Protecting Students Without Fencing Them In

Image from Flickr user woodleywonderworks

When I first started the readings for this section of the course I thought I had it figured out. Cyber bullying in schools is an obvious issue, I thought. The readings showed something different though.

The Pew survey results show that kids are in fact being bullied online, but it is not really any more widespread than bullying that is happening in person. This was somewhat surprising to me. In my personal experience and from the readings, it is much easier to be bold through a computer. I see “internet tough guys” all the time when I am online. Does this translate into more bullying online? What should educators do about these issues?

It seems quite apparent that both parents and schools must take an active role in help kids understand cyber-safety. This is illuminated by the Pew study regarding teen internet use, and there are several important lessons to be learned.

  • According to the survey, almost half the teens online said they lied about their age in order to join a website. This is an oft overlooked problem that I face as a middle school teacher. As our school moves to iPads next year, the COPPA 13 y/o agreement will be a major issue that we will need to solve. This affects many tools that we use – Prezi, iTunes, Glogster, etc.
  • One third of teens have shared their password with a friend. Do we file this one under the “mistakes you half to make in life” column? It seems that no matter how much teachers or parents or friends repeat the dangers of an issue like this, it takes getting burned for someone to actually learn.

One of the most interesting items I found was regarding who teens learned about online safety from and who they ultimately turned to when faced with an issue. Seventy percent of teens learned about cyber safety from teachers (eighty-six percent from parents), but when it came time to seek advice, only three percent sought out a teacher. Fifty-three percent went to peers while thirty-six percent turned to parents.

OK, a blow to the ego maybe, but not entirely shocking. So does this mean that we are wasting out time? Of course not. Schools play an essential role in preparing students to give sound advice. When it actually happens, a teacher might not be the one to give direct help, but the kid who is in that position needs to have the skills and knowledge to help their friend. And isn’t that the business we are in anyway. We are trying to prepare kids to make good decisions and provide sound council in these situations.

Who’s job is it to teach these skills?

Lectures by uncool old people like me aren’t going to make teens who are engaged in dramas think twice about what they’re doing. And, for that matter, using the term “bullying” is also not going to help at all either. We need interventions that focus on building empathy, identifying escalation, and techniques for stopping the cycles of abuse.

The Dana Boyd quote from above comes from an article on “cyber-bullying”. When it comes to thinking about how to teach online saftey, I think she nails it. Can I also add, we shouldn’t call it “cyber-safey”, as I have several times throughout this post. We are teaching kids about solving problems and making good decisions. I do think thereexplicit discussion about these issues has to occur, but I would agree with her when she says, “technology is not radically changing what’s happening; it’s simply making what’s happening far more visible.”

As technology changes, teachers must face the issues our kids are dealing with head on. We cannot pretend they do not exist. Banning Facebook and Twitter is not an option; we must teach students how to responsibly use these tools and how to troubleshoot when problems arise.


  • February 25, 2012 - 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Great post! I agree we cannot ban social networking sites. We have to education how to use these tools properly.

  • February 27, 2012 - 7:52 pm | Permalink

    I truly enjoyed reading your post Isaac. I can hear your voice :)

    I was not as surprised as you with the data, however, it comes back to living by the golden rule. That is what we need to teach, model and value. The avenues in which bullies do their bullying will adapt and change as our word changes. We need to stay the steady course of inform, model, support and intervene when necessary.

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