Speaking to Teens at Parochial Schools about Bullying
Apart from our efforts within various public schools around the nation, Justin and I also work regularly with parochial schools as they attempt to reduce bullying and encourage kindness across their campuses. This gives us a chance to really connect with the youth there in a powerful way by dovetailing their faith with a call for God-honoring behavior – both offline and online. As a Christian, I find these opportunities very rewarding, and I thought it would be good to share something I’ve presented and discussed with high school kids from one of the Catholic Dioceses we work with. Perhaps it can be used to stimulate conversation in other parochial or youth-group settings.
You’re a teenager. You seek to live a life that honors the Lord. And so you know you shouldn’t bully others. If you were asked to give a scriptural reason for why you shouldn’t make fun of, mistreat, embarrass, or threaten someone else – certain verses might come to mind. You might recall how Jesus talked about loving your neighbor as you love yourself, or the Golden Rule from His Sermon on the Mount. You might remember how He talked about turning the other cheek. Maybe you’ll even think about how He talked about how hating someone (or demonstrating hate towards someone) is like murdering them. I know it is such a dramatic comparison, but that is what He said.
The thing is, you know you shouldn’t be a jerk to others – in person, or behind their back at school, or on Instagram or Twitter or YouTube, or while texting your friends. But many of us still do it. Growing up, we care a lot about what our friends and peers think about us, and we care a lot about “saving face” and having as many people as possible like us and being at least somewhat popular…or, at least, definitely not unpopular. And even though we know we should mostly only care about what God thinks about us, and what God has said about us – we still angle and jockey and compete for higher positions and statuses on the social ladder in our schools and peer groups. I mean, it’s natural (and desirable!) for us to gravitate towards the popular and attractive and admired, and dissociate ourselves (intentionally or indirectly) from others that are different, or excluded, or otherwise less well-liked.
Maybe we wish we weren’t like that, but that’s just how it seems to be – in middle school, in high school, and even in some parts of adulthood. We pretty much do all that we can not to be the ones at the bottom of the social ladder. That can’t be us. It feels like we won’t be able to live, we won’t be able to breathe if that were us (as one of my favorite authors, Donald Miller, has said). And so we make sure that it just doesn’t come to that – and we do whatever it takes. Some of these ways are exhausting, and some of them are manipulative, and some of them feel empty and futile but we do them anyway. And some of it definitely involves being mean to others – to make us feel better, to stay at least one rung above someone else on that social ladder, to join in with our friends, or for a variety of other not-so-great reasons.
One of my favorite sections of the Bible is from 1 Peter 3:10-12, where Peter quotes David’s words from Psalm 34. It reads:
For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.”
I think that out of all that’s in the Bible, this is what personally motivates me the most to never ever be a jerk to another person. Why? Well, let’s break it down.
I really want to love life. And I really want to see good days. All the time, if possible! And I desperately need His eyes on me, and for Him to listen hard for and respond to my prayers. I mean, who doesn’t need that! But it’s presumptuous for me to think that God is some type of glorified vending machine in the sky, dispensing blessings whenever I ask for them, and that I don’t have any role to play in it.
Apparently, I do have a role to play. I am specifically told here not to mess around with impure or unholy or deceitful things coming out of my mouth. I think if Peter and David were raised in the Information Age, they would probably have mentioned the other (more?) popular form of communication in our 21st century – typing and texting. The words that come forth from my mouth, or come forth through my fingers all spring from my heart. And I know I so want my heart to be in the right place when it comes to my relationship with the Lord, and my relationship with others. Deep down, I know what that “right place” feels like. It feels right in my heart when I am doing what the next two verses say – turning from evil and doing good, seeking peace and pursuing it, working towards righteousness (right living). Actually, it feels amazing when I am there, and when I stay there. It feels like, wow, this is exactly where I am supposed to be.
We are always looking for the best ways to live, for direction and guidance that might bring blessings into our life, and for God to keep watch and protect us and take care of us. Peter and David, led by the Holy Spirit, very clearly lay out what we need to do for that to happen. And it helps to remind me that I just cannot be involved in bullying or cyberbullying because it is sin, and it separates me from God. And I can’t have any separation between God and myself if I want to experience His closeness, and be confident that He hears me and delights in the way I am trying to live. Plus, I know that it really messes up my heart. And I just can’t have that.
When the opportunity arises to mistreat someone else, either at school or in cyberspace, I want to encourage you to remember that we just can’t be doing that sort of thing if we want to love life, see good days, and honor our God. I mean, that’s the bottom line. If that’s what you want, do not be mean to others. Do not be that person. It is not worth it, and it never makes the situation – or the state of your heart – better. Instead, pray about the situation and for the other person, and try to get some well-balanced and mature advice from friends and adults in your life. People can help you respond to the conflict or issue that is at the root of it all – whether it is your own problem or someone else’s. Give those people a chance to help you resolve whatever is going on in a positive manner. If you don’t know where to turn, or what to do, let us know – and we’ll do all we can to help.
