Cyberbullying: Teaching digital <br> citizenship and resilience

Cyberbullying: Teaching digital
citizenship and resilience

Cyberbullying: Teaching digital
citizenship and resilience

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There has been much interest in the topic of cyber bullying in the media recently. As educators, we are often asked about our policies and procedures or asked for advice from parents who find their daughters struggling in the social media landscape. How do we best navigate the challenges of the digital world together?

What is the context?

Recently the media has been saturated with stories about cyberbullying and youth suicide. With the number of Australian children taking their own lives increasing by a third in the past decade and suicide remaining the leading cause of death in children aged 5 to 17, calls have been made for apps and social media platforms that allow bullying to be banned and for tech companies to take more responsibility.

However, Ginger Gorman, a journalist and writer, argues that with social media already enmeshed into the lives of our children, the answer lies in education and resilience. Gorman, who has been viciously trolled online herself, says that banning apps is a Band-Aid solution for a “complex wound”. Banned apps will simply reappear within days, or even hours, under new names and will have no effect on bullies and trolls who will switch to the new apps or find other outlets for their hateful messages. In addition, argues Gorman: “The notion of banning kids from social media is akin to stopping kids going to the shopping mall in case they get assaulted. It’s ludicrous and amounts to a type of victim blaming that punishes the cyberhate target and not the perpetrator.”

Child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg recently told the ABC that up to 70% of primary-school aged children are on social media and argued than children aged under 12 should not be on social media at all, but Gorman asks, “Aren’t we better off teaching our kids good digital citizenship and resilience in the face of bullying? Aren’t we better off helping them use social media in limited bouts and under supervision?”

Gorman suggests that we do not engage with bullies and trolls who are, after all, simply seeking to hurt their victims and provoke a wounded response. Rather, she argues, we should ignore their vile posts, stand strong and use resources like those provided by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and Kids Helpline. It is also important, Gorman says, not to lose sight of the positive sides of social media for young people in connecting with friends and family. It is crucial for children, including those who are vulnerable or isolated, to be able to access online support networks and resources via social media.

What can parents do?

Echoing this advice, Julie Inman Grant, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, says that parents and the wider community need to “help our young people build the resilience, courage and strength to cope with what they may experience online”. Parents are urged to help their children navigate their way safely in the online world, just as they do for the real world.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education has published an article outlining advice for parents on how to respond when their teenaged children show signs of stress related to interactions on social media. Drawing on research, the article notes social media-induced stressors and reactions include:

    • Seeing people posting about events to which the teen hasn’t been invited
    • Feeling pressure to post positive and attractive content about themselves
    • Feeling pressure to get comments and likes on their posts
    • Having someone post things about them that they cannot change or control
    • Feeling replaceable: If they don’t respond to a best friend’s picture quickly or effusively enough, will that person find a better friend?
    • Too much communication: A boyfriend or girlfriend wants them to be texting far more often than is comfortable
    • Digital ‘FOMO’: If they’re not up-to-date on the latest social media posts, will it prevent them from feeling like they can participate in real-life conversations at school the next day?
    • Attachment to actual devices: If their phone is out of reach, will their privacy be invaded? Will they miss a message from a friend who needs them?

The article cautions parents not to over-react by banning mobile devices but to probe what is making their child anxious, as digital devices are not necessarily creating new anxieties but amplifying and shifting the quality, quantity and scale of typical developmental challenges. Suggestions include working with teens to set social media expectations, setting screen-free times and role-modelling good use of technology. Michael Carr-Greg also recommends looking at proactive apps that help a student “turn off” access to social media and other distractions for certain times of the day.

If my daughter shares with me that she is being bullied online what can I do?

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner advises parents of cyberbullied children to:

  • Collect evidence – take screenshots of the material and copy URLs
  • Report cyberbullying material to the relevant social media service/s (see

If the content is not removed within 48 hours:

  • Block the person
  • Report the cyberbullying at

Kids Helpline also provides online advice for bullying victims, telling them not to respond to the bully, but to block them, take screenshots and report the post or image. They should also seek help from a parent, trusted adult or, if they feel in danger, the police. Kids Helpline is also open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week providing a free and confidential online and telephone counselling service to all children and young people aged 5 to 25.

