How can we all help to end Bullying? (Cyber or Not!)

Please see this cbc news  article to learn the heartbreaking story of Amanda, a young woman whose bullying tragically led to her taking her own life.

I, like many of you, have been very upset with the news of Amanda’s passing.   She struggled with horrible, inexcuseable bullying, and she took her own life rather than face her tormentors anymore.  She tried changing schools, she tried making new friends, yet, her bullies followed her online and continued to make her life a living hell.  What did Amanda do to deserve any of this?  Nothing.  No student ever deserves any of these attacks, nor insults, nor mental and physical abuse.    Amanda wanted to live her life, to enjoy this world, to make friends and to feel good about herself.  Why would any student want to take that away from her?  How could this have gone on for so long and led to such a tragic ending?  What can we do to help end this so no one else has to go through what Amanda has?

We all need to step up and confront bullying WHENEVER and WHEREVER we see it.  If you see someone bullying someone else in the hallway or the street, STAND UP.  Tell them its not ok!  If you see the same bullying done online, STAND UP, help them, confront the bully and let them know it is NOT OK to bully anyone else.  We can’t turn a blind eye, we can’t just tell them to “Stick up for yourself”.  We need to all come together and really STAND UP when we see bullying.  It is not something we should condone, or allow to happen in our presence, online or offline!

PARENTS and EDUCATORS:

We need to role-model and monitor our students, not just in school, but out of school.  There is a saying that many people are familiar with, that “it takes a whole village to raise a child”.  We all have a role to play in guiding and monitoring our students and children, and it needs to happen wherever we are!  We cannot standby and abdicate the online world and let students run around without any guidance, supervision, or role-models online.  We need to be online with our students and our children.  We need to stop and confront students and children when they are misbehaving!  We have no problem doing this in shared public spaces like malls, libraries, or other community centers.  Why do we not do the same online, in Social Media?  Why do students have free reign to privately do whatever they want on Facebook and other social networks?  Why do parents avoid connecting with their children online?  Why are teachers so afraid of role-modelling appropriate citizenship in online environments?  If we, as parents and educators don’t teach students how to behave well in these online (and offline) environments who will?

If you are a PARENT:

  • befriend your child on Facebook and other Social Networks. Use your account to keep an eye on their activities.  Would you let your child take your car without first going over all the safety information and rules, and lots of practice with you, in the car?  Why would online social media be any different?
  •  Ask them to signin in front of you, show you what they’ve been doing and saying online.  Demonstrate to your children what friendly, respectful behaviour looks like online.  Talk to them about what you are seeing in their “news feed” that is innapropriate, or dangerous!  Communicate often about whats happening in their own social networks.
  • talk to your children about the permanent nature of anything online and how anything they put online will be there forever!  There is no ‘delete’ on the internet!
  • Ask your child if they have been bullied online.  Talk about resources and strategies that they can do to help it stop!  (see the Cyber-bullying page)

If you are an EDUCATOR:

  • There is no question, you need to be involved in new social media tools as a professional.  Its time for you to become familiar with these environments. If you saw bullying in the schoolyard, you would stop it immediately. If you saw bullying at your local mall, or dairy queen, you would stop it immediately.  Educators NEED to be online with students.  We have an obligation to teach proper behaviour no matter what the environment.  To pretend its not our place is to abandon our most needy students.  The ones that have no one to stick up for them. If Educators cannot lead the way on proper social media usage, who will?  We cannot let students have a private club online with no adult supervision. We are starting to see the results of our abdication so far.
  • This does not mean we need to cross personal boundaries.  Consider setting up a professional Facebook account for interacting with students.  Use it to role-model and to supervise.  Let students know that they have adults in their social network. They are not hidden away anymore.  They have to be responsible for their online activity.
  • Use Social Media in your classes!  Students need a safe, supervised environment in order to learn!  We need to create these safe spaces online that encourage respectful, polite and friendly connections.  Students need feedback on their behaviour to learn.  Students need instruction on what is appropriate or not.  Students need discpline when they cross the line.  We can’t continue pretending that students are not on these tools, or are invisible when online.  We need to teach them.

If we all seriously look at social media and online environments as extensions to our communities, not seperate spaces, we can begin to demonstrate safe, responsible and respectful usage of these new tools.  If we don’t take the time to learn and teach students and children how to interact online without bullying, we will have so many more problems in the future.

Amanda, I’m so sorry we all let you down.  I will think of you and your experience often, and I hope that your legacy will amount to a genuine change in how we teach children and students how to be better citizens, online or offline.  We will all miss you Amanda.

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