3 Tips for Combatting Cyberbullying Through Empathy


The cyberbully is one who can attack anywhere, anytime and with complete anonymity. These bullies are not restricted to school playgrounds or back allies. One can be attacked anywhere they access their technology, even in the safety of their own home. Because the perpetrators of cyberbullying can hide behind the mask of technology, it can be difficult to provide justice and even reconciliation. How can we, as educators in our society, deal with this problem? Some suggest to teach empathy.

Empathy Is Tough to Teach But is One of The Most Important Life Lessons

Empathy is the process of identifying with another person, attempting to understand their perspective and relate to it. As part helping to eliminate hate, and working toward a more inclusive society, empathy is a must.  Is it possible to use the same technology used for hurt to also heal? With cyberbullying being such a big problem, can we teach empathy effectively to help diffuse and limit this destructive behavior? Though it is hard to teach how can we foster empathy online?

Studies have been undertaken to discover and test ways to lower the impact of cyberbullying and to encourage positive relationships through teaching empathy. The following sections sugges a beginning: 3 ways that educators can affect positive changes in cyber-relationships.

1. Intervention Over the Long Haul

Not surprisingly, the most important step in combatting cyberbullying is for bystanders (teachers, family members or friends) to intervene. In a study by Machackova and Pfetch (2016), it was discovered that providing empathy to the victims of cyberbullying had a positive result.  As educators, we can encourage our students to build healthy relationships and to support each other.

Teachers can find use lessons and units of study that help to foster positive online relationships and limit cyberbullying on sites like mediasmarts.ca.

Schultze-Krumbholz & Scheithauer (2009) found that short term intervention through lessons in class tend not to last. The results of their study showed that longer term intervention was the only intervention condition showing significant positive outcomes regarding cyberbullying perpetration. (p.153) Thus, teachers may find better outcomes through longer term planning of units that address cyberbullying and building empathy.

2. Modelling

It is not enough to teach students what empathy looks like, or how to provide it, teachers must demonstrate it and engage in it themselves. In an article about teaching in online environments, Fuller (2012) states that having an empathetic environment for learners requires instructors to practice it themselves. This will look different, depending on the level of education. An example in online environments might be to make frequent contact with students through selective discussion board postings or regular email contact. The key is to connect regularly and frequently, especially early on to build trust. (p. 43)

3. Exploring Empathy Through Gaming

Role playing and the use of drama have been explored to foster understanding through multiple perspectives. Online gaming can be used to provide students with fun ways to engage in real world issues of poverty, globalization, and conflict through playing different roles within the environments such as Serious Games. Other online games like thomaswasalone  can help students explore feelings of isolation and problem solve to find solutions for it in a virtual setting. Other games presented on sites like commonsensemedia.org provide games and videos that are geared to various age groups, presenting issues related to bullying and cyberbullying that encourage greater thought about others and attempting to understand differing views.

As can be seen, there are strategies and tools that educators can use to help their students combat this issue. Being prepared and acting pre-emptively is important. Readers are welcome to share other resources and ideas as well. Let’s do something about it together.

Another video to ponder…

The Importance of Empathy in Everyday Life


Fuller, R. G. (2012). Building empathy in online courses: Effective practical approaches. International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education (IJICTE), 8(4), 38-48. doi:10.4018/jicte.2012100104

Gentès, A., & Cambone, M. (2013). Designing empathy: The role of a “control room” in an e‐learning environment. Interactive Technology and Smart Education, 10(1), 31–48. doi:10.1108/17415651311326437

Machackova, H., & Pfetsch, J. (2016). Bystanders’ responses to offline bullying and cyberbullying: The role of empathy and normative beliefs about aggression. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 57(2), 169-176. doi:10.1111/sjop.12277

Mindshift. (2017, February 8). Empathy is tough to teach but is one of life’s most important lessons [web log post]. Retrieved from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2017/02/08/empathy-is-tough-to-teach-but-is-one-of-the-most-important-life-lessons/

