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Identifying Effective Tactics

for Cyberbullying Awareness 



Nancy Willard

School districts will play an increasingly important role in promoting safe use of the Internet by students under federal law about to take effect. Educators should implement approaches that have the greatest likelihood of effectiveness, which is challenging because there are no evidence-based best practices.

The aim is to change youth attitudes and inspire students to make smart and ethical choices about how to behave online and in their use of social media. If a program or practice does not accomplish this, no matter how beautiful the graphics of instructional software or how sophisticated the video production, your school district’s time and money are being wasted. Parents and teachers may wrongly conclude they have successfully addressed the problem.

A provision in the Children’s Internet Protection Act requires that schools receiving E-Rate or other federal technology funds teach Internet safety to students. This includes cyberbullying awareness and interactions on social networking websites and in chat rooms.

A school district must certify, on FCC Form 486 or FCC Form 479, beginning with FY 2012 that it has updated its Internet safety policy to address this new instructional requirement.

 The FCC indicated it would not detail specific procedures or curriculum for schools to use, trusting educators at the local level to determine how to influence student behavior in their use of social media.

A Positive Spin
The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use suggests you consider these ideas:

No. 1: Understand the reality. Research studies from the Crimes Against Children Research Center, the Cyberbully Research Center and others consistently have found the majority of young people make positive choices when using digital technologies and effectively respond to negative situations. Young people, however, make mistakes that can be prevented through better education about potential risks and effective strategies. Because most students are making good choices and do not like to see others harmed, we can promote these positive norms.

No. 2: Avoid instructional approaches known to be ineffective. That means resisting Internet safety messaging that conveys inaccurate, fear-based information and simplistic rules for online behavior such as “don’t communicate with online strangers or post personal information online.” Provide accurate information about the real risks, along with effective problem-solving strategies for avoiding and addressing risky situations.

No. 3: Implement effective risk prevention. Several components are part of effective risk -prevention:

REINFORCE POSITIVE NORMS. Promote the effective norms and practices followed by most students. Use digital surveying tools and student discussions to gain insight into students’ positive attitudes and behavior when using digital technologies. Create messaging grounded in this insight. For example, “67 percent of students have changed the settings on their social networking profile to be more private” and “89 percent of students do not like to see people post hurtful material online.”


Federal Courts: OK to Intervene Off-Campus

STRENGTHEN EFFECTIVE SKILLS. Engage students in discussions where they have the opportunity to communicate their effective strategies to their peers. Use older students to teach younger students. Specifically address problem solving in a digital environment where disinformation may be more commonly encountered.

ENCOURAGE HELPFUL ALLIES. Adults generally are not present in digital environments. Young people most often report problems to their friends. Encourage students to advise a peer who is engaging in risky behavior, provide support to a peer who is being harmed, challenge irresponsible or hurtful behavior, and report unresolved or serious concerns to a responsible adult.

No. 4: Create a multidisciplinary coordinating committee and evaluate effectiveness. Although this new E-Rate requirement is associated with the provision of technical services, educational technology staff should not bear full responsibility for providing instruction.

The most challenging issues, including cyberbullying and digital exploitation, are associated with student well-being and thus should be addressed by the school’s health and mental health professionals. School librarians also ought to be involved because of their expertise in digital media literacy. The involvement of a school resource officer is recommended. Eventually all teachers must be able to address common issues in advisories or home room settings.

Pay close attention to the effectiveness of your efforts in positively influencing student attitudes and behavior through evaluation based on student surveys and focus groups.

No. 5: Provide accurate and useful resources to staff. Ensuring educators who work with elementary and secondary school students understand the research insight and effective approaches is a major focus of my work at the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use.

A new website, Embracing Digital Youth (, provides access to information, online discussions, professional webinars, instructional surveys and links to other providers of quality resources.

Nancy Willard is director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use in Eugene, Ore., and the author of Cyber Savvy: Embracing Digital Safety and Civility. E-mail:


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