Don’t tell the teachers!

“Whatever you do don’t tell the teachers, they just make it worse.”

I’ll always remember this line. It was written in a fake advice letter that a student was writing in response to fake problem letter written by another student. In the problem letter, the student had talked about how lonely she was, and how students were making fun of her on Facebook. Part of the advice letter included the words of wisdom written above.

There was no doubt in my mind where this came from. There had been an incident just the previous week where students had been called together to talk about Facebook bullying. This was the result of a student complaining that someone had done a post about them that was mean, and that several other students joined in. There were resulting assemblies and meetings, both whole grade and with the students involved. And at the end of it all, well, I don’t know about the others, but at least one student felt that this effort was simply going to “make it worse.”

I’ve made other attempts to discuss bullying with students, which is generally met with a “that doesn’t happen here” response, which, quite frankly, is pretty hard to believe. So reading Danah Boyd’s article “Bullying has Little Resonance with Teenagers”  had plenty of resonance for me. Bullying is this word that is parroted about by the adults as the big bad bugaboo, and yet students sit there and don’t feel it applies to their own lives. Not only that, but they get annoyed by the adults’ insistence that this is happening to them, and wish that the adults, who just don’t get it, would just stop talking about it.

So with the context of cyberbullying, we are using a word whose meaning is nebulous to the students at the best of times. The teasing statements between friends and acquaintances are no longer little soundbites that emerge and disappear into memory, but rather are imprinted in text for many to read, including those whom perhaps were never supposed to read it. I once saw a saved Facebook thread with a bunch of negative comments that students had written about their principal. I am positive that those students never even considered that I would eventually be able to read those comments, despite not being invited into the group, or even shown it by any students involved. Yet I eventually saw it. They think these actions are private and they’re not. As Boyd said, it just brings the behavior more out in the open. They think they are just having fun, indulging their lowest feelings in a new and intriguing way, and little considering any harm that may come from it, because the person or people they are harming are not in front of them. They don’t even have to watch the impact of their statements in person.

The part in the article that really struck me is how teenagers (and probably adults) think that you should always be able to tell if someone is “messing with you.” That you should not take these things seriously, and if you do you’re “stupid.” Yet teenagers (and adults) are very sensitive, and as Boyd states clearly “the do misinterpret when people are messing with them. And they do take minor social infractions personally. And then things escalate.” What is seen as simple retaliation by one, might be seen as victimizing by the other. And so it goes…

Perhaps it’s time to reign back the use of the word bully, so that it is no longer an overused bugaboo, but a hard hitting word that is saved for its ultimate meaning (as far as I know it)–the repeated intentional effort to harm someone either emotionally or physically. Instead, focus with the students on empathy, walking around a situation and seeing things from everyone’s point of view.  Keep discussions going about the situations that are basically bullying, but perhaps leave the bugaboo word out and the empathy in.

In addition, as Boyd points out, the media’s dramatization of bad behavior by adults is not helping. So perhaps some pointed discussions about what is seen in the media would be another starting point for raising awareness about where these behaviors are coming from.  To let them know that these dramas that are displayed  for them may be funny and entertaining, yet it is probably not the wisest thing to use as role models for our own behavior. This is where teachers must rise to the challenge of modeling the behavior that they wish to see in their students, and remember that misinterpretation can happen anywhere, even between them and their students. We would all be wise to take care with our speech and actions.

Some rights reserved by cx1uk How's this for a solution to cyberbullying? Somehow I have my doubts that this would be a magic bullet. And by the way, what's the copyright issues with using a creative commons photo of a published newspaper?



This entry was posted in COETAIL 2, Digital Copyright, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Don’t tell the teachers!

  1. Avatar of Joe Winston Joe Winston says:

    You raise a good point. I see students roll their eyes when we talk about cyber-bullying. Most of the time they claim it’s only a miscommunication: “I was being sarcastic/ I was just joking around/ I didn’t mean anything by it.” Our vocabulary has already caused them to tune us out.
    You brought up the importance of teaching empathy. I could’t agree with you more. I saw the importance of this after a group had come to my school called “Challenge Day” ( Besides empathy, they taught the students that we have more in common with each other than we think. It was a powerful program that had a positive effect on our student body teaching them to embrace diversity.
    I would love to see more school invite programs like this into their schools.
    Give it a look.

  2. Hey Meghan,
    Two things jump straight out at me from your interesting post. 1. Can we teachers use the fact that kids who “cyberbully” leave very detrimental digital footprints behind be used to persuade them that there behaviour is not such a good idea; miscommunication or not? 2. Being misinterpreted, or misinterpreting somebody is such an easy thing to do in this tech-happy age. The speed with which we send off emails, post messages to Facebook, Tweet…..just begs for miscommunication. I am pretty good myself at forcing myself to re-read emails I send to parents and admin etc. but mistakes can happen very easily! How much did that happen in the days of paper, pen, envelope and stamp? Cheers.

    • Avatar of Meghan Meghan says:

      Thanks Chris. Strangely enough, it seems we have a very current issue of this sort right in my own class. Really highlights a need for a new approach!

  3. Meghan…I really connected with Danah Boyd’s article as well. It got me thinking about kids perception of bullying. And I could understand the rejection of the word and action. Who would want to admit to being a bully? Or that they were bullying someone? It reminds of when kids do hurtful things and say “I was just playing.” I always have them tell me what “playing” is and try to have them verbalize the specific action. When they have to say they were pushing or taking someone’s things, then they have to admit the action was not okay and that calling it ‘playing’ doesn’t make it okay. I think Danah’s article points out the disconnect between the language the students are using and the language the adults are using. On the other hand, you bring up a good point in reference to the students’ disconnect with privacy online and that their harsh words are can be seen by others and how often they are not aware or sometimes not even concerned with the impact. I think this reminds us to think about how we communicate with students when address these issues.

    • Avatar of Meghan Meghan says:

      Thanks for your comment Diana. It’s interesting to read this just after reading a facebook post from a friend who was flamed for writing a relatively benign post that someone was offended by. I often think that we keep talking about digital citizenship for our students, because we realize that some adults don’t seem to understand it either, and so let’s try to at least help the next generation in the hopes of a gradual shift. Common courtesy is slowly becoming not so common.

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