Schools tackle cyber-bullying

The effects of bullying over internet, e-mail, instant messaging can be just as devastating as bullying on the playground, say educators meeting in Montreal to discuss what role schools should play when the abuse happens off their property.

As internet use continues to grow, schools are investing time and money to fight cyber-bullying – children and teens' use of e-mail, cell phones and blogs to threaten, humiliate or harass other children.

Surveys suggest many students in Canada have access to the internet, with nearly 60 per cent using chat rooms and instant messaging, according to a survey on behalf of the Media Awareness Network and reported on

In 2002, CBC-TV broadcast the story of David Knight of Burlington, Ont., who was teased and taunted in person and then humiliated through an abusive website that accused him of being a pedophile.

Other examples include:

  • Sending nasty e-mails about a child.
  • Taking a photograph, modifying it and posting it on the net.

The effects of cyber-bullying can be just as difficult as traditional bullying on the playground, said Bruno Mital, regional director for Kids Help Phone in Quebec.

"As a matter of fact, the whole thing with cyber-bullying is they're hiding behind e-mail or a computer," said Mital, a moderater at a conference on cyberbullying in Montreal on Monday.

"At least in bullying, you have the person that you can confront. These kids that were doing this to David Knight, [he] couldn't see them. And that's even harder."

Adults may not understand how damaging cyber-abuse can be, but victims say it can cause deep emotional wounds and devastate self-esteem.

Children who are afraid may dread going to school and drop out, or even commit suicide, Mital said.

At the conference, educators are discussing who should be accountable, such as to what extent schools should intervene when students cyber-bully outside school.

Counsellors suggest parents should:

  • Keep lines of communication open with their children so they feel comfortable talking about cyber-bullying.
  • Watch for changes in behaviour in their children, such as avoiding a favourite activity, or crying at night.