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School Bullying, Wellbeing and Spotting the Signs of Cyberbullying  

School Bullying, Wellbeing and Spotting the Signs of Cyberbullying

This November, organisations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland are recognising Anti-Bullying Week (13th – 17th November 2023). As a leading safeguarding solution provider, CPOMS is proud to support this nation-wide initiative and in our blog, we explore the impact of bullying in school settings, the rise of cyberbullying and how educational staff can spot indicators to take a proactive approach and prevent harm on young people’s wellbeing.

The impact of bullying on children’s wellbeing

Bullying can have an incredibly detrimental effect on the wellbeing of any child involved, extending beyond just the victims but also significantly impacting the perpetrators and even bystanders. Research from the Journal of Child and Family Studies suggests that victims of bullying are more likely to experience symptoms of anxiety, loneliness and low self-esteem while perpetrators often experience feelings of aggression and negative future optimism. Bystanders who witness instances of bullying were also found to have been impacted in their academic achievement and self-esteem.

The effects of bullying can extend beyond psychological symptoms too, often leading to physical health issues. Studies published in 1996 and 2005 have previously reported that bullying in schools can be considered a contributory factor to physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, bed wetting and difficulty sleeping. The long-term impacts of bullying have also been reported to have serious lasting effects into adulthood, with victims of childhood bullying at increased risk of depression and suicidal ideation in later life.

In recognising the serious and lasting implications of bullying, it is clear that all forms of bullying should be closely monitored in schools, with the 2005 study long-term effects of bullying recommending that bullying “should be considered as a significant risk factor and safeguarding issue”.

The rise of cyberbullying

With bullying such a pervasive issue that has existed for decades, it can be easy to picture it as negative behaviours that exist only in the playground or in school corridors. However, the prolific rise of technology and popularity of social media has created a new digital realm for bullying to take place within. A recent study from Ofcom found children aged 8-17 are more likely to be bullied on a screen than in person, and of those who experienced bullying, eight in ten were victimised through a device such as a phone or laptop.

Unicef defines cyberbullying as “bullying with the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms and mobile phones. It is repeated behaviour, aimed at scaring, angering or shaming those who are targeted.”

For experienced teachers and educational staff, physical bullying can be easy to identify, but if a pupil is being cyberbullied, the signs are often trickier to spot. However, cyberbullying can be carried out solely in an online or digital space, leaving no physical signs for educators, parents or guardians to identify.

Spotting the signs of cyberbullying: what to look for

Recognising indicators of cyberbullying could be said to require a more nuanced approach than identifying the signs of physical bullying, due to the ephemeral nature of online interactions and how evidence such as digital messages or images can be easily hidden or erased. However, there are more subtle indicators to watch out for. Commenting on these, Matt Buttery, Associate Professor of Family and Parenting Practice at Warwick University, recently said in an interview with Huffington Post: “It can be difficult to tell if your child is receiving online bullying or abuse. That said, there are a few signs to look out for – [a] distinct change in your child’s behaviour, a loss of confidence, problems with eating and sleeping, or a withdrawal from normal family life.”

Institutions such as Nemours KidsHealth and Understood recommend an approach focused on recognising behavioural patterns as indicators that a child maybe experiencing cyberbullying, such as:

  • Being secretive of one’s devices and online life
  • Becoming emotionally upset during or after using online devices
  • Suddenly stopping using the computer for schoolwork or fun
  • Being reluctant to go to school or feeling anxious about going
  • Experiencing a change in eating or sleeping habits
  • Undergoing a dip in grades or behaviour at school

When subtle signs of cyberbullying go unmonitored, more serious problems can follow. An early study into the effect that cyberbullying can have on mental health by researchers Ybarra and Mitchell, found that rates of depression, anxiety and stress were markedly higher for students involved in cyberbullying. Amongst those who had been cyberbullied, 39% dropped out of school, 37% showed ‘delinquent’ behaviour, 32% engaged in substance abuse, and 16% suffered from depression.

How can CPOMS help you to identify and monitor the signs of cyberbullying

With these statistics in mind, it’s important to spot the signs of cyberbullying early, to allow you to make the appropriate interventions that could prevent or reduce the harmful impact it can have on young children.

You may be wondering where you should start, given that the signs can be subtle and easy to fly under the radar. Safeguarding software allowing you to record incidents and identify behavioural trends can empower you to take a proactive approach to intervening in cases of cyberbullying.

CPOMS Safeguarding software enables education and safeguarding staff to note, track and monitor changes in a pupil’s behaviour. You can also use the software to create customisable categories, such as “isolating from others”, to build a detailed chronology database of information that when viewed in summary, makes it easier to spot indicators of possible cyberbullying. Over time, this information can give educators the insight and confidence they need to make earlier and more effective interventions to limit the risk that cyberbullying can have on students’ wellbeing and mental health.

Though the signs of cyberbullying can be insidious, CPOMS can equip you with the tools to better support affected pupils and ultimately keep them safe. To discover how safeguarding software from CPOMS can help you monitor the signs of cyberbullying and protect children, book a free demo today.

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