Bullying, Students with Disabilities, and Federal Law
At a recent conference in Chester County, Pennsylvania, I had the privilege of getting to know Andy Faust, who is an authority on special education law at Sweet, Stevens, Katz & Williams LLP. In particular, I was impressed by his level of expertise and intrigued by his astute observations about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and how some kids who are bullied – and some kids who bully others – may be entitled to the federal law’s protections as “children with disabilities.” I told Andy that no one is really talking about the reality and implications of this in my circles, and that it is worth sharing to our readership so that they can fully understand the situation. So, he and I have been going back and forth to flesh this out, and his insights are as follows:
Based on my review of certain court cases, Office of Civil Rights opinions, and “Dear Colleague” guidance documents, as well as informed inference and anecdotal experience acquired over 28 years of practice, many kids who chronically engage in bullying behaviors (e.g., aggressors, offenders) can be categorized as “children with disabilities” under the IDEA. In particular, chronic or severe acting out by these kids would easily meet the definition of “severely emotionally disturbed” (SED) —which is one of the twelve disability categories under which students can qualify for special education services. The definition of SED requires that the child in question demonstrate any one of separate five “characteristics” to a “marked degree and over a long period of time.”
- 2.08 (3) (a) (i) An inability to learn which is not primarily the result of intellectual, sensory or other health factors;
- 2.08 (3) (a) (ii) An inability to build or maintain interpersonal relationships which significantly interferes with the child’s social development;
- 2.08 (3) (a) (iii) Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances;
- 2.08 (3) (a) (iv) A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; and/or
- 2.08 (3) (a) (v) A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
It seems obvious that this list of characteristics could easily describe what we commonly associate with “bullying” behavior. To note, though, there is a so-called “socially maladjusted” rule-out in the SED definition – which basically means that you cannot state that a child is severely emotionally disturbed if this is the case. Well, you might wonder exactly what “socially maladjusted” means. It is a term with no resonance in modern clinical practice, but one that many associate with “conduct disorder” or sociopathic behavior, and therefore ultimately subject to interpretation.
The problem with all of this is that one cannot easily discriminate between behavior that is “inappropriate … under ordinary circumstances” and that which is socialized in the child, or is a conscious source of pleasure or positive reinforcement for the child when they bully others. It is difficult to figure out, then, if bullying aggressors are intentionally hurtful towards others, or their bullying behavior is simply an unhealthy byproduct of the fact that they are possibly severely emotionally disturbed (see the bullet-pointed characteristics above). If the former, those who bully others do not qualify for special education services because they are socially maladjusted. However, those kids could very well be the latter, and thereby deserving of special education services.
On the other side of the equation, many bullying targets also can readily demonstrate one or more of the characteristics mentioned above “to a marked degree and over a long period of time.” As stated earlier, these include “inappropriate type of behavior under ordinary circumstances,” “an inability to develop or maintain satisfactory relationships with peers or adults,” and “fears or anxiety associated with school or other issues.” As such, demonstrating these symptoms in sufficient severity warrants their classification under the SED label – rendering them due special education services under the IDEA. As another outcome, some kids who are bullied also can act out not just as a coping mechanism, but possibly because they have or develop ASD (autism spectrum disorder(s)). Autism is, of course, another of the twelve labels available under the IDEA for classification of students in need (and deserving) of special education services.
All of this begs the question: to what are bullied youth – and youth who bully others – entitled as it relates to special education interventions if considered to be students with disabilities? Under the IDEA, the purpose of special education is not just correction and support of academic deficits. Indeed, social and behavioral deficits that affect participation in the learning process or access to the learning environment are regarded in much the same way an academic deficit is regarded. Just as we can teach a struggling reader the foundational phonological awareness, decoding, and fluency skills needed to comprehend grade-level text, so too we can teach children with learning-interfering behaviors to:
~ self-monitor the thoughts and physical symptoms that accompany feelings of frustration, anger, fear, or anxiety;
~ identify the circumstances that trigger these feelings;
~ rate the level of their emotional state; and,
~ apply replacement strategies to address those feelings when they arise.
We can also teach a child with social skills deficits to recognize non-verbal social cues and the meaning of colloquial and idiomatic language (so they don’t take certain statements expressed by their peers too seriously or literally), and to initiate and sustain appropriate conversations with peers and adults. These outcomes can be described and monitored measurably as annual goals in an Individual Education Program (IEP) and implemented through direct, explicit instruction in a special education classroom (in Pennsylvania, there are programs that provide “emotional support” and others that provide ‘autistic support,” and most states have similar vehicles). Alternatively, they can be implemented in the form of a “related service” such as general counseling, psychological and mental health counseling, and social work services, whether delivered individually or in a group setting.
Special education, of course, is an intervention of extraordinary last resort. We should move to a special education solution for those kids who are bullied or who bully others who are already diagnosed and identified as disabled and whose behavior is a manifestation of their identified disabilities. For those children not diagnosed and identified as such, the law encourages the use of general intervention practices to provide the sorts of measurable, outcomes-driven support (such as that described above).
As I’ve been talking this out and digging deeper to understand all of the issues involved, I want to emphasize a very critical point (brought up to me by my longtime colleague and ADA attorney Mike Tully). When it can be shown certain behaviors are a result of a formally diagnosed impairment (bipolarity, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorder, depression, oppositional/defiant disorder, etc.), schools are legally responsible to provide accommodation instead of discipline for the aggressors and additional services/support for the targets. Schools cannot discipline a disability, nor can they discipline and provide accommodations at the same time.
