NCSAM: For Schools, Biggest Emerging Challenge is Hardest to See—Managing Student Safety, Social Media and Online Risk

As we continue our conversation around National Campus Safety Awareness Month (NCSAM), we’re examining the risks and challenges associated with students, social media and the potential for harassment and online bullying.

In today’s highly connected world, electronic bullying—more commonly referred to as cyberbullying—has become a national conversation for educators, political leaders, mental health experts, law enforcement and many other groups and organizations concerned with the issue.

The trouble with cyberbullying is that there are often much less obvious signs of distress or trouble, especially when most of the activity is occurring on concealed devices or private chat windows.

To make matters even more nuanced and complex, certain forms of cyberbullying have emerged as viral games, such as the Blue Whale Challenge and The Momo Challenge.

Cyberbullying primarily involves verbal aggression (online threats and harassment) and relational aggression (online rumors and lies). These types of incidents can escalate, unfortunately, and transpire into property damage, violence and real world consequences.

Warning Signs

Due to the nature of cyberbullying, educators and campus leaders need to establish what warning signs to look out for.

As it pertains to younger, more impressionable students, the website stopbullying.gov provides some important warning signs to look out for that everyone should be aware of—regardless of where it’s occurring:

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide

It’s important to remember that the impact of cyberbullying and harassment isn’t limited to just students. Often, adults are just as susceptible to it.

The American Psychological Association (APA) covers the topic as it pertains to office environments, and educators and campus leaders should find these points resourceful.

As the APA reveals, bullying in the workplace can lead to increased absenteeism, employee turnover and even lawsuits. As a result, leaders are encouraged to:

  • Foster improved communication skills
  • Teach employees to understand each other
  • Identify root causes
  • Establish a policy of respect

Raising the Conversation

Regardless of the demographic, the issue of cyberbullying and harassment is one that needs to be addressed and communicated with your faculty, staff, students and their parents (where applicable).

Consider building communication around the topic that can help people identify those who may in be distress or trouble. In addition, cover the actions that these members should take should they feel a student or staff member is at risk and clearly define available resources.

The Cyber Bullying Research Center provides educators with a range of resources on this topic, including best practices in bullying and cyberbullying prevention and response, statistics, presentations, state laws, activities, tip sheets, handouts and current news that should help keep your campus up to date.

Should you have any questions as it pertains to the topic of cyberbullying and prevention, please don’t hesitate to reach out to contact me.


Cheryl McDowell

About Cheryl McDowell

Cheryl has over 30 years of experience in the areas of insurance and risk management. With Bolton’s Education Practice Group, she works with education clients to review and improve their existing risk management and insurance programs, including coordination of forensic audits of the school’s existing risk management and insurance programs.

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