Teacher Roles and Digital Threats: Preventing and Addressing Cyberbullying in European Schools

Alan Bruce
Universal Learning Systems, Ireland

Imelda Graham
Universal Learning Systems, Ireland


The rapid growth of the internet and social media has provided a new platform for bullying, although traditional forms continue to exist. Cyber bullying is the term used to describe any aggressive, intentional act, behaviour or communication undertaken an individual or group, using electronic and digital means against a vulnerable victim, repeatedly and over time. The reality and impact of bullying has been the subject of extensive research over many years in all countries. Bullying occurs throughout the world and can occur at many stages in the course of life, from childhood to adolescence and in to adulthood, in private, educational and work settings. Bullying is a distinctive pattern of harm and humiliation of others, especially those who are in some way smaller, weaker, younger or in any way more vulnerable than the bully. Bullying is a deliberate and repeated attempt to cause harm to others of lesser power.This paper reviews the issues and themes identified in the international research on cyberbullying. It summarizes the key factors involved and provides a comparative analysis based on research undertaken in five countries and schools (Ireland, Spain, Italy, Poland and Romania). In addition, the paper identifies innovative learning strategies, digital resources and detailed findings from surveys of teachers, students and parents that offer techniques and actions to educational establishments to ameliorate this phenomenon. All this is designed to identify and pinpoint the critical issues involved in developing evidence-based responses to the issue of cyberbullying in European schools.The anonymity and seeming ubiquity of the threatening remarks or actions that constitute bullying can have a deeply disturbing and disconcerting impact. The sense of menace is amplified by the uncertainty and fear of being stalked and pursued. Many studies over several years have examined the negative effects that cyberbullying can have on victims (and also on bullies themselves). Victims are more likely to report lower grades, poor concentration, anxiety and a range of academic problems as a consequence of experiencing cyber bullying. Both victims and bullies often report higher levels of stress, depression and low self-esteem. A particularly serious consequence of cyber bullying, as also in harassment in general, is suicide.Research on cyberbullying is plagued by inconsistent findings and exaggerated claims about prevalence, development over time, and effects. To build a useful and coherent body of knowledge, it essential to achieve some degree of consensus on the definition of the phenomenon as a scientific concept and that efforts to measure cyberbullying are made in a “bullying context”. This will help to ensure that findings on cyberbullying are not confounded with findings on general cyber-aggression or cyber-harassment. We tentatively recommend that cyberbullying should be regarded as a subcategory or specific form of bullying, in line with other forms such as verbal, physical, and indirect/relational.

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