Parents of aggressors and targets can lobby for additional support, services, and resources for their kids under the auspices of the IDEA, but schools should make sure a formal medical diagnosis is made to avoid overidentification. This would be detrimental because a) public schools have little resources to go around as it is and b) there is a history of placing African-American males in special education programming simply because they tended to be more hyperactive – and this constitutes a form of segregation). Also, there is a need to protect against false claims that a student is SED and thereby a qualifier for special privileges and services. To reiterate, only if a child is formally diagnosed as suffering from a disability should we proceed in providing them with IDEA-related accommodations so that they can have educational opportunities without compromise. Furthermore, only then should that diagnosis change a school’s traditional response to their involvement in bullying as the offender or target.
What We’ve Learned About Cyberbullying in 2013
While Justin has recently posted a 2013 update on research-specific facts, I thought I’d provide a more general but broader update on all that we’ve learned and seen in the area of cyberbullying this year. Overall and in my opinion, it has been a great year and one that seems marked by solid progress made in schools, communities, and families who attempt to address and prevent harassment and hate online. Allow me to summarize my observations from 2013 below:
First, we have once again seen shifts in the popularity of various sites and apps among teens. Many times, the media is quick to demonize these online platforms and blame them specifically for promoting cyberbullying, but that is simply without merit.
We have repeatedly pointed out that cyberbullying is not the fault of the technology being used, but rather stems from root causes common to problems in human nature and human relationships. Simply put, cyberbullying arises when we have a population of teens who 1) are (naturally) struggling with their identity 2) dependent on peer perceptions for at least some of their self-worth 3) unable to always cope with stresses in their lives in a healthy way 4) unskilled in properly dealing with conflict 5) inconsiderate of the consequences of content shared or posted online 6) sometimes emotional, spontaneous, and shortsighted in their decision-making 7) lacking comprehensive education about etiquette, civility, empathy, and other socioemotional concepts both in the real world and online.
This list isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but those are the major factors. Please remember that the vast majority of users of a social network or app use it responsibly and properly. But there will be some who use it sometimes to harass, humiliate, or threaten others. Again, though, that is the minority (and often the vast minority) of users.
Second, we’ve spoken to tens of thousands of educators and students this year (and hundreds of thousands since we started). More and more of the policy and programming decisions being made in schools are informed, proactive, comprehensive, practical, and effective as compared to reactionary, misguided, piecemeal, ad-hoc, and disappointing in their utility. Years ago, many educators were simply not clued in to best practices that are currently evolving around the nation (and world) to deal with cyberbullying. They were often left to figure out things on their own, and this led to many well-intentioned but inappropriate methods of prevention and response. We have learned that technological restrictions and blocks are not very effective as kids have access to the Web on their smartphones in their pockets. We have learned that punitive responses – like suspending or expelling a kid – often don’t lead to a true change in behavior, nor deter the rest of the student body, nor always fit the offense (and overstepping one’s bounds in disciplinary measures may lead to lawsuits). We have learned that student assemblies work best when part of a larger multifaceted initiative (creating a positive school climate, social norming, student-led efforts, curriculum enhancements, staff and parent trainings) can be highly beneficial and valuable. As I stated in an AP article earlier this year, we ARE making progress. We should be encouraged. Outside of our Research Center, there are so many on the front lines of cyberbullying who are working very hard and making a real difference – and helping to get the right information into the hands of those who care for and work with teens. Our gratitude goes out to them as we continue fighting the good fight.
Finally, we are seeing great traction with efforts by teens to combat online cruelty with movements of kindness. We’ve fleshed this out in great detail in our latest book, but here I want to emphasize how big of a deal this is. If you are an educator, you understand that students themselves MUST lead the way. We’ve talked about Kevin Curwick, a (then) high-schooler who transformed his school via a Twitter account used to send out anonymous compliments to peers, and how this trend caught fire and led to students at many other schools doing the same thing on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. He recently said, “Being kind is popular at school now—that’s the thing to be. Things like this are needed. I’ve definitely seen a shift to a happier, lighter, more positive air around [my school]. You walk down the halls and see everyone smiling.” Here’s the kicker, according to Curwick, “Negativity gets people attention, but we can shift the tide, and use the Internet to be positive. A cool thing for me is bringing some hope about our generation.”
We completely agree. We’ve been to schools where – honestly – bullying and cyberbullying are not issues. They just aren’t. And this has been the result of lots of hard (but doable) work by students and educators there to cultivate and maintain an environment where people simply care about one another. That’s just how they do things there. And that simple philosophy has infiltrated all areas of interaction at that school. And all members of that school community subscribe to an informal “social contract” of sorts that perpetuates positive behaviors. It’s awesome. And it’s what is needed.
We wish you the best for 2014 as you tackle these issues at your school, and hope for small and large victories resulting from your efforts! As we keep you updated on what we’re learning, we’d love to hear from you about what you’re learning in the trenches (drop us a note!). And as always, Justin and I are here if you need anything.
