A new study suggests school social workers are unequipped to handle cyber bullying.
Almost half of elementary-, middle- and high-school social workers are not prepared to handle cyberbullying, according to a recent study published in the journal “Children & Schools.”
Social work professor Jonathan Singer, who co-authored the study, said while school social workers viewed cyberbullying as a prevalent issue, they had not received adequate training to handle the influx of cases.
The survey consisted of 15 questions answered by 399 school social workers from nine states in the Midwest. The questions asked respondents how serious and pervasive they thought cyberbullying, is as well as what they believed their responsibilities were.
Singer said part of the problem lies with the policies set in place by schools to deal with cyberbullying.
One-third of respondents, Singer said, reported their school had a policy on cyberbullying. Out of those, 62 percent said the policy was effective.
Singer said the average age of the respondent was 48 with an average experience time of 12 years.
“If we think of cyberbullying as a relatively recent phenomena,” Singer said, “that means that on average, people have been practicing longer than cyberbullying has been a problem.”
Singer added respondents typically did not have personal experience with cyberbullying nor did they receive graduate-school training on cyberbullying.
He said school social workers have been trained on traditional bullying, which is distinctive from cyberbullying.
“Traditional bullying relies on being able to see and hear the bullying,” Singer said. “A teacher is not going to know that cyberbullying is happening unless you go and tell the teacher, in which case you would have to show the cell phone and access the Facebook page.”
Singer said adults being unable to detect cyberbullying makes it more difficult for school social workers to prevent it.
The first to know are usually the victim’s friends, he said.
“Just like with every other shameful and private behavior, such as suicidal idealization and attempt,” Singer said, “adults are usually the last to know when something’s going on with a kid.”
Singer said one solution is for school social workers to communicate with students about what they can do when they discover cyberbullying as well as what evidence they may need to provide.
School social workers should educate students on what specifically constitutes as cyberbullying, Singer added.
Singer said philosophies on bullying have drastically changed since 20 years ago, when cyberbullying had not appeared yet.
“People were like, ‘Ah, bullying, it happens. You got to get through it,’” Singer said. “Then it came out that kids who were bullied felt worse about themselves, did worse in school and were more likely themselves to become bullies.”
Because the negative effects from cyberbullying have started to appear, Singer said, people realize action is necessary and schools have developed training programs.
“We’re really in the early stages of this right now,” Singer said. “It will continue to evolve, and it will continue to evolve as technology evolves.”
Cary Carr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.