Let’s face it: Kids can be mean. It’s a simple fact of life that educators, families, and students battle daily.
From the playground to the classroom and everywhere in between, bullying significantly impacts student mental health. And in the digital age, there are more ways to be unkind than ever before, especially when it comes to the cloud.
That’s why cyberbullying prevention needs to be considered an important part of managing and monitoring your school-provided cloud services, such as Google Workspace, Microsoft 365, Zoom, and others. To help you wrap your head around this potentially unseen issue, let’s dive deeper into cyberbullying, its effects on mental health and school safety, and what you can do to prevent it in your school district.
Cyberbullying prevention in your school district
Gone are the days when bullying simply happened on the bus, the jungle gym, or on school grounds. Now, bullying has taken on a new form, due largely to the proliferation of digital technology.
According to Pew Research Center, nearly 60% of teens say they’ve experienced some form of cyberbullying, while 90% agree that online harassment is a serious problem for people their age.
But don’t be fooled: Harassment doesn’t only happen on social media. It can occur across any digital channel, including your district’s school-provided cloud services like Google Workspace or Microsoft 365.
Whether it be in a Google Doc, a OneDrive file, or a Powerpoint presentation, cloud apps are increasingly being abused for many types of bullying behavior:
- Harassment: Students often tease and torment others with verbal attacks over chat rooms, email, and other text threads. Many district technology teams see students use shared documents and slide presentations as chat rooms for these purposes. They may even engage in sexual harassment or nonconsensual exchanges, such as sending sexual or inappropriate photographs or messages, which put you at legal risk.
- Impersonation: Kids may also impersonate, catfish, or mock classmates by stealing access to their accounts.
- Inappropriate photographs: As mentioned, students often send inappropriate or embarrassing images of themselves or others. Some may even blackmail classmates with such photographs for personal gain.
- Video shaming: Cloud apps are used to share video files, sometimes even containing embarrassing or inappropriate content of fellow students.
In truth, there are infinite ways that cloud apps can be exploited for negative behavior. Take the case of Burlington School District in Colorado, where Director of Technology Russell Lindenschmidt encountered an especially worrisome case of bad student conduct.
“I had an incident where some students started compiling racially motivated memes on a Google Slides deck,” he said. “Using ManagedMethods, I was able to see which students had viewed and/or edited the deck and which did not. I then had data-driven proof to deal with the situation and help ensure our district remains in compliance with civil rights laws.”
Although there’s no federal law that addresses cyberbullying, most states have laws that require you to implement a bullying policy and response plan. In either case, cyberbullying prevention is a major responsibility, especially when considering its effect on mental health.
The impact of cyberbullying on student mental health
If left unchecked by school officials, toxic behavior tends to spiral into long-standing consequences for those suffering the harassment, mainly if it occurs during early childhood.
When it comes to allocating resources to bullying prevention, school administrators should consider the implications of student conduct on mental health and school safety. According to Verywell, cyberbullying can lead to a number of physical and emotional repercussions:
- Development of social anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
- Self-harm (or digital self-harm)
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Academic issues
- Sleep disturbance
- Violence against others
It isn’t difficult to connect the dots between these outcomes and their potential consequences on student and school safety. And believe it or not, students often drop hints about their mental health in school-provided cloud applications. They might discuss their thoughts with classmates or record their experiences in a cloud-based diary.
In other words, your district’s cloud likely contains indications of bullying or students whose wellbeing is at risk. That’s why school officials must try to prevent bullying and detect signs of risk in their cloud before an incident goes from bad to worse.
Creating a school cyberbullying policy
As previously mentioned, there’s no federal regulation that speaks specifically to cyberbullying. However, most states, according to StopBullying.gov, do have a law that mandates schools develop some formalized anti-bullying policy.
But a formal cyberbullying school policy is more than a legal requirement — it’s the framework you need to eliminate bullying behavior and respond to incidents with appropriate disciplinary action. It’s likely your school district already has a policy in place, but are you sure it’s truly effective?
To help you answer that question, consider the following best practices when developing a cyberbullying school policy:
- Provide a clear definition of cyberbullying: It’s important to set exactly what constitutes cyberbullying and the types of behavior you’ll be watching in your cloud environment.
- Outline your procedure for reporting an incident: Make sure everyone — students, parents, and school staff — know exactly what they can do to report an incident and its steps. If students are comfortable with this process, they’ll be more likely to come forward and make a report.\
- Outline your procedure for investigating reports: Ensure everybody also understands how school officials will investigate reports. A standardized procedure will help ensure that no stone is left unturned or boxes left unchecked that may have unearthed a potential risk.
- Train students about your policy: Teach students about the importance and rationale behind the policy. Provide additional resources and student services for those interested in learning more about how they can seek help or prevent bullying.
How to enforce your school policy with cloud technology
Once you’re satisfied with your school cyberbullying policy, you need to enforce it to the best of your ability. If you lack insight into your school’s cloud applications, that can be an especially daunting task.
Although many school districts might already deploy technologies that monitor student behavior, most don’t extend to the cloud. That’s why you need a cloud security platform built specifically to keep tabs on cloud services automatically, so you don’t have to spend your limited time investigating incidents.
Cloud-based monitoring solutions automatically detect signs of cyberbullying, sexual harassment, or other risks in your cloud, including content created by and shared between students. For example, they can identify instances of bullying that take place over email, Google Chat, or Powerpoint.
By scanning the content of your cloud using artificial intelligence and keyword/regex detection, you can quickly identify safety risks and provide students with the necessary resources to arrive at a positive solution.
Cloud monitoring technology also helps you investigate incidents as quickly and with as much context as possible by providing detailed information about:
- The owner/creator of the file or communication
- Who the file/communication was shared with
- Who accessed and contributed what to its content
That’s what a cloud security platform like ManagedMethods can bring to your school district: near-real-time alerting, rapid response and investigation, and complete peace of mind. Most importantly, it helps you protect students from cyberbullying and enforces your school bullying policy.
When students are under more pressure than ever before, it’s important to help them in any way you can. Our out-of-the-box platform can be configured to identify risks according to your needs and help you allocate mental health resources to students when they need them most.