Image source: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/shutterstock_144042475.jpg
Cyberbullying Word Trace
By Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin
An activity distributed to youth to promote discussion about cyberbullying.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2013). Cyberbullying word trace:
Talking to youth about Internet harassment. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from http://www.cyberbullying.us/cyberbullying-word-trace.pdf
Remarks to the Minnesota Task Force on the Prevention of Bullying
Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to members of the Minnesota Task Force on the Prevention of Bullying. Members were appointed by Governor Mark Dayton with the charge of recommending a course of action to the governor about how best to prevent and respond to bullying. Below were my comments to the group.
Remarks to Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s Task Force on the Prevention of Bullying
May 21, 2012
Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D.
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I am happy to be with you today to talk a little bit about my research and life’s work over the last decade. I have to say that I am not accustomed to writing my comments ahead of time and reading them in this way, but for this particular event I thought it was necessary to make sure I was able to convey as much of the important information as concisely as possible in about 10 minutes to set the stage for our discussion. I am used to presenting a 6 hour workshop for educators and I don’t think anyone here would like it if I went that long. In addition, I will make these remarks, with appropriate citations, available to you all for review following our discussion.
My name is Justin Patchin and I am an Associate Professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. I have just finished my 8th year on campus. Prior to arriving in Eau Claire, I spent 5 years at Michigan State University, completing my graduate work, teaching classes, and conducting research. I did my undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. I grew up in Northern MN, on the Iron Range. My parents still live up there and I frequently visit and spend time in and around the Boundary Waters. Much of my extended family lives here in the metro area.
While I was in college I started working with delinquent youth in residential and then day treatment in Duluth. I was talked into applying for graduate school and when I got accepted to Michigan State, intended to get a Master’s Degree in criminal justice with an emphasis on juvenile delinquency prevention and then come back to MN to be a juvenile probation office. Well, I just enjoyed MSU so much I stuck around long enough for them to give me a PhD.
In my first days on campus, I met up with Sameer Hinduja, who came to Michigan State to study computer crime. We shared a very small office together and one day just started talking about our respective interests: mine in juvenile delinquency, school violence, and bullying; and his in computer crime, identity theft, and other emerging forms of high-tech crime. We started thinking about the ways that youth were using technology to cause harm to one another. We had heard of the term “cyberbullying” but didn’t know what it really involved. This was around 2001 and no one else was really studying the problem either, so we started to. Since then we have conducted 7 formal surveys of over 12,000 students in over 80 schools from around the United States. We have also surveyed parents, educators, and law enforcement officers on their perspectives of this problem. I want to spend a few brief minutes talking about what we have learned over the last 10 years through these studies, focusing specifically on 3 areas: 1) Research; 2) Legislation; and, 3) Prevention.
Now, we have also asked questions about traditional bullying that happens at school, but there are many other competent researchers who have addressed this problem, so I will focus my comments on cyberbullying. We define cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices” (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009). Admittedly, this is an imperfect definition, which is why when we survey others about this problem, we approach it from two perspectives. First, we instruct respondents that “cyberbullying is when someone repeatedly harasses, mistreats, or makes fun of another person online or while using cell phones or other electronic devices.” We then ask if they have experienced this or done this to others in their lifetime or the previous 30 days. Second, we ask them about particular behaviors they have experienced. Specifically, we ask them if they have experienced or done any of the following:
• posted mean or hurtful comments online
• posted a mean or hurtful picture online
• posted a mean or hurtful video online
• created a mean or hurtful web page
• spread rumors online
• threatened to hurt through a cell phone text message
• threatened to hurt online
• pretended to be me someone else and acted in a way that was mean or hurtful
We also spend a great deal of time trying to keep up with the research that others are doing, both in the U.S., and abroad.
What We Know About Cyberbullying
Estimates of the number of teens who have experienced cyberbullying are all over the map. I can point you to a paper published in a peer-reviewed academic journal that says that 72% of students have been cyberbullied while another published study puts the number at less than 5%. The numbers are similarly varied when it comes to the number of students who have cyberbullied others. So how many teens have been involved? Last summer we reviewed all of the published papers on cyberbullying to try to get a handle on this question. These results were published last year in our book Cyberbullying Prevention and Response: Expert Perspectives, which included contributions from a number of knowledgeable sources from around the United States.
As of the summer of 2011, there had been at least forty-two articles on the topic of cyberbullying published in peer-reviewed journals across a wide variety of academic disciplines. Although there are additional articles being published quite regularly and it is likely that we have missed some published works, this review represents the most comprehensive summary of available research findings at the time of its writing.
Among the thirty-five papers published in peer-reviewed journals prior to the summer of 2011 that included cyberbullying victimization rates, figures ranged from 5.5% to 72% with an average of 24.4%. Most of studies (n=22) estimate that anywhere from 6% to 30% of teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying. These findings are consistent with our own research over the last ten years. The percent of youth who responded to our surveys who have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lifetime ranged from 18.8% to 40.6% in our studies, with an average of 27.3%. Our most recent study based on data collected in the spring of 2010 found that about 21% of youth had been the target of cyberbullying.
