As a teacher, you have the overwhelming job of both educating today’s youth as well as ensuring that their learning environment is as stress and distraction-free as possible. Easier said than done.
Today’s kids are facing more distractions and complications in their lives than ever before, and a large part of that definitely has to do with the technology they’re exposed to. We’re all too familiar with the issue of kids bringing their devices into school and the interference they cause with classwork, but what about taking their social lives at school home with them?
Cyber bullying is a new form of harassment that is victimizing students primarily on social media. It’s more than just a disagreement – it’s persistent belittlement and harassment online, whether it’s made private or public. The bully might share photos of the victim, post defamatory comments, or send private messages to pick on him or her.
The problem with cyber bullying is that it starts with bullying in school, and winds up going home with the student, so there’s never a break – the taunting is relentless, and it can be unbearable for some children. Worse yet is the ability for social media to go viral and others to mass in numbers against someone else.
So the question is, where do we draw the line? As educators, when does cyber bullying become part of your responsibility?
The answer is simple – almost always.
If the conflict is between students that attend class together, it’s directly tied to their education, and is likely to severely impact their ability to learn. As an educator and someone they trust, it’s up to you to initiate intervention, swiftly and effectively.
Of course, since you’re not at home with the student, it can be difficult to know when bullying has made the cross from physical to cyber, and even more difficult to truly know the extent of it. The best practice is generally to have a firm zero tolerance for bullying in your classroom, and ensure that any breach of that policy is met swift and unyielding disciplinary action.
All too often schools have met bullying with a lax and lackadaisical attitude, and these aggressors have had free reign over their peers. While a certain amount of pecking order establishment is normal in kids’ social groups, persistent and aggressive behavior is not – if you see a student being publicly goaded, put an end to it immediately.
If you see a child being bullied in your classroom, find a discreet way to talk to them about it, or refer them to the school counselor. Often times the behavior doesn’t stop when they get on the bus, and the child may be reluctant to come to an authority figure about the problem.
From there, make sure the parents are aware of what’s happening – not disclosing the problem to them immediately could open you and the school up to a massive amount of liability should things ever go too far. The most constructive thing you do is be proactive, and always be looking for ways to help.
Most states in the US now have anti-bullying laws in place, so schools and educators have a legal obligation, if not a moral one, to take action against bullying. Failure to do so can be considered non-compliance, and the legal ramifications can be devastating.
As cyber bullying continues to become a more and more prevalent problem, more states are addressing it and adjusting their laws accordingly. For the most part, any anti-bullying legislation now includes clauses to protect students from cyber bullying attacks, and it’s up to the schools to take the necessary actions if it becomes an issue.
One such law that was passed in the state of Ohio in 2012 was prompted by the tragic suicide of a teenage girl, after relentless social media attacks when a photo of her was shared without her permission. The Jessica Logan Act now holds educational institutions accountable for dealing with cyber bullying attacks, and requires communication with parents, as well as action to prevent and solve the problem.
Cyber bullying can be incredibly isolating, and it makes a child feel like there’s never any break from the torment. Be someone they can trust, and talk to them about the problem. Try to determine the extent of it, and make sure you fill in the parents along the way.
While not every case may warrant the intervention of an adult, just giving your students the option and letting them know you’re ready to help when they need it is of critical importance. Be one of the teachers that stands up for their students, and so no to bullying in your classroom.