Schools and Online Bullying:
By Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed. – A Note From the Teacher
Addressing the Day-to-Day Reality of the Internet
Online social networking sites are some of the busiest sites among not only teens and tweens, but younger children as well.
Recent media has highlighted the horrendous events that can occur when cyber-bullying goes unchecked over time. However, every day smaller events happen with damaging consequences, and both schools and parents need to be vigilant about monitoring these smaller incidents. With students of all ages tweeting emailing, texting and posting, possibly away from the eyes of adults, there are times when seemingly casual online chatter can get out of hand. Every day there are thousands of small problem episodes that occur online, and sometimes those problems spill over into the classroom. Though not of the caliber to demand national attention, the writing that can fly online in the blink of an eye can have lasting effects on your child’s school experience.
So what can you do to keep an eye on your student’s electronic life? Here are a few tips:
Get over the idea that you are “spying’ on your kids. You, as a parent, are responsible for helping your child learn to navigate the online world responsibly. Children have email addresses at younger and younger ages, and all kids, from tweens to teens, can quickly get into situations that are out of control without really knowing how it happened. Rather, be upfront with them that you can and will check on them from time to time. Know what sites they have email on and talk with them about monitoring use. Require kids to have a list of emails they use and passwords, and include both school and other emails. Don’t overreact to little things, but keep an eye out for red flags.
· Have the computer in a family room and actually check in while they’re online. This technique has been around for years and is still effective if used.
· Talk about online behavior with your kids before an incident happens. Find the school Internet user policy and handbook guidelines that relate to student computer use and go over what bullying looks like and what can happen if it occurs. Discuss family expectations for online conduct as well.
· Join the technological revolution. Many parents just don’t have the time or inclination to join online social networks or learn to text from their phone, but if you have kids, it may be your best way of keeping an eye on what your child’s doing online and with their friends, too.
· Limit access on handheld devices. Regardless of what your teen says, there are no studies that support the idea that children will die without unrestricted wireless access on their iTouch or smart phone. Portable electronics are much easier to use to get Internet access without adult supervision, so use passwords to protect wireless connections or create shut off times for electronics each day.
· If you have questions about the school’s use of computers and technology, give the school a call and ask how they monitor their networks. Your child’s teacher should also be able to tell you if they require or use online programs as part of their academic instruction.
Things that are posted about students online are not only a problem between two individuals. Instead, due to the very nature of the Internet, scores of peripheral students become involved, quickly allowing smaller problems to get out of hand. Problems that begin online quickly can spill over into the classroom, school corridors, the lunchroom, and the playground. Wars of words can escalate, with emotional or physical pain being the end result, ultimately hurting all students’ school experience. So what can you do if you find your child involved with an online problem that has become a larger school problem?
The first thing to do is find out the facts, as much as possible. If the bullying or threats are online, gain access through your child’s accounts and print copies of the statements or pictures that have been posted. At the same time, be sure to check on your own child’s online behavior to be able to assess their involvement in the event as well. If texts or other electronic media are involved, do not delete them, as you may need to refer to them later. It’s best to keep an open mind until you know the entire set of facts surrounding the situation.
When you have as much information as possible, make an appointment with your child’s school administrators and teachers. Bring all of the information you have about the incident, and ask for their help in getting to the bottom of the event. Teachers and those that know your child well may have information about things they may have seen or heard in school. If the other student involved is a student at the same school, the administration may have the authority to address the situation through school channels. If there is another school involved, your child’s school may be able to help you find out more about contacting the other family. Either way, the school can be a valuable resource in ending the situation.
Specialists may also be invaluable in assisting. The school counselor should certainly be involved in addressing the online problem. Not only can counselors help individual students to deal with the fallout of Internet issues, they are also skilled mediators that can help to diffuse the situation before it escalates any further with other students. In addition, the school’s technology person should be notified, as they often have use logs that monitor online usage on school computers; if the incidents are beginning on the school’s system the technology person may be able to identify who and when the exact postings were made.
The level of involvement the school will have in the incident will depend on several factors, including: Was school equipment used in the incident?
Do both students attend the school?
What incidents have happened at the school itself?
What have both students done related to this incident?
What is the school’s Internet use policy and what is outlined in the school handbook for students?
Depending on the specific information received and the individual district policies, the school may choose to involve the other student’s family and may decide on appropriate school-related actions. In some instances, detention, suspension, counseling, required community service, or even expulsion have been used in response to online bullying.
In some cases it is necessary for parents of the impacted student to work with the other student’s family outside of the school setting. In these cases the school can work with the families as required by state and local laws, but may not be authorized bring direct action against a student for an online incident that occurs outside of school. If there has been ongoing and repeated bullying to the extent where family or school-centered reprimand is not sufficient, families should retain a professional for appropriate legal or counseling advice.
The Internet, like other technologies, has incredible power to impact lots of people in very little time. Unfortunately, this can also be true in a school setting. However, by having some proactive dialogue with your kids and working with the school if incidents occur, you may be able to stop cyber-problems before they get completely out of hand.