“a pattern of repeated behavior that is meant to hurt someone(physically, emotionally, or socially) and usually has an imbalance of power (physical or social)”
Definition from Bullying in the Girl’s World by Diane Senn
As an elementary school counselor, I deal all too frequently with bullying and cyber bullying, and its impact on the school community. Most everyone is affected, and the community can be slow to heal. Of course, technology brings bullying just a click away. Kids can say nasty, mean or hateful things on-line which they’d never say in person. The internet provides a false veneer of anonymity.
Bullying can’t be stopped or avoided altogether. But, there are things schools can do to make it happen less; and also to make it happen more. At our school we aim for the former, and we’ve borrowed heavily from the work of child psychologist, Michael Thompson, the author of Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children.
To address social cruelty effectively, Thompson states, “We need to make our schools-all schools, whether private or public; religious or secular; urban, suburban, or rural; large or small; rich or poor– safe places for children to be. We must create moral schools.” What he means is that “social issues must be addressed at a moral level, with clear standards of what it right thing to do and high expectations about how people treat one another.” When he refers to social cruelty, I think we can include cyber bullying as well.
He offers the following principles for schools to follow:
- Create a Moral School
- Include Everyone in the Conversation
- Be Proactive
- Instill Ethical Standards
- Encourage Good Citizenship
- Take a Systems Approach
- Harness the Power of Teachers
- Work in Your Community for Smaller, More Caring School
It’s everyone’s job to teach digital citizenship in our schools. We must work together with our students and parents, to create schools where we are constantly talking about what it means to learn and socialize with a powerful tool like technology. Kids need to be able to share with adults what they experience online without fearing their devices will be taken away when they disclose mistakes they’ve made. Yes, it takes time to have these conversations, but our students deserve the time to figure out the way to safely navigate the on-line world without hurting others, and getting hurt.
In addition, our school focuses empowering bystanders in bullying situations. With this approach, everybody in the community has responsibility for not tolerating bullying behavior. All of us are involved in creating a safe school where no one is afraid nor fearful to come to school, or go on-line. It’s not about just the bully and the target.
Kathryn Otoshi has written a wonderful book to illustrate the empowering bystanders concept. Take a look at her book, One; it will lead straight into powerful discussions in your classroom.
*picture of kids from clip art.