Stop Cyberbullying

Today has been declared Anti-Cyberbullying day by Andy Carvin. When I started seeing references to this day on other people’s blogs, I began to trace back the articles and found Kathy Seirra’s story. Kathy, a programming instructor and game developer, has been a recent victim of cyberbullying. I am hesitant to even write about it because I’m afraid that people within school culture see the negative things that happen with technology, and use them as an excuse to not use technology at all in their classrooms. Sometimes the warnings of the big, bad, Internet…with it’s “evil” places like My Space and Face Book seem to overshadow the really awesome ways these types of technology could be used in the classroom. I prefer to focus on the positive. From my experience, Internet Safety presentations often seemed to be designed to scare people. I don’t like that approach. Kathy’s story is scary. I’ve debated even sharing it….because if I do, will you decide NOT to blog….or NOT to use technology?

But…as I watch the teachers and students in my schools, I also understand the hazard of not giving warnings at all. There are dangers out there (just like they are in everyday life)…and it would be wrong of me to not point that out. I also really feel for the horror Kathy has had to go through over the past few weeks. Reading about it, and the debate its sparked, has broadened my perspective.

Vicki Davis wrote a letter to Kathy on her blog, part of which really caught my attention. She said:

You [Kathy] already have a platform, now you have a cause that can impact the world: Internet freedom and safety.

For truly it is not freedom when one limits the freedom of another.

  • We are free to own a gun, but not to shoot another human being.
  • We are free to own a car, but not to run another person down.
  • We are free to use scissors, but not to stab someone with them.

She continues…

We need free speech on the Internet and the freedom to write on our blogs.

But we also need to have the ethics and professionalism to interact with the sensitivity that there are living breathing people on the other side of the words on a page. Our society is sadly lacking in techno-personal skills and it is time for more schools to do something about it!

So here’s how my views have been changed. I used to want to shy away from teaching Internet Safety at all. I’ve been to too many presentations that seem very, very scary…and they talk about how we should be blocking and filtering and not letting our children see these awful things out there. But…I’ve changed my mind. We do need to teach Internet Safety…but we just need to teach it a little differently than the presentations I’ve seen lately.

It’s my opinion that kids stop listening when we teach Internet Safety in such a way that it scares them. I do. Instead, we should be teaching our students to interact with people using technology–by modeling it, by letting them practice in safe, protected environments, by leading discussions about it. We need to teach it by letting them do it…safely.

We teach ethics and character in our classrooms when it comes to how we expect our students to interact with each other in a physical sense. In our classrooms, they practice the people-skills we want them to able to use when they get out into the workforce. But we either ignore Internet safety or say, “It’s a bad place.” But we can no longer ignore this realm of their lives. When we don’t teach our students the proper way to interact with people on-line, they just don’t know. We are failing them by doing nothing or by using scare tactics.

If we teach them the right way to do it, then we are really doing our job to prepare them for the “real world.” They may know more about the ends and outs of using technology, but as adults, we can still teach them the right way to interact with it on-line. Take the people skills you teach your students everyday, in the brick and mortar realm, and transfer them to the virtual world. They still apply. Things like…

  • Be kind.
    • Do not use ‘put downs’ or harass others.
    • Call people by their proper names.
  • Do your fair share of group work.
  • Respect other people’s differences and opinions.
  • Do not take something that does not belong to you.
  • Complete your own work.
  • Stay Safe (in school this would be things like walking in the hall….on the Internet it would be things like not giving out your personal information).

I bet you will find that whatever skills you would need to do a physical paper/pencil activity in the classroom are the same skills you need to do it on line. It might look a little different…but the fundamental idea is the same. Students need instruction to make these connections, though. We can’t assume that because they understand the mechanics of how to use technology that they understand the ethics behind it.

So what practical types of activities can you do to help?

Teach them what to do when they encounter someone who isn’t being a good cyber-citizen on the Internet. Teach them to recognize danger….and to tell adults when they encounter something that makes them uncomfortable. I admire how well Mrs. Smith, the guidance counselor at G.W. Carver, teachers Internet safety in a non-threatening way. She uses sites like NetSmartz and ikeepsafe to help students learn to recognize dangers on the Internet, but not in a way that scares them. Classroom teachers are in a perfect position to help students learn to recognize danger on the internet as they use the computers in everyday activities.

But don’t stop there. Instead of blocking social networking and blogging activities, teach them. Teach you students how to participate the right way. Here are some ideas:

  • Set up blogs. Teach your students how to write and comment on them constructively. Talk about constructive criticism vs. bullying.
  • Set up wikis. Have your students practice working collaboratively on-line.
  • Teach your students how to search safely. Show them how to turn on the safe searching function of google…or show them sites to use to get information safely. Practice.
  • And probably the most controversial of all…set up a social networking site…a safe one that you can monitor. There are sites out there where you can do this.

I realize that I work with elementary teachers, but your students can do these things! They can blog, contribute to wikis, and do safe searches on the Internet….don’t under estimate them. If you have doubts, check out some of the cool things first and second graders are doing on Mrs. Cassidy’s Classroom Blog and fifth graders are doing in Mr. Seufert’s Class. For more ideas, check out the plethora of examples of blogs and wikis being used in elementary school.

You can do it to! Teach them how to be responsible citizens on the Internet, and help end cyberbullying!

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