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Cyber Bullying: What can we do?

Sorry for the lateness of this response: I’m sure many of you can connect with how stressful Grad school can be!

Growing up I was a pretty skinny kid until I hit junior year of high school.  I was 6’ 2” and 160 pounds soaking wet.  Safe to say I wasn’t the kid in the gym pressing 300 pounds.  Then I started to grow into my frame pretty quickly.  But before then, like most kids, I would get the occasional teasing: for wearing glasses, for not being as tall as everyone else, etc etc.  It’s part of going to school: everyone knows what it feels like to be left out sometimes (some more than others).  But, I didn’t have a facebook account in high school: it wasn’t that popular yet.  But, I think for adolescents these days with a social networking account there is a huge downside: the potential for bullying.  I think teenagers see sites like facebook and myspace as a digital image-broadcaster.  You get to select what information the world sees about you and try to make people see you the way you want to be seen.  Insecurity is synonymous with being young and you just want to feel accepted.  Hence, you post pictures, write things, and friend people who correlate to that message you are trying to send.  When you are young, you are self conscious, and putting yourself out there is taking a risk.  So what happens when you get made fun of, outside the context of school, and online, where everyone can see it?  What if someone writes on your wall that you are fat and ugly, and then all of a sudden all of your friends can see it?  Kids can be brutal to each other, and I don’t know what is worst, being left out in gym class and being picked last for the kickball team, or having someone you thought was your friend leave some nasty comment on a picture of you. 

So what should we do about it?  There is no way we are going to stop the younger generation from creating accounts on facebook or myspace.  And yes, there is no way you are going to stop the bullying.  But there are steps we can take to curb it and help students feel more accepted.  The best place to start is in the classroom.  Bullying starts when you misunderstand someone.  You have your friends and you usually stick together.  But that band kid over there seems different and he’s probably more likely to get picked on by someone outside of his clique, just like anyone else.  As a teacher, it is your responsibility to not only teach students a subject, but also life skills, which includes how to communicate and understand others.  Why is it that large corporations have team building exercises and churches and clubs have outings and retreats?  You get to know those associated with you and you build friendships.  Volunteering is a great way to get students to work together, and build confidence.  It feels great when you do something positive.  And it feels even better when you work together with someone to accomplish that goal.  Too often, we make students compete with each other: over grades, over starting positions on the football team, over who can win the most awards.  That’s how kids get left out.  It’s amazing to me that we recognize how painful it can be to be a teenager but yet create opportunities for failure in comparison to their peers.  When I was student teaching, I had this student named Jimmy in one of my economic classes.  I actually work with him at Wegmans on the weekends.  I remember one day we were working on supply and demand shifters and he just put his head down and gave up.  I worked with him in his free periods for days trying to get him ready for the test.  He did not pass, and he felt terrible about it because he was comparing himself to the rest of the class.  But at the end of my time at his school, I got a card from him and his girlfriend (who was in one of my other classes) saying how much they appreciated the fact that I didn’t give up on them and how they really felt special even though they weren’t the top student in the class (I still have that card; things like that are the greatest gifts ever!).  I’m not saying we need to create an environment where there is no sense of achievement.  In fact, I think by taking the competition out of school, you are creating a greater chance for the feeling of success.  But it’s when we start to push this image of success/failure in schools that we start to separate kids, and it’s that separation that causes bullying. 

My brother had a friend in high school who tragically took his life.  As a member of Active Minds (a group that promotes mental health awareness) I am constantly saddened by the news of individuals who make the same choice because they are “different” due to their sexuality, their looks, or their disabilities.  We need to start helping our youth feel comfortable with who they are, so they’ll start feeling comfortable with each other.  Teach to succeed, not just academically, but socially as well.  I’d love to hear your comments: how can we stop bullying in class and outside of class on the internet?

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3 responses to “Cyber Bullying: What can we do?

  1. Stephen Ransom ⋅

    Michael, what a tremendous post here. You highlight many important ideas related to this issue. I like how you frame some of this problem around adolescents, well, being adolescents. For sure, the competitive climate that we create in schools plays a role. I love how you propose the idea of building community in schools in meaningful ways, like through volunteering/service learning for example. We naturally form groups, clubs, and tiers of students in schools based upon skills and interest, but we typically do a terrible job of bringing different groups together. Rather, we often promote their differences and elite statuses that often create elite groups. Just the fact that some schools even consider this type of thing goes to show the lack of understanding regarding the ranking and sorting of students:
    http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2011/10/color_coded_high_school_id_car.html

    Meaningful discussion surrounding these topics of digital citizenship are critical and need to be happening at every level – students, teachers, parents, administrators… Rules and policies are just not enough, are they.

  2. adunn7

    Cyber bullying is such a hard issue to combat. Unfortunately, since many of the platforms we use on the internet allow us to communicate with others anonymously or via an alias, bullies are empowered do do their bidding without immediate repercussions.

    Because this issue is so slippery, I don’t really know what should be done to stop it, there seems to be no silver bullet. I think as teachers, the first thing we can do to try to combat bullying of all kinds it establish a sense of community in our classrooms. In elementary school, this is usually the norm. In middle school and high school, some classrooms are impersonal, cold and not places where humans are connecting with one another. If teachers at all grade levels strive to build community in their classrooms and hold students accountable for the way they speak and interact with each other, hopefully some of these issues can be ameliorated.

    I have heard of stories where MS and HS teachers do a quick activity that takes 5-7 minutes of instructional time everyday called good and thankful. At the beginning of class everyone in the room says something good that happened and something they are thankful for. It all has to be positive too and can’t be a put-down for anyone else. For example, you can’t say “I’m glad we beat Penfield.” You would have to say “I’m glad we worked together as a team so that we could win the game.” Teachers who use this activity have reported that students look forward to it, start being interested in each others’ lives and that it helps build community and respect in the classroom. They also say that the instructional time they lose by doing good and thankful is made up for in the end because through sharing, each student feels valued and acknowledged so can easily transition into the work of the day. Maybe doing something like this can be the first step in helping students connect to and understand one another. Maybe with more understanding, respect will follow.

  3. I am not sure if you have ever head of Rachel’s Challenge, but this program came during my first student teaching placement. Rachel was the first person to be shot during the Columbine shooting and her family started this anti-bullying program. Her family members travel to different schools and share her story in an assembly type setting and then they hold a workshop for students who are interested in starting a friends of Rachel club at their school, which is designed to reach out to people in the school and community about anti-bullying.

    Her uncle, the speaker who came to our school, had such a motivating assembly and when I took my homeroom students back after the assembly we had such an eye opening conversation about bullying in their school. It was nice to see the quiet students open up and express their thoughts. It really made a difference!

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