My experiences with middle school resonate with what Danah Boyd writes about in, “Bullying” Has Little Resonance with Teenagers. I have found that my student’s understanding of bullying is connected to physical acts. Therefore they have trouble articulating what is happening, when it involves shunning, ostracizing, name-calling, and non-verbal communication. It’s not bullying; it’s something else, they say.

It is also interesting that there is a degree to what is acceptable to them in the area of name calling. Calling someone a wombat is perfectly fine, but if the recipient then responds with curse-word name slinging, that has crossed the line. From an adult perspective name calling is name calling no matter what name you use. I tried to explain this to a student without much success.

My students recently reflected on the implementation of the 1:1 laptop program at our school. One area they commented on was the benefit of having more access to socialize online. This allows them to be more comfortable interacting with their peers because they don’t have their bodies giving away emotions. One example was, “if you are embarrassed and blush, no one knows.”

The appeal is understandable. Being an awkward Middle school student is not something I would want to relive, so the fact that they can avoid some of that awkwardness, is surely a welcome relief to them.  So far, in our very small school, we haven’t yet had an issue with inappropriate chatting or messages (that we know of), and I hope it continues to be so.

At my school we begin teaching the children about appropriate online behavior as soon as they begin to interact online with other students. This year that was in our 1/2 combo class with a Flat Stanley exchange. Last year it was 3rd and 4th grade. Our tech teacher is always finding new ways for the kids to interact with children somewhere else in the world. Next year it is possible we will be introducing this topic to our Kindergarten students.

Children spend so much of their time at school, therefore it is important for us, as educators, to address the issues of bullying whether they happen in person or online. We need to work together with parents to make sure they are educated and working together with the school, so there is a continuity of expectations.