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 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.
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…
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