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Social Media & Schools: Are NSW High Schools Effectively Resolving Cyber-bullying?

As the world of social media continues to develop and more teens turn to such communicative platforms for entertainment purposes, more and more incidents of cyber-bullying surface. Thus begins the problem-solving debates. Is the simple banning of social media devices in schools enough, or should more intricate strategies be put in place to tackle the core of the problem?

High school students using social media.

As they enter the gates of Willoughby Girls High School in the early morning, the commuting girls cease their Snapchat surfing, stop scrolling through Instagram, close their texting apps and put their mobile phones in their bags. They know that they must keep their phones there until they leave the school grounds at the end of the day.

Willoughby Girls High School’s no-phone policy is one example of a direct initiative to limit students’ social media use. The policy was adopted to keep their students “cyber-safe”.

“We need to be able to be confident that students are cyber-safe in our school… we want to make sure that they are engaging socially with the world – not virtually – at least for some of the time,” says Elizabeth Diprose, the principal of Willoughby Girls High School.

Diprose believes that it is “very, extremely important” for the school staff to be aware of their students’ online activities during school hours.

In recent times, social media has elevated incidents of cyber-bullying in Australian teens. However, with the growing epidemic of unhealthy social media use comes the debate of how secondary schools involve themselves with monitoring and restricting their students’ media use.

Willoughby Girls High School’s no-phone policy states that “students must not use mobile devices at all in the playground during breaks” and that “it is too easy to be unkind or inappropriate to others when not looking at them”.

“It is also too easy to misunderstand the intention of some messages received via social media.”

Diprose claims that her school’s no-phone policy has minimized cyberspace incidents and that she is “confident that [her students] are safe inside [her] school and that they are cyber-safe”.

Kincoppal Rose Bay High School students on their phones during break time.

While all Australian secondary schools are aware of cyber-bullying and are required by the NSW government to issue an “Anti-Bullying Plan”, each school implements different initiatives. The level of awareness students have of such initiatives varies in each school as well.

Like Willoughby Girls High School’s direct initiatives, Kincoppal Rose Bay High School conducts an annual Positive Peer Relations Survey to promote their anti-bullying programs within their student community.

“We have a program called NetBoxBlue. It pretty much blocks you from seeing anything [the school] don’t want you to see. So like Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, some game websites,” says Emily Quinn, a Year 12 student at Kincoppal Rose Bay.

“In a way, I think it’s good that they block social media sites during school hours because you’re almost forced to concentrate and do work,” says Quinn.

Kincoppal Rose Bay High School students browsing social media on their phones.

However, high schools like Fort Street High School are less obvious in the implementation of their anti-bullying policies.

“The teachers never really talk about [cyber-bullying],” says Matthew Lau, a Year 11 Fort Street High School student.

“There have been big talks we’ve had to go to about cyber bullying, talking about what is considered cyber bullying… but nothing else [about our policies] really.”

Fort Street High School does not have a no-phone policy and instead focuses its resources on keeping its internet fire walls secure from student tactics to use social media sites on its network.

Fort Street High School.

“We got a new like tech guy in our school. He’s not a teacher but then he’s just there in the computer room and he’s always catching [students] online. I don’t know how he does it, he just blocks [the website] and doesn’t let us use it,” says Lau.

In contrast to common high school approaches to cyber bullying within social media, Orygen’s Head Researcher on Suicide Prevention, Dr. Jo Robinson believes that schools should educate students on the positive uses of social media rather than outright banning the platforms.

“Bullying is bullying and I think you can’t ban a school playground, so why do you think that banning social media will solve the problem?” asks the representative researcher of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health.

Dr. Jo Robinson. Image sourced from Orygen.

“[Schools] just don’t deal with [social media and cyber-bullying] properly. It’s not an easy thing to deal with, but I think banning social media isn’t going to solve the problem. That is absolutely not the way to go.”

Dr. Robinson believes that “the benefits of social media outweigh the risks” and that banning social media use in schools would “cut off important opportunities” to help students overcome cyber-bullying incidents.

“I think we’d do much better by working in partnership with young people around how they engage with social media, rather than just taking it away from them,” says Dr. Robinson.

“The research that we’ve done tells us that young people use [social media] for receiving and giving peer-to-peer support. When they’re feel vulnerable or unwell, they use it for seeking information. They use it for getting treatment. All sorts of really healthy things, being part of a conversation and community.”

The debate continues as Shelley Hancock, MP for South Coast, recently released a blog article on the Sydney Morning Herald where she calls for “a complete ban on all personal mobile devices on school grounds”.

“We need additional resources in our schools to help teachers combat the effects of social media use, particularly during school hours,” says the Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly.

“We need to ban mobiles and tablets on school grounds. And we need to restrict the use of social media on school devices.”

Findings from a Roy Morgan Young Australians survey show that social media and internet usage levels have overtaken TV usage levels in Australian teens since 2015. Hence, how NSW secondary schools regulate their students’ social media use is becoming increasingly important in modern schooling environments.

Shelley Hancock believes that a national restriction of social media use in schools is the only way to tackle the problem.

“I would go one step further – this is a national epidemic, requiring swift, whole-of-government action,” says the MP for the South Coast.

Facebook is known to be the social networking site most prone to cyber-bullying and 25% of its Australian users are under 25 years, according to Social Media News. Such statistics show the extent of social media usage in teens.


Written by Richelle Lau

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