When MySpace ends in tears

© The Age Fairfax Digital Article link

February 1, 2009

Australian teachers are failing to effectively intervene in school cyber bullying, with “significant progress” needed to help bring them up to speed with interactive internet tools. A report published by the federally funded Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies found the internet plays a critical role in the lives of primary school-aged children. Sixty-five per cent of five- to 14-year-olds use the internet during or outside school, with a large number using email and messaging programs. But teachers largely remained unfamiliar with types of internet communications – such as MySpace and Facebook – used by students as young as five in cases of online harassment and denigration, the report found.

“A significant proportion of teachers do not use or understand interactive online technologies,” Macquarie University lecturer Damian Maher said in the report. “Significant progress in this area is required.”

Latest research suggests as many as one in three students aged 10 to 14 experience forms of cyber bullying, typified by harassment through email, text messaging and online chats. Despite this, Dr Maher said teachers remained “very hesitant” in exploring and using interactive cyber technology, which meant they struggled to monitor and control cyber bullying.

“Appropriate training for teachers needs to be developed,” he said.

NSW Teachers Federation president Bob Lipscomb said no policy-based training programs on cyber bullying were available for his members. But information bulletins compiled by the Department of Education and Training were in place to ensure teachers were equipped to respond to classroom cyber bullying; while cases demanding greater action should be referred directly to the Department. Author of website cyberbullying.info, Chris Webster, said teachers with a limited understanding of online tools faced the greatest challenges.

“The majority of students will not report cyber bullying or internet safety incidents to their teachers or parents if [they] believe that the adults around them don’t understand this technology,” he said. “[They worry that] the way these adults will ‘solve’ the problem is by removing access to the technology – the absolute last thing any teenager wants, as this technology acts as a social lifeline for these teenagers to their peers.

“Some argue that cyber bullying typically occurs outside school hours and off the school grounds. However, it is difficult to argue that schools are in a vacuum, as they obviously are not.”