In this back-to-school issue of Class Ideas, we're focusing on a social issue of increasing importance in today's digital world: cyberbullying. It is estimated that nearly half of children and teens have been bullied at least once via cell phone, Internet, or other digital technology. Though cyberbullying typically take place away from school, teachers and schools have a definite role to play in prevention, as this month's article points out. And to increase your understanding of cyberbullying and its dimensions, we're also offering downloadable activity pages from Didax's new grade-level series Bullying in a Cyber World, as well as a terrific special on these books and other Didax anti-bullying resources.
We hope the information you find in this issue will help you get the new school year off to a great start!
1. What is it?
According to StopCyberbullying.org, cyberbullying is "when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-harassment or cyberstalking. Adult cyber-harassment or cyberstalking is NEVER called cyberbullying."
2. How is it different from face-to-face bullying?
Cyberbullying involves technology, either cell phones or social networking sites or other means. It is unlike face-to-face bullying in that a child may be a cyberbully one moment and a victim the next. Children often change roles, going from victim to bully and back again.
3. What are the consequences for the children involved?
Cyberbullying can have very serious consequences. Children have been known to kill or commit suicide after being involved in a cyberbullying incident. Most of the time the cyberbullying does not go that far, although parents often attempt to pursue criminal charges. At a minimum, a child caught cyberbullying can lose his or her ISP or IM accounts as a terms-of-service violation. If hacking or password and identity theft is involved, it can be a serious criminal matter under state and federal law.
4. As a teacher, what can I look for to tell me that cyberbullying is affecting my class?
Be aware of the emotional state of your students. Does a student seem depressed? Withdrawn? Are his grades suddenly dropping? Look for changes in usual relationships, such as a student suddenly being excluded from her usual lunch table. Younger kids who are being cyberbullied may start being absent from school more often. In middle school, trouble may erupt in the back of the classroom over a cyberbullying incident the night before.
5. As a teacher, how can I deal with it?
The first step is to take it seriously, says Michelle Boykins, director of communications and marketing for the National Crime Prevention Council. "It's not just kids being kids. We have to make sure cyberbullying is not a rite of passage. If we don't change the culture, then we are helping young people be victimized."
It is important to know how to intervene when kids make social mistakes, says one bullying prevention coordinator. Let the student know that their cyberbullying behavior is wrong and guide them to another alternative. Educating students about the consequences they may incur as cyberbullies (such as losing their ISP or IM accounts) helps. Teaching them to respect others and to take a stand against bullying of all kinds helps too.
An education campaign to raise awareness among kids and teens about the consequences of cyberbullying is a second line of defense. The campaign should address ways in which students can become inadvertent cyberbullies, how to be accountable for one's actions, and the importance of not standing by and allowing bullying (in any form) to be acceptable. Students need to be taught not to ignore the pain of others.
Teaching kids to "Take five!" before responding to something they encounter online is a good place to start. Techniques to help calm down include yoga or deep breathing, running, playing catch or shooting hoops, hugging a stuffed animal, or talking on the phone with friends. If children know how to find their center again, they will often not become a cyberbully, even inadvertently. Teaching them the consequences of their actions (such as the FBI showing up at their door if a serious law is violated) helps sometimes.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to give children ways to avoid being victimized. Remind them to never put anything sensitive or embarassing into an electronic format and send it to someone. The more embarrassing the material is, the more likely it is to become public.
Finally, let kids know you care and will advocate for them if there is a problem. Some experts suggest having an anonymous way to report cyberbullying incidents, such as a drop box, hotline, or e-mail address. Make sure children understand that reporting cyberbullying isn't the same as tattling.
6. Why is it the school's problem?
School is the center of students' lives. Online harassment may take place during evenings or on weekends, but the fallout is often seen at school and can interfere with the educational environment. In the worst case, students are so worried about cyberbullying that they can't focus on their studies or are afraid to come to school. The problem then becomes a school climate and safety issue.
7. How can my school deal with it?
Schools can be very effective brokers in working with the parents to stop cyberbullying situations. They can also educate students about cyberethics and the law. If schools are creative, they can even handle off-campus cyberbullying without exceeding their legal authority. Experts recommend adding a provision to the school's acceptable use policy reserving the right to discipline the student for actions taken off-campus if those actions are intended to have an effect on another student or they adversely affect the safety and well-being of students while in school. This makes it a contractual, not a constitutional, issue.
Join us in October for a sneak peak at an exciting new tool for practicing and reinforcing the content from the Common Core State Standards. Common Core Collaborative Cards are an easy and effective way to group students by standard, get them talking about different approaches to the same concept, and prepare them for additional meaningful tasks in the same domain. You won't want to miss this issue of Class Ideas!