Moreover, the number of youth who admit to cyberbullying others at some point in their lives is a bit lower, though quite comparable. Among twenty-seven papers published in peer-reviewed journals that included cyberbullying offending rates, 3% to 44.1% of teens reported cyberbullying others (average of 18%). Across all of our studies, the rates ranged from about 11% to as high as 20% in our most recent study (average 16.8%).
A couple of other broad generalizations can be made about cyberbullying, based on the extant literature:
• Adolescent girls are just as likely, if not more likely than boys to experience cyberbullying (as a victim and offender) (Kowalski et al., 2008; Hinduja & Patchin, 2009)
• Cyberbullying is related to low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, anger, frustration, and a variety of other emotional and psychological problems (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010; Patchin & Hinduja, 2010; Patchin & Hinduja, 2011)
• Cyberbullying is related to other issues in the ‘real world’ including school problems, antisocial behavior, substance use, and delinquency (Hinduja & Patchin, 2007; Hinduja & Patchin, 2008)
• Traditional bullying is still more common than cyberbullying (Lenhart, 2007; Smith et al., 2008)
• Traditional bullying and cyberbullying are closely related: those who are bullied at school are bullied online and those who bully at school bully online (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009; Ybarra, Diener-West, & Leaf, 2007)
Of course more research is necessary. We do not have any good longitudinal research on cyberbullying. We also do not have any good evaluations of programs that target online safety or cyberbullying. The Olweus Prevention program has demonstrated some success with respect to bullying at school, especially internationally, but even that program could benefit from more sophisticated process and outcome evaluations. Such endeavors are costly and take time, but would be well worth the money in the long run.
Forty-nine states now have bullying laws in place or scheduled to be implemented in 2012. Minnesota law requires schools to have a bullying policy that seemingly includes “electronic forms and forms involving Internet use” but does not explicitly refer to cyberbullying or include guidance for responding to off-campus incidents of bullying. Educators are particularly challenged by this last issue; that is, knowing whether or not they can discipline students for cyberbullying when the behaviors largely occur away from school. Thankfully, caselaw provides much guidance on this question.
In the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines (1969) the Supreme Court stated: “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate…” and that only speech or behavior which “materially and substantially interfere(s) with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school” are subject to discipline. Barr v. Lafon (2007) clarified that schools need not wait for a disruption to occur before intervening and that if they can articulate a clear and imminent threat to the order of the school then appropriate action can be taken.
We know from Thomas v. Board of Education, Granville Central School District (1979) that student speech that occurs away from school is generally more protected than the speech that occurs at school, but several recent cases have demonstrated that off campus behaviors and speech are subject to school discipline, if the behavior or speech: (1) substantially or materially disrupts the learning environment at school; (2) interferes with the educational process or school discipline; or (3) threatens or otherwise infringes on the rights of other students (see J.S. v. Bethlehem Area School District, 2000; Wisniewski v. Board of Education of the Weedsport Central School District, 2007; and especially Kowalski v. Berkeley County Schools, 2011).
The key issue that has been addressed in many cases is that the behavior that occurs away from school results in (or has a likelihood of resulting in) a substantial disruption at school (see Layshock v. Hermitage School District and Blue Mountain School District v. J.S. which were both recently reviewed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ). In short, if one student is being harassed or threatened repeatedly by another student, whether online or at school, there is little question that the ability of that student to learn is being disrupted. Moreover, a target’s right “to be secure and to be let alone” (also from Tinker) is being violated. As such, it is important that any state bullying law includes this information so that schools know that they do in fact have the authority to respond. It is also important that schools include this information in their policies because students need to be notified that their off campus conduct is subject to school sanction, within the above-discussed parameters.
Specifically, I urge the legislature to adopt a modified version of New Hampshire’s recently-passed bullying law (HB 1523):
“Schools have the authority and responsibility to apply reasonable and educationally-based discipline, consistent with a pupil’s constitutionally granted privileges, to bullying that: (a) Occurs on, or is delivered to, school property or a school-sponsored activity or event on or off school property; or (b) Occurs off of school property or outside of a school-sponsored activity or event, if the conduct interferes with a pupil’s educational opportunities, creates a hostile environment for that pupil or others, or substantially disrupts the orderly operations of the school or school-sponsored activity or event.”
Similar language has also been adopted in New Jersey and Connecticut law recently. I have modified it minimally to ensure that a student’s constitutionally protected speech is not infringed upon by threatening to discipline a student who is exercising protected speech. As Tinker clearly stated, students have free speech rights, but they are not free to disrupt the learning environment at school (create a disruption, threaten or infringe on the rights of others, etc.).
I also encourage the legislature to provide resources to schools so that they can effectively implement the recommendations and/or requirements included in the law. Schools want to prevent and adequately respond to all forms of bullying and harassment and are simply looking for resources that they can use to assist in such efforts. For instance, legislation should provide staff development and training resources to the Department of Education or other state educational training service providers in order for school officials to learn about the law and about how to prevent and respond to cyberbullying more effectively.
