Bullying in schools is a global issue, but New Zealand has the second highest rate of bullying in the OECD. One in two Kiwi kids are bullied at school at least once a month, and cyberbullying increasingly plays a major role in this.
The staggering extent of bullying in schools has come under scrutiny as mental health issues and suicide take their toll on our youth, and there is currently a #StandStrongNZ movement exposing the depth of this problem.
Social media provide the platforms of choice for cyberbullying, and relentless abuse online has been a contributing factor for some vulnerable teenagers choosing to take their own lives. Disturbingly, NZ has the worst teen suicide rate in the developed world with Australia also featuring in the 'top 10'.
Download our Whitepaper on Cyberbullying and Social Media here.
Under NAG 5 all schools should have a policy that defines bullying and sets out how the school community will address it, in order for them to ensure a safe physical and emotional school environment. However, a 2017 ERO school review estimates that 8 percent of school boards fail to have anti-bullying policies, processes and programmes in place for students.
Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft states that there's "no such thing as a bullying-free school".
"There are bullying prevention guidelines, but I'm not satisfied in my own mind that every Board of Trustees has a comprehensive bullying action plan in place so that all students know that when they experience bullying, they have a safe, confidential and effective method of complaining," he says.
Creating a culture of student wellbeing
School boards have a legal responsibility to consider, promote, balance and respond to all aspects of the student, including their physical, social, emotional, academic and spiritual needs. Ensuring student wellbeing is part of the board’s stewardship role.
Cyberbullying can be challenging for schools to deal with. Most commonly it starts through a classmate, but can spread virally to an online community out of "school hours".
We recently spoke with Jan (name changed), a Counsellor, about her experience in dealing with cyberbullying victims and their families. The rise of technology use with excessive screentime, and as a medium for cyberbullying, is what most of the parents she deals with are talking about. Cyberbullying, she says, is hideous.
"By the time posts are taken down they have often been circulated wildly and the damage has been done. Sexting, messages, and comments like "why don't you just go and kill yourself" are the 'new norm'. Even if the intent of the sender is not to be malicious, often the receiver can misinterpret messages. For example, if a young person is lacking in confidence with acne, a comment like "looking good" could be mistaken for sarcasm."
Jan says it can be very difficult for young people to face their peers after an event. If an intimate picture is shared in the context of a loving relationship or a prank, and that goes 'viral' through a school community, or if victims have had threats of physical harm made against them, often they feel there is no other option but to leave the school - or worse.
From her experience, Jan finds that schools are generally quick to respond to instances of cyberbullying and will organise assemblies and facilitate discussion and support for victims. Schools do their best but have to contend with a lot of complexity, and they are often on the back foot against the speed at which events can unfold.
Boundaries around technology use
Jan works with parents to change dynamics within families, including implementing boundaries around technology use. She talks to them about parental controls, brain development, and emotional regulation. She also recommends parents take time to understand what their kids are watching, and see how they interact with chat, online groups and communities.
"It comes back to parental guidance; how do we monitor, limit and make sure they're safe?"
She recommends parents use technology to implement boundaries. Parents also need to role model good online behaviour themselves.
Partner School Program
Some schools have chosen to join Family Zone's Partner School Program to ensure that mobile devices comply with school internet use policies in school time, including implementing restrictions on social media use. Reporting on 'at-risk' indicators is available on search terms used and video content viewed.
The mobility of technology provides a new paradigm for schools, and parents need to take some responsibility to ensure devices have appropriate filtering. With Family Zone's cyber safety partnership, parents have visibility and control over age-appropriate apps and websites out of school time.
Good digital citizenship is an important aspect of the school curriculum, and technology that provides age-appropriate guardianship facilitates appropriate usage conversations.
If you would like information on the Partner School Program, contact us here.