Chris Kyriacou is Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of York in the Department of Education, and the Director of the PhD Programmes. He has written extensively on bullying in schools, including the recent development of cyberbullying. He presented an invited address entitled “A social pedagogy perspective on bullying in schools” at the “Bullying and Cyberbullying Across Europe” conference held in Athens, 11-13 June 2014, under the auspices of the Greek Presidency of the Council of the European Union. He is very keen to develop schemes in which pupils identified by schools as being a persistent bully are supported through mentoring to find socially acceptable ways of dealing with the issues that have led them to becoming bullies, and is working with others to promote such an approach. He is also a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bullying. He was most recently invited to give a talk on “Cyberbullying in Schools” in Liverpool on 22nd October 2015 as part of the British Psychological Society’s “Psychology in the Pub” series.

I have recently been researching various aspects of cyberbullying in schools. The growth of cyberbullying in schools has largely taken the educational community by surprise, and it was only in the last ten years that the extent and seriousness of this problem has begun to be widely acknowledged and researched. I have define cyberbullying as: “The transmission by electronic means of demeaning, distressing, threatening and abusive messages and images which target a particular individual or a group of individuals.”

Social media has become increasingly important in young people’s lives, and highly meaningful for them in developing their sense of personal and social identity. The fact that social media is now being used as a vehicle for serious levels of bullying is an absolute tragedy. Cyberbullying is very different from face-to-face bullying in a number of ways. What is particularly awful about cyberbullying, is that what is transmitted electronically can reach a huge audience and can remain in circulation for years to come. Moreover, in cases where the sender remains anonymous to the victim, there is an added level of threat and a more sinister element of the victim’s experience. I want to draw your attention to what we know about the different types of cyberbullies. I ask whether a better understanding of the motivation of cyberbullies and how they operate, can help us combat it.

There is already work in schools to prevent cyberbullying. This includes personal and social education lessons which aim to convince pupils that engaging in cyber bullying is totally unacceptable and can do immense harm to the victims. The important role of pupils who are copied into abusive and demeaning message by the sender is also highlighted, as they should let the sender know that such messages are unacceptable rather than encouraging them. There are also lessons on e-safety, which emphasise the importance of keeping personal information private and what to do if you are the victim of an attack.

Schools can also make a huge impact in terms of how they deal with those pupils who are involved in cyberbullying. It is not simply a case of punishing the cyberbullies – indeed, in some cases that can make matters worse. It is important to be aware that cyberbullies also need appropriate education in order to better understand why such behaviour needs to stop. This particularly involves understanding the motives for cyberbullying, and if these stem from personal frustrations that the cyberbullies are facing, the school needs to help the cyberbully to find more appropriate outlets to overcome their frustrations.

There are currently software engineers exploring ways in which offensive material can be blocked. However, it might take several years before any progress is made in developing software solutions to the problem and there is little doubt that cyberbullying is going to be very difficult to combat. If you have any thoughts on what we can do to reduce cyberbullying in schools, please let me know, comment below and join the discussion.