The Importance of School Climate
The benefits of a positive school climate have been identified through much research over the last thirty years. It contributes to more consistent attendance, higher student achievement, and other desirable student outcomes. Though limited, the research done on school climate and traditional bullying also underscores its importance in preventing peer conflict. Existing research has consistently identified an inverse relationship between specific components of school climate and bullying among students (e.g., Gottfredson & Gottfredson, 1985; Malecki & Demaray, 2004; Rigby, 1996; Whitney & Smith, 1993). Our recently published book: School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time argues that the impact of a positive climate extend beyond the classroom walls.
For example, our research has shown that students who experienced cyberbullying (both those who were victims and those who admitted to cyberbullying others) perceived a poorer climate at their school than those who had not experienced cyberbullying. Youth were asked whether they “enjoy going to school,” “feel safe at school,” “feel that teachers at their school really try to help them succeed,” and “feel that teachers at their school care about them.” Those who admitted to cyberbullying others or who were the target of cyberbullying were less likely to report feeling safe and cared about at school. The better the climate, the fewer problematic online behaviors were reported by students (cyberbullying and sexting).
We also found that teachers who talk about these issues with their students are making a difference. Even though almost half (46 percent) of students said their teacher never talked to them about being safe on the computer and 69 percent of students said their teacher never talked to them about using a cell phone responsibly, when these conversations happen, they seem to have a positive impact. Students who told us that a teacher had talked to them about being safe on the computer were significantly less likely to report that they had cyberbullied others in the previous 30 days.
Finally students from schools with a better climate were more likely to report that they felt as though their school was likely to respond to incidents of cyberbullying when it was reported to a teacher or other educator at school. In short, educators who do establish a nurturing and caring classroom and school climate will make great strides in preventing a whole host of problematic behaviors, both at school and online.
In conclusion, I would like to advocate for three specific areas of focus as you move forward with your work. First, more research is necessary. We need to know more about all forms of bullying, and especially what works in the areas of prevention and response. Second, we need legislation that is prescriptive, thoughtful, evidence-based, and supported with adequate resources. If legislators are serious about doing something to stop bullying, they must move beyond the rhetoric and provide appropriate resources for schools, parents, law enforcement, and other community institutions to tackle this problem. Third, focusing on improving the climate at school can have a significant impact on a host of problematic behaviors. If students believe that they are cared about at school, and they value those relationships with their teachers, counselors, and administrators, they will in turn refrain from engaging in behaviors that would risk damaging those relationships. That said, bullying and cyberbullying are not just school problems, they are societal problems. Everyone has a role and responsibility to do something, and it can start right here with us today.
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School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time
We’ve been discussing the importance of school climate as it relates to bullying and cyberbullying quite a bit on this blog (see here and here for examples). Well, we just published a whole book on the topic! School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting is now in print and available from the publisher, on Amazon, or many other online bookstores. This is the first book on the topic of cyberbullying and sexting that focuses primarily on what can be done to prevent the behaviors from happening in the first place. We argue that “educators who establish a nurturing and caring classroom and school climate will make great strides in preventing a whole host of problematic behaviors, both at school and online.” The book provides concrete examples of how to do just that.
Here is an excerpt from the Preface:
This book seeks to explain and promote the importance of school climate in preventing teen technology misuse. Most of books and articles in print today simply describe the nature of cyberbullying or sexting (e.g., what it looks like, how much of it is occurring, and among whom). While this is an important first step, we seek to meaningfully build on the knowledge base and more explicitly connect the high-tech behaviors of teens to the school environment.
Much of what you will read is based on information we have learned through our decade-long exploration of the ways teens are using and misusing technology. We have completed seven formal independent studies involving over 12,000 students from over 80 middle and high schools from different regions of the United States. To guide the discussion, this book specifically features information from our most recent study, a random sample of over 4,400 middle and high school students (11 to 18 years old) from one of the largest school districts in the United States. Surveys were administered to students in 2010, and the information gathered represents some of the most recent and comprehensive data on these topics. We will also refer to the work of many others who have labored to better understand how adolescents use, misuse, and abuse these technologies.
In addition to the quantitative data collected, we have also informally spoken to thousands of teens, parents, educators, law enforcement officers, and countless other adults who work directly with youth. Our observations are essentially a reflection of their experiences. During these interactions, we have been fortunate to learn from those on the front lines about what they are dealing with, what is working, and what problems they are running into. The stories we hear are largely consistent with the data we and others have collected that will be presented throughout this text. We also receive numerous emails and phone calls on a weekly basis from educators, mental health professionals, parents, and other youth-serving adults looking for help with specific issues. These conversations help us to understand and consider the problem from a variety of angles and perspectives. All of the stories included in this book are real. In some cases the language has been modified slightly to fix spelling and grammar mistakes and improve readability, but the overall messages have not been changed.
In Chapter 1 we begin the discussion by focusing on the intersection of teens and technology and how the inseparability of adolescents from their high-tech devices affects, and is influenced by, what is going on at school. In Chapter 2, we outline the characteristics of a positive school climate along with some of the beneficial outcomes associated with such an environment.
