Why am I talking about this on Ed Thought?
Every year I am asked to do some sort of presentation on cyberbullying, the internet and safety, and other discussions for parents, students, and teachers. Each year I try to stress the importance of parental and educator involvement in, and coaching of, students in their online explorations.
Inevitably one parent or teacher stands up and announces that we should just switch it all off. Switch off the internet. Take away student’s mobile devices. Remove the tempting objects and throw them out the window. Each time I want to ask the technology defenestration (throwing things our a window but much cooler word) expert what they plan to do about the rest of the world. And I am serious. Follow my thoughts on this:A student receives harassing wall posts on their Facebook page from another student. The reaction above would be to delete the Facebook account. Okay. The other student still has Facebook up and the comment likely already circulated to a portion of the student body before the account deletion occurred. Due to this the beleaguered student receives a taunting text about their Facebook account deletion. This continues until the parent or teacher removes the cell phone. Even if they took this a step further and removed the offender’s phone from their possession and somehow they were never able to obtain a replacement (and with $20 pay-as-you-go phones this is unlikely) the abuse can still continue behind the curtain of a thousand firewalls.
So removal of accounts and phones does not work. At least not for the persistent abuser.
What really works to deal with cyberbullying?
Believe it or not – there is a government website with useful tips. The foremost among them – BE INVOLVED!
Check out StopBullying.gov for full details – here I am going to go over my interpretation of a school’s role in cyberbullying. Yes – they have one.
The School’s Role: and if they are not doing this they are failing.
Assess Bullying - Schools should survey students, faculty, and community member continuously on cyberbullying. The information help inform school’s of widely recognized acts of aggression and also help school authorities understand where students, faculty and community members may be “unschooled” in recognizing bullying behaviors. Informed by these surveys, administrators and counselors can help narrow the focus for school climate campaigns and staff development tremendously.
Involve Community, Parents, and Students - This is perhaps the hardest part of an anti-bullying campaign. The benefits are tremendous however. By involving students schools make them feel safer. Involving the community and parents extends that by helping the school with awareness of broader issues, potential resources for help, and extending the blanket of safety beyond the school grounds. As long as the participants all feel valued and productive things like a school safety committee provides a powerful ally to school principals. In fact – they tend to be the group I speak with most often.
Rules and Policies - Rules and policies help staff and community members (including students) understand how they should treat each other. Most schools already have effectively worded policies in place such as “Be Safe, Be Respectful” and other short – easy to remember student rights. The simplicity of these statements makes them effective.
There are several additional things that can be done to extend the effectiveness of these rules. Educating staff and faculty on how to recognize and respond to violations of these rules helps. Giving students an active role in protecting and upholding these rules increases student adherence as well. The final piece that I find the most influential however is the way in which cyberbullying is reported.
There are a variety of methods but the one that I see the most often and feel is the least effective is the student complaint form. Usually this form allows students to “report” incidents “anonymously” yet these forms are typically located in the counseling center or front office – highly visible places – and the turn in is usually a person – often the same person who follows up on the reports. I would encourage schools to try an online form accessible from a computer, mobile phone, or other device. Post the QR code or shortened URL conspicuously and in areas where bullying happens more often. The chances for reporting increase both with the perceived anonymity ease of access.
Finally a Safe Environment and Education - Wait – A safe environment? Education? When schools block or lock down social sites and prohibit students from using them during the school day they seem to think they can also avoid teaching students about these resources. Like reading – technology literacy and even more to the point – teaching positive behavioral norms for life online is an often neglected responsibility of the school. It should be integrated into every classroom!
Does all this seem too simple? If it does you have been overthinking it. And honestly it is not all that simple. Implementing this takes time, dedication, and involvement from many different groups and areas. Actually – defenestration seems much simpler – it just does not solve the problem.