If the connection is School related please encourage your daughter to share it with her teacher, Head of Year or appropriate School Leadership staff. Unfortunately, we often hear about incidents long after they have occurred and the complexities of the relationships have become even more fraught. We understand that our girls make mistakes and can say or post things that are careless or hurtful, but if we can work with them right away they are often resolved well. We also advise parents to let their daughters work with staff on these issues, again our experience shows that sometimes when parents get involved the complexities increase and the girls often lose the opportunity to learn lessons for themselves. Our Anti Bullying Policies are all available on our Website – with the Information for Parents document (click to view) presenting some clear guidelines which will be helpful for parents.

What do we do at School?

There are three ways we seek to support our girls and families at School: education, student engagement and actively following up concerns.

The first place to start is to more fully understand cyberbullying, digital citizenship and resilience through education. Our Junior School girls and parents enjoyed a series of presentations this week from Brett Lee, exploring the possible online dangers and responsibilities. Practical and useful strategies for protection and prevention were given to all the girls. Our Senior School girls consider the complexities of friendships, bullying online safety and IT etiquette in both their CLD and HPE programs. We have regular guest presenters such as Brainstorm Productions, discussion in year level groups, Chapel services and PC classes. This Term we have had a focus on these issues at every Senior School assembly and our student leaders are taking the lead and using their student voice to plan and deliver an anti-bullying assembly for Week 8. Research shows that allowing students to lead programs in this area can have much greater results than the ‘top down’ approach so often presented in schools. We encourage our girls not to be bystanders if they observe poor behaviour and I am proud to say that our girls are generally very good at reporting concerns and assisting with their resolution. Student engagement in the educational context is central to our approach.

Parents should be encouraged to know that we have a clear commitment to acting when incidents occur and to work towards resolution. Each incident is treated individually, but it will generally involve staff investigating, holding discussions with girls, giving reminders of expectations, communicating with parents and delivering consequences. Note that consequences may be as simple as an apology or as complicated as behaviour management or ongoing counselling. In keeping with our policy (link above) it is really important that parents allow the School to act upon incidents in our professional capacity. We will always keep parents informed about the consequences for their own daughter, but reserve the right to keep details regarding other girls private. Parents will understand that external suggestions or commentary on consequences are never helpful for the girls involved.

We are also currently working with TSS to develop a joint approach to policies and recommendations for managing technology, especially during the important senior years. We want our girls to take every advantage technology offers, while being mindful of the distractions that can occur. We are also wanting to give advice on some of the pitfalls that can arise if one is not diligent in Cyber Space, and we will be organising joint TSS and St Hilda’s nights for parents on eSafety matters, one in Semester 1 and another in Semester 2.  Dates are being confirmed and will be relayed to parents as soon as they are determined. Mr Geoff Powell is leading this initiative.

St Hilda’s has also subscribed to SchoolTV which is being launched this week. This is a wonderful resource which includes videos on various eSafety related topics and other known stresses students may have to deal with as they navigate school and the outside world. More details on this exciting initiative will be sent to parents this week.

We know at St Hilda’s that addressing Cyberbullying and fostering digital citizenship and resilience is an ongoing process that requires a variety of approaches, age appropriate messages, strategic education and positive relationship building. We are committed to working with girls and parents to build a community that is informed, confident and respectful in a world of rapid change. See below for a list of resources and references for this article.

Dr Julie Wilson Reynolds

Other Resources

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner website is an outstanding resource and should be the first port of call for parents.

The Anglican School Commission also has an eSafety Website with a specific portal for parents, it also links to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner

Freedom is a world-famous Internet, social media, and app blocker. It allows you to temporarily block websites and apps on your iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Windows computers so you can avoid distractions. You can subscribe for $29.00 per year, and it is used by Institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, MOT, Google, Microsoft and Uber.

Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800  |

Lifeline: 13 11 14  |



Research material sourced from

Devic, A. (2018, January 20). Cyberbullying in Australia: How parents can stop cyberbullies from thriving online. Herald Sun. Retrieved from:

Gorman, G. (2016, November 1). There is nothing virtual about online trolling. TEDx Canberra. Retrieved from:

Gorman, G. (2018, January 15). Banning social media wouldn’t have saved Dolly. Retrieved from:

Cyberbullying. (2018). Kids Helpline. Retrieved from:

New ABS figures: Youth suicide. (2016, September 29). headspace. Retrieved from:

Cyberbullying. (2018). ACORN – Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network. Retrieved from:

Report cyberbullying. (2018). Office of the eSafety Commissioner. Retrieved from: https://

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