Preventing and coping with (cyber)bullying: participatory mapping towards self-regulatory strategies

28 jul 2013 /

The goal of our research (Van Mechelen, Slegers, De Grooff) is to provide teachers with a (digital) toolkit to facilitate 9 to 10-year-olds to become more self-regulatory as a class group in combating traditional bullying as well as cyberbullying. To identify and understand the preconditions for such a bottom-up oriented strategy, experts and teachers have been involved in a series of MAP-it sessions. This is in line with the Participatory Design approach at the core of this research on combating (cyber)bullying. In what follows we will briefly summarize the results.

The prevention pyramid

First of all, it was stressed repeatedly that a safe group with no on-going bullying problems should be the starting point to implement a bottom-up oriented approach towards (cyber)bullying. The prevention pyramid, a framework for structuring prevention in school, was often referred to in this context (Deklerck et al, 2011). According to this model, prevention can and should be structured on different levels ranging from the broad societal context to prevention measures targeting very specific problems.

What happens at the first level, the broad societal context including all kinds of extracurricular activities children are involved in, is hard to grasp for schools. Teachers should start at the second level of the prevention pyramid (i.e. the social school climate) to facilitate children in becoming more self-regulatory in combating (cyber)bullying. On this level, emphasis is put on creating a general positive atmosphere. This includes presenting a nuanced image of social media and the internet instead of focusing solely on potential risks.

The next level, general prevention, is about making children emotionally literate by enhancing empathy, developing social skills and making them more resilient. Only at the top levels of the pyramid (i.e. specific prevention and problem solving) offline and online bullying come into play explicitly. Examples of specific prevention measures are teaching children how to manage privacy settings online and role-playing games to teach children how to react to bullying behaviour either as a bystander or as a victim. Problem solving, the top level, is about curating acute (cyber)bullying problems.

Since the bottom levels contribute to the quality of the other levels in the prevention pyramid and because bullying behaviour should be prevented from happening in the first place, the toolkit should go beyond (cyber)bullying alone. It was recommended frequently to develop a broad-spectrum toolkit aiming at the different levels of the prevention pyramid. Furthermore, the toolkit should be integrated in a multi-layered, whole school approach, targeting the individual, class and school level as well as communication with parents throughout the trajectory.

Participatory design

A tool that should definitely be included in the toolkit according to the participants is a ‘social questionnaire’ to map group dynamics and to monitor how everyone feels in the group. This way, it will be much easier to detect tensions within the group and to prevent them from growing into acute (bullying) problems.  Also essential are tools to build ‘symmetrical trust’ (i.e. trust in both directions) between teachers and their students, allowing teachers to gain more insight in what happens beneath the surface of the group, offline as well as online. Since bullying is a group process in which bystanders have an effect on the persistence of bullying, the toolkit should further stimulate children to make their own agreements about how they can improve the class atmosphere (i.e. broad prevention) and how they can help victims when bullying nevertheless occurs (i.e. intervention or problem solving). Peer sensitizing, in which some children, most likely the popular ones, take the lead in sensitizing other children about safe internet use and what they can do about (cyber)bullying, was also mentioned a few times.

Open and adaptable toolkit

Importantly, a broad-spectrum toolkit should not be mistaken for a one-size-fits-all approach. The tools should be open and adaptable, and designed for structural, long-term use. Furthermore, for profound and enduring change to take place, it is important that the toolkit is built upon a ‘no blame’ philosophy. In sum, a shift in the whole school culture may be needed for a bottom-up approach towards (cyber)bullying to succeed.

The results presented in this EMSOC deliverable should be seen as a metaphorical map, indicating roads, dangers and opportunities to the traveller, not as a mere route prescribing a fixed solution. However, these preconditions were based on the opinions of adults only. Since children are important stakeholders in the design process of the toolkit as well, they should not be overlooked. In the next phase of our research, we will actively involve the children (9 to 10-year-olds) themselves, using specifically designed Participatory Design methods (Van Mechelen et al, 2012). Together with 9- to 10-year-olds and their teachers we will further develop the toolkit based on the roadmap presented in this deliverable.

Download the full report using the arrow below or download here: EMSOC_MaartenVanMechelen_deliverable_2013_lowRes