Several years ago I had an irate parent come marching into my office (I was working as a dean of senior students at the time) he demanded action over the fact that during the weekend his daughter had been called all sorts of names on her Facebook page by some of the male students in her year level. If the school was not willing to act on this he was going to contact the police to lay a defamation charge, this potentially could end up with the media (New Zealand is a small place) and all of a sudden the school is all over 60 Minutes (NZ edition) for not taking responsibility for the cyber-bullying.
This is an interesting case in where a school’s responsibility in such matters starts and ends. It happened in the weekend, off campus, did we have any responsibility at all? Should the father have just gone straight to the police? In other sections of society it may have been a matter for the police, so is a school any different? More and more these issues are been passed on to school to deal with.
Its at this point I would like to refer to Danah Boyd’s article “Bullying” Has Little Resonance with Teenagers, I could not agree with Danah more when she says “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”, that approach has been tried and it does not work. I knew that simply bringing in the young men involved and lecturing them in the evils of bullying was not going to cut it. In the end we went for mediation between those involved in the incident and it was reveled that the daughter was not such an innocent party in the whole incident. Once some of this was revealed Dad backed down and was happy with the way the issue was dealt with. The school realised these issues would continue to surface with the ever increasing use of social media pages by young people.
We had some pleasing success by taking steps like an endbullying@(school) email address, making clear definitions for what we as a school community defined as cyber-bullying and the development of programs giving students ownership of the issue creating a culture amongst the students that they have a responsibly to report on what they see as inappropriate behavior. This was done my emphasising the importance of bystander action.
In Valerie Strauss’s article on this matter Teaching kids to be ‘digital citizens’ (not just ‘digital natives’) she stress the point that just because young people may well be more apt at using technology it does not mean they have the skills to use it is a responsible way. In my opinion schools have a definite responsibility to embed digital citizenship into their school culture and ethos.
In New Zealand an independent non-profit organisation called Netsafe does a lot of work within schools to ensure that young people are being educated on issues around digital citizenship and cyber-bullying and if you are interested in the work they are doing check out the Learn, Guide, Protect project here. There is a great resource here looking at the challenges faced by many high school students and the use of technology. I have included a summary of some of the findings of recent studies and what is working well within New Zealand schools.
- There are two practical implications from this finding. First, it is important to ensure that young people can ask for the help they need.
- Second adults need to know how to provide useful support; for instance, listening to the young person; responding calmly and not blaming them for the bullying (even if they used the internet or phone when they shouldn’t have); not removing access to the internet and the mobile phone (as this cuts off their social network – critical in adolescence); retaining digital evidence of the bullying; and identifying authorities who can intervene.