Cyberbullying is a pervasive and persistent form of aggression that is escalating in quantity and form within Latin American schools. It is also common that the adults involved in pupils’ care and education are left behind in this field, leading to poor supervision both at school and in the home, which increases the chances of technology misuse. Teachers are responsible for the care of children and young people, but from a research perspective, their role has been given little attention. Most studies focus on students’ experiences and perceptions, while the adults involved in such situations are very much forgotten. However, although cyberbullying can be theoretically analysed as an extension of bullying in the online world, in order to comprehend it fully, it is necessary to address the role of adults and the dynamics involved in this phenomenon. In particular, there has been little research conducted on teachers’ digital use and their discussion and awareness of cyberbullying. Therefore, theoretical streams based on educational research, as well as from media and communications, are useful in assessing this kind of long-term, damaging abuse in order to create a full picture of cyberbullying. Furthermore, it could lead to the proposal of tools that would help teachers to create strategies so as to prevent and/or mitigate it.
The purpose of this study is thus to look into teachers’ digital practices, particularly the role of social media, and how this is linked to their discussion and knowledge of cyberbullying. Its purpose is also to examine whether embracing technology can help to prevent or deal with such aggression among students. This study was designed to be an explorative, qualitative research project. It involved 32 head teachers of students aged between 12 and 17 from schools with low, middle and high socioeconomic statuses. Results show that teachers’ ability to identify and deal with cyberbullying increases when they use social media themselves, and even more when they openly discuss it with their students. Furthermore, to date, the majority of teachers that have addressed cyberbullying have done so without the help of the school and, when this is the case, there are no clear regulations and the schools are more focused on sanctions than actions to prevent it. Teachers’ social media experiences, digital skills and fears have thus been presented in a typology that includes the minimally active or reluctant user, the active user that is concerned with privacy and the active user opting for full disclosure. This study should help to build teachers’ capacities to prevent and deal with online abuse among children and young people. It also suggests that schools address teachers’ use of social media in both their everyday life and as part of the curriculum, as well as through online communications with students, and implement activities that raise awareness of cyberbullying and foster healthier online environments. These actions, according to those who participated in this research project, will also increase teachers’ confidence in their ability to assess risks and actions when dealing with online abuse among their students.
11 October 2016