The importance of resilience and empathy when discussing cyberbullying
By Artur Direito, on 29 August 2017
By Dr. Claire Sutherland, Education and Community Advisor within the Alannah and Madeline Foundation
Children today are growing up in a world where the boundaries between their online and offline worlds are blurred. They find it difficult to separate these and for many they see no need to separate them, as technology is an integral part of their education and social development. Whilst technology is exciting and allows vast opportunities for children it also brings with it challenges for children, parents and teachers.
My thesis initially focused on identifying differences in the definition of cyberbullying between children, parents, and teachers. It was evident that children and adults had differing opinions regarding what behaviours constitute acts of cyberbullying and this was further broken down into gender differences between children. Nonetheless, all parties highlighted that cyberbullying was a serious issue and one which warranted further attention and intervention. Throughout my thesis I explored the importance of building resilience and empathy in children and designed and developed an intervention using implementation intentions which promoted more positive behavior online. These implementation intentions provided a personalised and positive response for children to take when they were faced with a negative online incident. The implementation intentions were built around the following behaviour change theories: self-efficacy, social norms, self-affirmations, and social support. Whilst primary children were more likely to seek social support, secondary children favoured forming self-affirmations as this would help change their negative thoughts into positives.
As well as educating children about being smart and responsible online, it is important to provide them with skills which they can use effectively and independently if they do receive negative comments. Children are currently turning to passive responses such as ignoring and blocking the perpetrator. Although this response may be an initial starting point, it is not effective on its own. It is essential to ensure that children are confident enough and have the skills they need to effectively deal with negative incidents as they arise. My thesis found that regular, ongoing discussions about respecting themselves and others online, as well as a focus on building empathy and resilience resulted in increasing children’s self-efficacy levels around cyberbullying.
In my current role I encourage children to consider how other people may feel when they receive hurtful comments and discuss positive strategies they can employ. Teachers and parents are also provided with training and resources to further their knowledge and confidence levels when dealing with such incidents. They are also encouraged to work alongside children, slowly and carefully guiding them through the process as opposed to becoming overtly emotional or removing the device or the app. The aim is for children to become more empathic towards others and have positive strategies in place to help them when faced with negative online incidents.
- Can positive self-affirmations reduce the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness that children who experience cyberbullying feel?
- If we make children reflect daily on their online behaviour and focus on the positive messages they receive and send will this change the perceived norm of being negative towards others online and will it increase the likelihood that bystanders will speak up if they witness negative behaviour?
- What can parents and teachers do to build resilience in children today?
My name is Claire Sutherland. I worked as a primary school teacher for 10 years however since submitting my PhD thesis, which focused on exploring the perceptions of cyberbullying in Australian schools, I have moved into the role of Education and Community Advisor within the Alannah and Madeline Foundation. This is a role which I am very passionate about as it enables me to share my interest, knowledge and experience of cybersafety and cyberbullying with children, parents and teachers.