Recently, I had the opportunity to read a report by Elizabeth Englander from Bridgewater State College that suggests that cyber-bullying and in-person bullying is alive and well in many third grade classrooms. She further suggests that it is important that we begin cyber-education at the elementary school level, much earlier than the topic is usually taught.
Sadly, the existence of bullying at this age is not a surprise to many educators. We know that some children, even young children, will occasionally treat peers unkindly. When children believe they are anonymous, as they mistakenly believe is true when they are online, they are more likely still to engage in inappropriate behavior toward others.
What was surprising was the number of children using both Facebook and on-line gaming as the venue for this bullying behavior. It is surprising because students younger than 13 years old are technically not old enough to be on Facebook, nor are there many on-line games available that allow interactions between players who are so young. I am curious about when and where children are gaining access. Are parents aware? Are parents empowered to monitor and intervene in the child’s online behavior?
“Parents who are empowered can diligently monitor their child’s online behavior, provide guidance and support where necessary, and provide an ‘in the minute’ intervention when inappropriate behavior occurs.”
I agree with Dr. Englander that young children benefit from bullying education in school. However, I do not think her suggestions are aggressive enough. I agree that we must educate children about the impact of their online (and in person) bullying and it is imperative that we provide training to children on how to be “upstanders” rather than bystanders. We must provide assistance to the children who are being bullied, and the bullies, or we are not doing our job as educators. However, we cannot be effective in combating this behavior if we don’t engage parents in this education as well.
Training parents to understand the online world is necessary if we are to make an impact on the cyber bullying problem. Parents who are empowered can diligently monitor their child’s online behavior, provide guidance and support where necessary, and provide an “in the minute” intervention when inappropriate behavior occurs.
There are some wonderful cyber-resources available to schools, parents, and children. One example is Common Sense Media. The resources shared can assist adults to know if the online entertainment choices of our children are appropriate to their age and developmental level. They provide users with parent-to-parent as well as expert guidance in determining how to intervene when problems occur. Another good resource for schools and parents is StopBullying.gov–a site with good resources for young children and a site that is safe for youngsters to navigate solo.
Helping children to become good citizens necessitates training on how to become good cyber-citizens. Having the engagement of parents and teachers to assist in educating, monitoring, and intervening is imperative if we hope to significantly decrease the incidence of cyber-bullying.
Deb Socia is chair of OpenAirBoston and Executive Director of Tech Goes Home , a program that has helped tens of thousands of Boston residents bridge the digital divide. She has been involved in education, primarily in middle schools, since the early 1980s. Deb was the founding principal of the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester, MA, served as a Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, a central office Curriculum Coordinator, an administrator in a residential treatment center and the Program Director for the Coalition of Essential Schools. Most of her experience as an educator, however, has been as a mathematics teacher for 7th and 8th graders.