In Chapter 3 we detail the nature of bullying in the 21st century. In many ways the bullying of today is very similar to the way it was when we were growing up. But technology has enabled would-be bullies to extend their reach, resulting in many significant challenges for educators, parents, and others who are working to resolve relationship problems. Cyberbullying, which we define as willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices, typically refers to incidents in which students threaten, humiliate, or otherwise hassle their peers through malicious text messages, web pages, or postings on Facebook or YouTube. It is clear that peer harassment that occurs on school grounds is a significant threat to a positive school climate. That said, online bullying also disrupts the ability of students to feel safe and secure at school. The vast majority of the time, targets of cyberbullying know the person doing the bullying (85 percent of the time in our research), and most of the time the bully is someone from their school. If students regularly post hurtful, embarrassing, or threatening messages to a fellow classmate’s Facebook page, for example, it unquestionably affects that student’s ability to feel comfortable, free, and safe to focus on learning at school.
Chapter 4 describes sexting, which we define as the sending or receiving of sexually explicit or sexually suggestive nude or seminude images or video that generally occurs via cell phone (although it can also occur via the Web). Some have described this problem in dismissive ways, calling it this generation’s way of “flirting” or characterizing it as a safer way to experiment sexually and come to terms with one’s own sexuality. While this may be true in part, engaging in sexting can lead to some significant social and legal consequences. We begin to tie everything together in Chapter 5, where we explicitly link school climate to online misbehaviors. Here again we argue that schools with better climates will see fewer cyberbullying, sexting, or other online problems among students. Ancillary benefits for educators who harness the power of a positive climate at school may include better attendance, higher school achievement, and more cooperative attitudes across the student body and among staff. A school with a positive climate is definitely more enjoyable to work and learn in, and can therefore lead to many other beneficial outcomes for students and staff alike. The remaining chapters of the book focus on providing you with strategies to establish and maintain a positive climate (Chapter 6) through peer mentoring and social norming (Chapter 7), assessment (Chapter 8), and appropriate response strategies (Chapter 9).
You can learn more about the book, including a full table of contents and reviews from folks who have read it, on our companion website, www.schoolclimate20.com. You can also like us on Facebook, and follow us on twitter. Let us know what you think!
Facebook for Educators, and the issues we need to consider
I have been chatting with my colleague Nancy Willard of the Center for Responsible Internet Use about Facebook in schools, and how they should and should not be used by educators. These are her recent thoughts with some of my input added…just to get some more discussion going on this issue. We both think that schools MUST shift to the use of interactive technology environments to effectively prepare students for success in their future. There are incredibly effective tools to do this, like EPals and EdModo. However, Facebook in its current instantiation may not be perfectly suited for certain uses by educators. For example, the use of Facebook for community outreach – by schools or extracurricular organizations – is perfectly appropriate. In addition, there may be times that it would be helpful and appropriate for students to access material on Facebook for instructional purposes. However, I would hesitate to recommend that Facebook be used as a platform for instructional activities based on its current limited feature set for schools and educators. The potential problems – including potential liability for schools – are significant.
– The privacy of student work products must be protected under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Having students publicly post their work on Facebook could very well violate this federal statute. (Justin and I recommend that schools and teachers set up Facebook Fan Pages which ensures that communications between the adults and students are public…but Facebook is testing the capability for Fans (students, in this case) to send private messages to the owner (adult educator, in this case) of the Fan page. See here for more information.)
– Schools would have to ensure that every adult has effectively set up the appropriate group protections to avoid the potential of liability.
– If a teacher has access to student Facebook profiles, these profiles could reveal evidence of abuse. If a teacher fails to detect and report such abuse, the teacher might be in violation of state mandatory reporting laws.
– Facebook requires individuals to be at least 13 years of age to sign up. Schools must adopt interactive platforms that can be used throughout their K-12 system.
– Students deserve privacy in their personal and social communications. Being required to use Facebook for their instructional activities disrespects this privacy for some. Also, some students and their parents might prefer not to have an account on Facebook.
– Facebook’s business model is focused on market profiling and advertising. Whether instructional environments should be engaged in these activities is definitely a controversial issue.
– Teachers and other school staff who want to friend students on Facebook are possibly setting themselves up for difficulties. School staff should certainly maintain friendly and supportive relationships with students. But do we want to *formally* encourage teachers to become students’ “friends?” Should they also go and hang out at the mall and go to movies with students? Or should they maintain a distinction in the status of their relationship? This, of course, is a polarizing debate with many strong opinions on one side or the other.
To summarize, these are some of the difficulties associated with teacher friending of students:
– The aforementioned mandatory reporting requirement
– Activities in an environment that is fundamentally built for sharing personal information, thoughts, experiences, photos, and videos (as compared to other social networking platforms like LinkedIn)
– Perceived pressure on students to allow teachers to have (at least some) access to their personal social environment, which may violate their privacy
– Perceived grading bias if some students establish deeper or stronger “connections” or friendships than others
– Possible expectation that busy teachers take on some of the responsibility of monitoring and intervening in student-student personal relationships when they are out of school
I really want to hear your thoughts on this…again, keeping in mind the caveats I have stated. I am not suggesting we throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Facebook is great and has numerous benefits and incredible potential. I just don’t think it is where it needs to be yet in terms of providing what schools and educators need to deliver education and provide connections in a perfectly appropriate way.
Here are some sample policies that may help you within your school or district as you seek to establish or revise your current formal rules.