Schultze‐Krumbholz, A., Schultze, M., Zagorscak, P., Wölfer, R., & Scheithauer, H. (2016). Feeling cybervictims’ pain—The effect of empathy training on cyberbullying. Aggressive Behavior, 42(2), 147-156. doi:10.1002/ab.21613

4 thoughts on “3 Tips for Combatting Cyberbullying Through Empathy”

  1. I feel that there has been much talk about empathy and how to implement it into our teaching and learning for our students. You ask in your post whether or not we can use the same technology to heal that hurt us, and my answer to you is yes and no and it depends on the circumstance and/or issue we are trying to resolve.
    Many of the articles we have read to date have mentions of autonomy such as self-regulation. There are some tech tools that state they help in the areas of teaching self-regulation and mindfulness. Tools such as Prana (a breathing tool that helps regulate breathing and posture by tracking when these items can be improved), or Who Am I, a race identification App that helps students see how others around them may self-identify, or the App Middle School Confidential, where middle school students are able to reflect on emotions and personal strengths and weaknesses. I think in the effort of teaching empathy there are physical and emotional factors that we need to consider. We need to talk to students about physically and mentally taking care of themselves which in turn will help them treat others from an empathetic and respectful standpoint.
    You make a great point when you talk about teachers having to present and demonstrate empathy in order to create an empathetic environment but, how do we teach the teacher? How do we screen for empathy to ensure we are hiring the right person for the job?
    Empathy is a difficult thing to teach, yes, but I think maybe it’s about creating a culture more so than “teaching” the skill.
    I would love to hear how you may create empathetic environments for students and if you have any tips or tricks for us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Empathy is a difficult thing to teach, yes, but I think maybe it’s about creating a culture more so than “teaching” the skill.”
      I see this in my class with my students and try to demonstrate myself as often as I can, given the situation, but wonder if it replicates online as frequently as it does IRL? Sometimes emails are taken out of context in adult correspondence and I wonder if my students present and future are learning about appropriate ways to communicate on this platform as it will likely be one of the most frequently used in their professional lives. It’s not something I can confidently say is being covered in our courses focused on professional practice.


    2. Great article, Mark. Empathy is something that is so hard to teach, but so very important that students practice.

      I also loved your response, Alysha. Thank you for providing some technologies that could be used to promote self-regulation and reflective practice in the classroom. Regarding your questions, Alysha, about promoting empathy in the classroom, I try to create opportunities to model, communicate, share, discuss, collaborate. I sorry that my response will be geared towards primary and early junior grades, but some examples could be modified for intermediate and senior students.

      Model – Be an example of compassion, positivism, and understanding to your students.

      Communicate – When I do read-alouds with students my students I might ask them how a character is feeling or how a character could have engaged in a difficult situation. This helps students to think about the perspectives of others. Scenarios also work in this regard as well. Students can act out different situations and discuss ways of resolving and learning for these events.

      Share – Have students share common interests with each other. This can help students to build positive relationships within the classroom.

      Disclosure – In the area of sharing, I try to build connections with students by sharing personal experiences with my students. I try to show them that I am a person too, who is capable of making mistakes and learning and growing from these experiences.

      Build – Encourage the class to build and promote a learning environment that is safe and positive. I am trying a program that is promoted by the OPP entitled, Walking the Path. This program promotes safe and positive learning environments, and it creates opportunities for students to share and celebrate differences while finding commonalities between individuals. I have had students self-identify as a member of First Nations or Metis through this programming. Some students have difficulty sharing this information with others. This program can help with that. You can check through your board office if this training is offered in your region.

      Collaboration – When working with younger students, I notice they need to collaborate more. I am trying very hard this year to promote inquiry and problem-based learning in my class through collaboration. It allows students to forge bonds and build experiences together.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The OPP Walking the Path sounds like a great program for the younger kids. I think it is very important to teach empathy in the younger years. Not that it cannot be taught in the older years, I just feel it may be much more difficult. Is there anyone who has experience teaching empathy to mature students?
        In terms of collaboration, I think this is a GREAT idea. It definitely brings students together creating relationships.
        Some really good ideas here Josh!
        Thank you


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