Cyberbullying – finding the relevant solution

It felt like I was living the Breakfast Club.  Here I was on a Saturday Morning, getting ready to talk to kids about the poor choices they made and give them an essay to write about how they were going to change.

Would I be able to get through to these kids any more effectively than all of the Internet Safety assemblies and lectures that came before me?  Would I get the response that they had learned their lesson and would change their ways because I finally reached them?

What got them here:

One student started the Facebook Group.  “Johnny is a Stalker”

Inviting just one friend to the group, that’s all it took.  Within 24 hours, 25 members, 36 hours, 50 members.  It spread over the 3 campuses within our school, K-12,  including some 5th graders and crossed over to two other High Schools through past alumni.  If a parent had not reported it, this would have become a nightmare.

Everyone who posted to the group made clear designations as to what they stood for.  Students posted supporting remarks and even gave their own examples of how Johnny was ‘this’ or ‘that’ in some derogatory tone.  Others spoke out against the harassment talking about how wrong it was to be posting such mean spirited comments about someone.

Where did we as educators go wrong?  Once the students were confronted some commented on how they didn’t think that what they did was  wrong!  “It’s a free country, I was just exercising my 1st Amendment rights.”  We have high performing students….  that apparently don’t understand the full use of their rights…

The plan:  A 5 hour intervention (The Breakfast Club) on a Saturday

This intervention had a multi-pronged approach.  We talked about the impact on the community, to demonstrate that their actions went beyond just the intended victim.  The students watched YouTube videos depicting Cyberbullying scenarios and personal perspectives from other teens on the use of Social Networking sites for bullying.  They participated in an active role playing scenario where they experienced bullying from multiple perspectives: bully, victim and witness.  The instructors, there were three of us, gave them actual personal accounts of bullying and the lasting effects that it had on them and the resolutions that were attempted both successful and unsuccessful.  Students were then asked to write a reflective essay talking about their role in the Cyberbullying incident and what they would like to do differently.

Oh, we were not done yet.  After their essay students were shown the Terms and Conditions of Facebook, MySpace and Formspring pertaining to bullying, harassment and identity.  What many of them did not realize is that Social Networking tools were not designed to protect them in the sense that they can say whatever they want to whomever they want, in fact it is quite the opposite.  Social Networking sites protect them from receiving harmful or hateful content that may result in injury of any kind.  It is not private and it is not free from consequence.   This incident occurred in a Middle School so most of the bullies were under the age requirement of these Social Network sites as it is.  Lying about your identity is frowned upon by Social Network sites and it is this way because they want people to communicate in a positive way across the globe.

The students were then asked to create a PowerPoint presentation depicting multiple Cyberbullying scenarios and their possible resolutions.  They will present this to the student body at a later date.

*  This project is now going to be incorporated into the regular Internet Safety curriculum of our school and is continuing to be developed.