a provision can be placed in the school’s behaviour policy.
Schools can discipline pupils for misbehaviour when identifiable as a school pupil and at any time that poses a threat to the public or another pupil, or that could adversely affect the reputation of the school. Therefore, pupils who are found to be involved in cyberbullying in their free time may still be dealt with.
Perhaps regular reinforcement of the message that this behaviour will not be tolerated could change attitudes among young people. Schools must educate children, and parents, in the risks.
If a school suspects that a child may be suffering or may be likely to suffer serious harm, it should engage its child protection procedures. A victim may be in danger, but bullying behaviours may also indicate psychiatric illness in the bully. Online monitoring in today’s climate must surely be a key to ensuring the safety of our children and something all our schools should carry out as a matter of course.
Ben Collingwood, Associate, Barlow Robbins, Guildford, Surrey