Recently, our school has become caught up in a cyberbullying ‘alley’. Several students have received very hurtful messages from anonymous accounts created on Instagram. This isn’t the first time that social media in our school has been used in a negative and hurtful way, and we know that it will not be the last episode either.
While the phone started ringing from parents wanting to catch the perpetrators (parents believed in a conspiracy, the school felt that it was a single classmate as most of the messages contained personal information about the victim that would only be available within the small sphere of peers), the school caught its breath before beginning an investigation that took place over several days.
One parent was very upset that her daughter was targeted with very personal information about a past illness and offered a “$500 reward to catch this person”. Yikes.
The research shows time and time again that education, not punishment and/or guilt, will help to reduce (rarely will it ever remove) bullying in our schools. So yes, I could begin to cite the hundreds of articles advising schools, parents, and authorities on how to ‘get rid of bullying’, but to what end?
The research does show that we can help reduce bullying by simply (or not so simply):
Model appropriate behaviour and protocol using digital devices for our children;
Maintain open dialogue with your children and do not hesitate to ask about their ‘online health’;
Hold family conversations around incidents of social media gone awry (you need look no further than the debacle that has become the United States White House); and
Never hesitate to reach out for support. There are some amazing parent-friendly digital literacy resources available (mediasmarts.ca and commonsensemedia.org are highly recommended). As well, your school may have a social media specialist like a teacher-librarian knowledgeable in many things digital.
Most importantly, learn as much as you can about the Internet, social media, privacy rights, cyberbullying, and even how some of those apps popular with kids (get a Snapchat account, sign up for Instagram).
We don’t have to know everything about digital literacy issues (an impossibility at best), but we can no longer, as parents, keeps our head in the sand, claim ignorance, and hope that our kids are able to effectively navigate the digital realm on their own.
They simple can’t.