The beginning of October marks the start of Cyberbullying and Mental Health Awareness month. At this time, teachers, administrators and school systems are taking time to reflect on the epidemic of cyberbullying, and rethink ways to combat it. Educator Todd Whitaker once said, “The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.” In any organization, including schools, behavior is clearly shaped by culture. Here are a few ways we can all come together to create more inclusive cultures in our classrooms, and better ensure the wellbeing of our students.
A first step towards finding solutions for cyberbullying and online harassment is becoming more aware of the problem. Parents, teachers, and other adults who live or work closely with kids should be educated about cyberbullying so they can both assist children who encounter it, and better prevent it from happening. According to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, American kids spend 7.5 hours per day in contact with others via electronic devices, and unfortunately, many of these interactions could be categorized as cyberbullying. One only need look at the statistics to understand the breadth of the problem:
- 1 in 3 young people report having experienced threats online.
- 4 in 10 teens say they have been cyberbullied more than once.
- 1 in 5 cyberbullied teens contemplate suicide.
- 1 in 10 cyberbullied teens attempt suicide.
- Only 10% of victims inform a parent or adult of their cyberbullying abuse.
While traditional bullying is sometimes easier to observe, online harassment or other cyberbullying incidents are often more difficult to detect. The more aware we are of the problem, the more we can take steps to combat it. For more information on how to define peer victimization and address bullying, check out Connect Safely and StopBullying.gov.
The Upside of Technology
Another powerful recourse when it comes to cyberbullying are alerts. There are several online tools that can alert administrators when students are being victimized online. Alerts can be set up when students access certain language online, whether they are perpetrating it, or being victimized by it. GoGuardian’s Smart Alerts is one such technological tool that can monitor online behavior, and ensure students are engaging in ethical interactions and exercising good digital citizenship. Currently, the majority of the usage for Smart Alerts has been related to self-harm and suicide prevention, but we are currently developing a capability for cyberbullying prevention. Alerts and innovative technologies can help intervene in online bullying, alert the appropriate school stakeholders to take action, and make students more responsible digital citizens in their interactions.
A key way to protect students from cyberbullying is to create a culture of inclusion in your classroom from the get-go. Cyberbullying and other forms of harassment do not take place in a vacuum. When we condition students to treat each other with respect, and model inclusive behavior, we can replace bad behaviors with good ones. One way to do this is through inclusive teaching. Inclusive teaching and learning means lessons are designed to actively engage, include, and challenge all students. According to Pew Research Center, there will be a 64% increase in minority school-age children projected by 2100. With increasing diversity in our schools, inclusiveness and social cohesion will be more important than ever before. The practice of inclusive teaching can help students broaden their own perspectives and be aware of the perspectives of others, creating a healthier and emotionally safe environment for kids.
Diversity of Content and Ideas
Another way educators can help create an inclusive culture and combat bullying is by including a diversity of content, perspectives and ideas in their curriculum. During lectures or discussions, encourage a variety of opinions. It’s also helpful to include language, socio-cultural contexts, and images that reflect diversity. Help students understand that knowledge is often gained through conversation and collaboration among disparate points of view. By encouraging differences, and including a variety of perspectives, teachers and educators can model inclusive behavior that will then carry over to the culture of the classroom.
By becoming more aware of cyberbullying and mental health, setting up alerts and leveraging technology, as well as creating a culture of inclusion, schools can stem harassment and better protect students’ well-being. This month, it is of particular importance that we all take time to recognize the seriousness of this problem, and find innovative ways to solve for it. Students can’t learn in a stressful environment. By taking the right measures, and creating a more responsive and inclusive culture in the classroom, we can help all students succeed academically as well as thrive socially and emotionally. And most of all, as leaders in THE education space, we must model the power of standing up for others. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”