Science and Technology

Research-backed guide set to decimate cyberbullying among children and teens

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Years of research into the risks and benefits posed to children and teenagers by the internet has resulted in a world-first by an Australian university – a comprehensive, research-backed classroom resource to empower students and provide teachers with lessons and information to address cyberbullying.

Online connectivity is part of everyday life for the vast majority of Australian children and teenagers and with this comes exposure to cyberbullying, which can adversely affect the mental health and wellbeing of young people. The reach of the internet is in many ways escalating faster than society’s ability to deal with the challenges it brings.

The new resource, published by Flinders University researchers, provides teachers with information, supporting theory, and practical lesson plans for an eight-week program, aimed at both primary and secondary students.

It has been incorporated into the latest version of the internationally acclaimed PEACE Pack intervention program, which has been used by more than 60 schools in South Australia and more than 350 schools in Greece, Italy, Malta and Japan.

The 40-page cyberbullying manual builds on the single lesson included in the initial PEACE Pack and includes information on the law, social media use and tips for parents.

This unit was developed in response to teacher’s requests for a resource they could deliver to support their teaching in relation to digital citizenship.

“An expanded resource on cyberbullying was always part of the plan for the PEACE Pack but we needed to ensure it comprehensively incorporated all relevant research, and was informed by teachers’ classroom experience with this issue,” says Flinders University’s Professor Phillip Slee, who co-designed the PEACE Pack and is also a trained teacher and registered psychologist.

“The short term effects of childhood bullying are well-known and studies are increasingly improving our understanding of long-term damage as adults, including anxiety, depression and in extreme cases, suicidal ideation. The latest neuro-science research indicates that the impact of bullying is equivalent to exposure to domestic violence and physical abuse” Professor Slee says.

While Australia has been at the fore-front of international research addressing schoolyard bullying, current figures indicate that almost one in five students are experiencing ‘serious bullying’ once a week or more.

The cyberbullying manual was written by Flinders University’s Dr Mubarak Rahamathullain in association with Professors Antonella Brighi from Italy and Phillip Slee, and is the culmination of almost a decade of his research into child safety in cyberspace.

Dr Rahamathulla says unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying has no physical boundaries, can be anonymous, constant, and can spread through a peer group and beyond in seconds. “This makes it particularly damaging to children who are targeted and particularly easy for perpetrators,” Dr Rahamathulla says.

The new addition to the PEACE Pack covers every aspect of cyberbullying including abusive texting, social media impersonation, exclusion, sexting and sexual bullying, stalking, derogatory comments and content, and more. It is linked to the national curriculum and has a strong focus on promoting the mental health and wellbeing of students as part of their online lives.

“Young perpetrators and sufferers can engage in cyberbullying without fully understanding the nature of the internet,” Dr Rahamathulla says.

“So it’s crucial that all young people understand what happens to the information they post online, what behaviours constitute cyberbullying, and how these affect mental health and wellbeing. Our children and teenagers need to be prepared if it happens to them or if they witness it happening to others, and we need to build their skills to reduce the likelihood that they will become a perpetrator.”

The PEACE Pack has been embraced by South Australian public and Catholic schools. Brighton Secondary School commenced the intervention four years and has seen the bullying rate at its school reduced to 5% of all students, from an original 15- 20%.

Independent assessments have shown the PEACE Pack has a significant impact on reducing the level of victimisation and bullying, and promoting wellbeing and school connection. It takes a whole-of-school approach including looking at how people build relationships and deal with negative emotions, and informs anti-bullying school policies.

The PEACE Pack is founded on the principles of Preparation (P), Education (E), Action (A), Coping (C) and Evaluation (E) and has been providing primary and secondary schools with a framework to address school bullying and violence since 2001. It can be purchased by contacting Professor Phillip Slee at Phillip.slee@flinders.edu.au and will be available soon from a dedicated website. All proceeds go towards further research and resources to address bullying and promote the mental health and wellbeing of young people.

Source: Flinders University

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