Growing up as a child of the 80’s, bullying in my day included name calling, pushing, shoving, and ice bath initiations. While gossiping may happen behind your back, or over the phone, it was still an interaction between two or more real, live people. Today, bullying has been taken into a new arena – the digital world. SMS, chat rooms, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube have all sprung up to provide a valuable communication service for people, but it has opened a new way for bullies to pick on others in a hugely public manner.
When it comes to the underlying intent of bullying, I do not thing much has changed from when I was a student to now. People jockey for social positions, often at the expense of others, using popularity as a platform to pick on others. I think students to day have a different language to describe bullying, calling it drama, perhaps as a way to convince themselves that what they are doing is ok. The article “ “Bullying” Has Little Resonance with Teenagers” by Danah Boyd does a great job outlining the language students use to describe their behaviour.
I had a student who wanted to be popular. This individual told me they LOVED being involved in “drama” because this meant they were popular and knew what was going on socially in school. When I discussed how talking behind people’s backs, spreading rumours, or ignoring unpopular students were all forms of bullying that hurt people, they still didn’t care. Being popular was more important than being nice. I wonder how many students, especially middle school students, also feel this way, and then act this way. I can completely understand the need to belong, the need to feel wanted, accepted and liked by your peers, but to gain this, at the expense of others, I don’t get that. (FYI – I had a conversation with the student’s counselor for follow-up!)
During one of the conversations in our Coetail class, one colleague made the point that she had very little power when it came to being able to follow up at school when students used public venues, such as Facebook, to bully other students. In the jurisdiction where she taught in the US, if a student used a social networking site outside of school to bully another student, nothing could be done. Only if an incident happened in school, could she have the “teeth” to follow up with consequences. The province of Ontario in Canada has done a few things over the past few years to help teachers help students who are being bullied. This past year, the Ontario Legislature introduced a bill that specifically addresses bullying and cyber bullying to help provide a safe environment for all students in the province. It is expected to be passed into law this year.
I think everyone needs to be responsible for talking to students and youth about bullying. Taking the time to value the development of strong self worth, being positive, having empathy, and simply being kind to each other is so important. Teaching our students about how to handle, report and follow through with bullying (or “drama”) whether they are a victim of or a viewer of such behaviour. Asking questions like “does your behaviour reflect the kind of person you want to be” or “have your words or actions helped or harmed” are important to ask our students on a continuous basis, both in the classroom and out.