Bullying is nothing new. Sitcoms and bad teen movies always highlight the bully character with humor or glamor. They never fade away in the distance, texting from a bathroom stall or insulting their victims online through Facebook. Bullies are front and center, tormenting their victims in full public view. However, cyberbullying has changed the traditional model of bullying and allowed teenagers to hide their deeds. These same teenagers ignore the evidence of their own bullying, claiming they are just teasing.
Dana Boyd’s article illustrated one of the greatest obstacles in the fight against cyberbullying. The simple use of the word bullying can shut students off to the message you are trying to relay. By the end of the week they will be teasing each other and yelling, “stop bullying me” through their laughter. We need a new term; a new way to explain the effects of bullying. Without it, how will the students take us seriously?
Sadly, the most effective moment I have had as a teacher with combatting cyberbullying came at a cost. Three of my grade 7s were victims of a Facebook prank that can only be described as bullying. A profile was created with their names. Once this profile friended other students, the students at YIS discovered the profile was less than complimentary. It was a horrible collection of insults that also involved fake connection to additional students. The bully managed to victimize several students in one attack. This profile was immediately brought to my attention and we launched an investigation. Although we never discovered the identify of the bully, the grade 7 was quick to point fingers and circle the wagons. Both the grade 7 and 8 students who had received and accepted friend request felt they shared part of the blame, and were sicken by it. They all felt the power of a cyberbully. We had frequent discussions over the week about how to prevent this type of activity, how great it was they came to the safe adults in their lives to have them help, and how powerless they all felt in the the shadow of the “Facebook Incident”.
Reading the article School head called parents in cyberbully case made me wonder what would have happened to the student if they had been caught. How would their parents react? How much are schools really allowed to step in when it comes to out of school bullying?
Schools need to protect their students. Teachers need to take the opportunities to point out the danger of cyberbullying in the same manner they would stop students for bullying each other in class. Forget the labels; just talk with kids about the behavior and the consequences. Admin needs to create policies to support the message “we don’t tolerate bullies here”. Consequences need to be followed up on, students need to be believed when they approach the safe adults. It is our duty as educators to ensure our students feel safe and security, even in our off time.