Cyberbullying: What We Know and What We Can Do

By Jeffrey Sprague

What we know

Cyberbullying, or electronic aggression, has emerged as another form of antisocial behavior as students have ever-increasing access to computers, mobile phones, and other electronic devices (David-Ferndon & Hertz, 2009). This form of bullying refers to aggression that is executed through personal computers or mobile phones to send e-mail, instant messaging, text messages, or messaging on social networks (Wang, Iannotti, & Nansel, 2009). Though research is limited about the extent of this new form of bullying, available studies report that 9–35 percent of students report being the target of cyberbullying, and 4–21 percent report being the aggressor (David-Ferndon & Hertz, 2009).

Most students report receiving electronic aggression (cyberbullying) via instant messaging, and about a quarter reports being bullied by e-mail messages, in chat rooms, or through posts on websites. Fifth-grade students report fewer problems with this type of bullying, and eighth-grade students report the highest involvement (Williams & Guerra, 2007). These electronic communications can include mean teasing, threats, playing mean tricks, and spreading rumors that are intended to harm the emotional well-being, social status, or peer relationships of another student (Agatston, Kowalski, & Limber, 2007).

Cyberbullying presents unique challenges for students as well as school administrators. Among these is the ability of the aggressor to remain anonymous—a situation that many believe increases the level of cruelty, mean tricks, and power of the student bullies. Another challenge is the capacity of the bully to engage in the aggressive behavior at any time of day. In fact, 70 percent of students report that 70 percent of the cyberbullying , and the extent to which he or she can send or post damaging messages to a wide audience well beyond the classroom or school (David-Ferdon & Hertz, 2009; Agatston, Kowalski & Limber, 2007).


What we can do

First of all, as educators it is imperative to know what our responsibilities and rights are regarding cyberbullying. If we see it or suspect it, then as professionals there is an implied responsibility to act in a systematic and coordinated manner. Some questions to consider include the following:

  • Does your school have a school-wide program that teaches pro-social skills to all students, creating a respectful social climate such as PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports)?
  • To what extent is socially aggressive behavior, bullying, and harassment (including cyberbullying) a problem in our school?
  • Does our school or school district have a specific policy about cyberbullying?
    • If so, what does the policy require us to do?
    • What is the proper response if a student reports a cyberbullying incident to you?
      • What should you say to the student?
      • What information do you need to collect?
      • To whom do you report the socially aggressive behavior or bullying?
      • Does our school have a specific plan or program for bullying prevention and response?
        • Do students know how to report bullying properly?
        • Do students know how to respond to a bullying incident …
          • When they are the victim?
          • When they are “standing by” and watching it happen?
          • How do we respond when the bully won’t stop?

It is important to understand your rights, responsibilities, and available resources regarding prevention and response to bullying and its many forms, including cyberbullying.

Our new book, Best Behavior: Building Positive Behavior Support in Schools (Second Edition), provides the framework to achieve a more effective context for prevention of all forms of problem behavior. We also specifically and simply describe how to integrate school-wide PBIS practices and bully prevention in practical, easy-to-understand terms.

Jeffrey Sprague, Ph.D., is a professor of special education and director of the University of Oregon’s Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior. He directs federal, state, and local research and demonstration projects related to PBIS, RtI, youth violence prevention, alternative education, juvenile delinquency prevention and treatment, and school safety. Sprague is coauthor of the Best Behaviorprogram, several guidebooks and reports, and more than 150 journal articles and book chapters. He currently directs an R01 research project from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to conduct the first evaluation of the effects of PBIS in middle schools and is co-principal investigator on four Institute of Education Sciences Goal 2 development projects.


Agatston, P. W., Kowalski, R., & Limber, S. (2007). Students’ perspectives on cyberbullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(6), 559-560.

David-Ferndon, C., & Hertz, M. F. (2009). A CDC issue brief for researchers. Electronic media and youth violence, from

Wang, J., Iannotti, R. J., & Nansel, T. R. (2009). School bullying among adolescents in the United States: physical, verbal, relational, and cyber. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45(4), 368-375.

About Jeffery Sprague

Books by Jeffery Sprague:

Wholeschool Leader

Best Behavior

Categories: Family, General Education, Positive School Climate, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

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