Cyberbullying in the Millennial Era: How to Handle Cyberbullying at Your School

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In today’s technologically advanced society, cyberbullying is a critical issue that many schools and educational institutions are facing. As administrators, teachers, counselors, coaches, and staffers, you want to protect the students in your school, as well as the learning environment in which you work.

When approaching cyberbullying from an administrative perspective, it’s important to first understand the difficult predicament in which schools find themselves. In handling cyberbullying cases involving students, schools must walk a fine line between doing too much and not doing enough.[1]

For example, it is likely that a large portion, if not a majority, of cyberbullying occurs outside of the school. But if schools try to discipline their students for cyberbullying activities that occurred off school property and without school computers, they risk infringing on the students’ first amendment right to freedom of speech. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if cyberbullying cases are largely ignored or poorly handled, schools also risk severe backlash and legal complications.

So, although it’s certainly much easier said than done, the best course of action administrators can take is to seek out an acceptable middle ground for cyberbullying policies and management, accompanied with a healthy dose of education and awareness.

“‘It’s not something you can legislate or arrest your way out of,’ cautions Stephen Balkam, chief executive officer of the Family Online Safety Institute in Washington, D.C. ‘It’s always going to be a combination of tools, rules, and schools. The emphasis needs to be on creating a culture of responsibility online. Kids need to think about the content they create and post.’”[2]

While different cyberbullying policies and procedures will be necessarily dependent on the laws and precedents set for your particular state (and we strongly recommend that you consult your specific state’s laws before enacting any changes or taking any action), below are several strategic ways educators can approach the daunting task of how to deal with cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying Education & Awareness is a Critical First Step

The best way to begin combating cyberbullying is by recognizing it in the first place. Take steps to ensure that you and all applicable faculty and staff members in the school have a comprehensive knowledge base around cyberbullying. It may be helpful to hold a training program to help teachers and other faculty members learn how to deal with cyberbullying. Cyberbullying goes widely unreported (a National Crime Prevention Council study found that only about 25% of teens were likely to report cyberbullying to an adult[3]), so it’s critical that authority figures in the school environment are able to recognize signs and intervene if they suspect cyberbullying is occurring.

Along the same lines, cyberbullying, by definition, is a pervasive type of bullying that occurs entirely on electronic devices, predominantly mobile phones or tablets. So it’s critical to stay up to date on the latest app trends and popular sites that students in your school are using. It may seem like teens latch on to a new favorite app every day, thus making this undertaking daunting. But remember, you’ll never be able to truly confront the cyberbullying problem if you don’t understand the environment in which it is occurring.

Preventing Cyberbullying with Policies

Most schools already have pre-existing policies regarding bullying. It’s advisable to work to update your school’s bullying policy to include a comprehensive section on cyberbullying. The updated policy should include a clear definition of what cyberbullying is and how to report it, as well as language indicating that it is absolutely not tolerated within the school or using school electronics. A sampling of potential disciplinary measures can also be included, but since cyberbullying situations can vary wildly from case to case, there should be wiggle room to allow administrators to customize corrective actions on a per-case basis. The policy should also consider instances of cyberbullying that occur outside of school, but that have an impact inside. For example, if acts of cyberbullying occur after school or on the weekends, but the results have an impact on lunchroom behavior or classroom environments, a policy to address such should be in place.

As mentioned before, schools are in a difficult position when trying to monitor and discipline cyberbullying. Searching a student’s personal phone or computer has fourth amendment[4] implications, while trying to police student cyberbullying has potential first amendment[5] infringement dangers as well. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a lawyer look over your policies (and even help write them, if possible), to check for appropriate language and that your institution is not including anything that could potentially have constitutional or legal ramifications in the future.

Another one of the best ways schools can help stop cyberbullying is through effective reporting measures. Encourage students, parents, and teachers to report any and all instances of cyberbullying that they see or suspect. Because many cyberbullying witnesses or victims may fear retribution if they report bullies, you should establish, maintain, and publicize safe, anonymous ways for reporting, such as a dedicated e-mail address or forum, or even simply a box outside the counseling office.

How to Deal with Cyberbullying Victims & Bullies

After identifying a victim and a bully in a cyberbullying situation at your school, it’s important that your response is not solely focused on meting out punishment to the appropriate parties. While some measure of disciplinary action should be taken, it’s crucial to focus also on education and counseling, for both the bully and the victim.

Since cyber bullies are able to easily psychologically distance themselves from their actions, work with them to consider the impact that their actions have on others. Educating students about not only the effect that cyberbullying actions have, but also the legal consequences (e.g. charges of libel, cyberstalking, online harassment, sexual harassment, etc.) that can result from their actions, can serve as a very powerful deterrent.

For cyberbullying victims, ensure that they feel safe and heard, and work with their parents or guardians to provide them with any coping or counseling services they may need. A study from the Cyberbullying Research Center found that “cyberbullying victims were almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide compared to youth who had not experienced cyberbullying.”[6] Additionally, with cyberbullying, victims can just as easily become bullies and vice versa, perpetuating a vicious circle.

Conclusion: Proactive Schools are Key to Fighting Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is clearly a major issue in today’s world, and with the continued advancement of technologies, it isn’t a problem that will be going away any time soon. Thus, schools need to be proactive and intentional in their efforts to prevent, manage, and stop cyberbullying.

Disclaimer: This article should in no way be considered or construed as legal advice, or acted upon as such. The material is available for informational purposes only.


[1] Hoffman, Jan. “Online Bullies Pull Schools Into the Fray.” June 27, 2010. Retrieved from on December 15, 2015.

[2]Adams, Caralee. “Cyberbullying: What Teachers and Schools Can Do.” Retrieved from on December 14, 2015.

[3] National Crime Prevention Council. “Teens and Cyberbullying: Executive Summary of a Report on Research” February 28, 2007. Retrieved from on December 15, 2015.

[4] “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…” Amendment IV to “The Constitution of the United States of America.” Retrieved from on December 14 2015.

[5] “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” Amendment I to “The Constitution of the United States of America.” Retrieved from on December 14 2015.

[6] Hinduja, Sameer and Patchin, Justin W. “Cyberbullying Research Summary: Cyberbullying and Suicide.” 2010. Retrieved from on December 11, 2015.

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