In January of this year, 15 year old Phoebe Prince killed herself. Phoebe didn’t just suffer taunts, mean looks and harassment at school. She was cyberbullied: tortured online and by phone. The current outbreak of cyberbullying, or perhaps just an outbreak of adult awareness, compels us to act now!
There is always a temptation for schools to not intervene because there are issues and questions around influence beyond its walls. Well, welcome to the 21st century! We connect with each other via technology every week, every day. Students are dehumanizing each other using that technology; and we must partner to interrupt these actions as best we can, together. According to Rachel Simmons, “Cyberbullying has intensified the experience of getting bullied by literally shattering the walls between school and home. There is no escape … Which means that kids are being suffocated and overwhelmed by an onslaught of abuse. They are unable to find refuge from the torment. Suicide, for some, may feel like the only way out.”
Rachel Simmons goes on to provide guidelines on how to talk to your child about cyber-bullying:
1. Begin with a discussion. Raise the issue by talking about what you’ve heard or read. “It seems like cyberbullying is becoming a big deal lately.” Mention recent events. Ask your child what she’s seen.
2. Let her know you’re there if she’s in trouble, no matter what – even if she’s partly responsible for a situation. Assure her that you’ll keep a problem between you when you can, and that you’ll be open to discussing it if she doesn’t want you to intervene (never promise that you won’t intervene). Your bottom line: this is a serious issue, and if she’s in trouble, you don’t want her to be alone, no matter what.
3. Ensure her cell phone and computer have screen locks that are password protected. Find other preventative steps you can take to keep your child safe.
4. Let her know your policy on cyberbullying. For example: “I want to make sure we’re both clear on some rules around your use of technology. I expect you to conduct yourself online the same way you do in real life. That means making sure you treat people with kindness and respect at all times.”
5. Talk about some examples of what breaking the rules might look like. Use some of what you heard in the opening discussion you had to get specific about what’s not okay. Make sure she understands she is expected to steer clear of the following behaviors: She is expected not to use another person’s cell phone or computer without his/her permission; to circulate embarrassing photographs or video about another person; to forward hurtful or embarrassing messages or media; to use anonymous or unrecognizable screen names to communicate; to use foul or abusive language that could embarrass or hurt others. You may want to create an ethical Internet use contract together.
6. Explain your stance. Don’t just say “no;” explain why. Use the conversation as an opportunity to talk about the values that are important to you and your family: respect, kindness, integrity, and compassion.
7. Let her know technology is a privilege. “Being able to have a phone or computer is no different from being able to drive a car. When you get your license, it’s because you’ve proven you’re mature enough to follow rules and take others into consideration. The same will be true for tech use. If you aren’t mature enough to act with respect, you will lose your access.”
8. Emphasize the positive: “I see you as a person with enormous kindness, integrity and respect for others. I expect you to be that same person when you’re using an electronic device.
9. Encourage empathy. Talk with your kids about what others may be feeling when being bullied. Get them to reflect on behaviors and situations they have real power to change.
If we work in concert, we will raise awareness of good digital citizenship with a particular emphasis on interrupting cyber-bullying and bullying in general. We must step up as an adult community to reward positive risk-taking by providing safety and support.
It is clear that interrupting bullying in the real world as well as in the cyber world will take persistence, courage, and a commitment in order to develop an approach that is supported by all families.