Facebook has also contracted with a third-party to create a Guide for Educators, and it is available here.
Chime in and let’s talk this out!
Pause Before You Post
Technology is great and we know from our research that the vast majority of teens are using it safely and responsibly. But a few are creating problems for themselves or others by what they post online. That’s why we’ve partnered with Jostens to produce a number of useful resources for you to educate yourself or the teens in your life about the pitfalls associated with unwise postings. “Pause Before You Post” is a movement to remind students to carefully consider the consequences of posting something online. Whether they are posting something private about themselves or something hurtful about someone else, the costs can be steep. Here is a short video that introduces the campaign. You can also find a number of other short videos that feature Sameer and I talking about various issues related to teen technology use here.
One of the most popular documents we wrote for this program was “A Student’s Guide to Personal Publishing” which is available here. Jostens has put together a Pause Before You Post Kit that includes posters, pins, flyers, a DVD and CD with videos and curriculum based on our research. For more information about the kit, talk to your local Jostens representative or visit the Jostens web site. Since October is bullying awareness month, it is a good time to remind students to pause before they post!
Another Well-Meaning, but Unfunded Mandate to Address Bullying
New Jersey’s updated bullying law took effect today amid controversy and confusion. The New York Times recently reported on the law and I have received numerous calls from folks interested in my take on certain provisions. Bullying and cyberbullying legislation has been the topic of much discussion on this blog, and regular readers know that we see a place for evidence-based, fiscally supported state legislation that helps clarify school responsibilities and provides them with the tools to better manage bullying and cyberbullying incidents. We haven’t seen the perfect law yet, and New Jersey’s iteration is not it either.
New Jersey’s law seems to focus much attention on accountability – not on holding the bully accountable, but making sure school officials take certain actions expeditiously. There are a series of requirements in the law that designate a very tight timeline for school actions:
• Principal must investigate incidents within one school day of witnessing or receiving a report of bullying
• Investigation must be completed within ten school days
• Results of the investigation must be sent to superintendent within two school days of completion
• Results must be reported to the board of education at the next scheduled meeting
• Parents need to be informed of investigation within five school days of board notification
• Parents may request a hearing of the board, which must be held within 10 days
The impetus for providing a detailed paper-trail and strict timeline for dealing with each incident likely comes from parents or student targets who feel as though their reports of harassment have been ignored, but holding schools to such a firm schedule will prove challenging. And depending on how each school interprets the definition of “bullying,” staff could quickly become mired in a bureaucracy and be forced to spend more time on paperwork than actually problem solving.
In fact, an interesting aspect of the language in this law is that it explicitly includes single incidents which traditionally would not have been considered bullying: “‘Harassment, intimidation or bullying’ means any gesture, any written, verbal or physical act, or any electronic communication, whether it be a single incident or a series of incidents…” Clearly it is important to address all forms of harassment, even one-time incidents, no matter how minor, but to require schools to formally document every single case could easily overwhelm them with paperwork.
The law follows the pattern of other recent state legislation (see our analysis of New Hampshire’s law) in adding language that incorporates off-campus behaviors that substantially disrupt the learning environment at school. This seems to be one of the most controversial aspects of the law even though nothing has really changed with this. For decades the standard has been that any behavior, whether on campus or off, that substantially or materially disrupts the learning environment at school is subject to the school’s authority. This was originally articulated in Tinker v. Des Moines in 1969 and several subsequent Supreme Court cases have applied this precedent to numerous incidents where schools disciplined students for off-campus speech or behavior. States have simply tried to codify this so that the standard is more widely understood. This law does not require teachers to police the Internet, but it does insist that they respond when reports of cyberbullying that are disruptive to students at school are made. Since most schools are already doing that, the only significant change is the amount of documentation that is required within a very short period of time.
In general, much of the provisions in the law are actually positive, and again most schools are already doing many of the elements included. The major problem is that no money has been allocated to pull any of this together. For example, each school needs to designate an “anti-bullying specialist” and each district needs to name a “bullying coordinator” (contact information for these folks must be listed on the school’s web page). Since no resources have been provided to schools to hire actual specialists, these duties will no doubt fall on staff who may or may not have expertise in bullying prevention and response. Moreover, schools are now required to provide training to staff and volunteers, but information is lacking regarding evidence-based training programs or curricular enhancements. Therefore, many schools will be forced to create an ad-hoc program or pay for someone to provide programming that might not be effective or informed by research. These mandates are coming at time when schools in New Jersey and across the United States are laying off teachers and essential support staff left and right. If New Jersey and other states really wanted to send a strong message that bullying prevention and response is a priority, then they would provide resources for schools to implement these policies and practices effectively. Until then, the new law is only a bunch of words on paper. Complete details of the law are available here.
Resources to Teach Your Students about Cyberbullying and Online Responsibility
Now is the time to start thinking about what *you* are going to do to educate your students about cyberbullying, digital citizenship, online responsibility, and overall safety. A key to any educational effort is consistent reinforcement of the messages you want students to incorporate into their daily lives. Convening an all-school assembly on these topics once each schoolyear is not sufficient. But bringing up online issues even for just a few minutes regularly (daily!) can be very effective. No matter what your area of teaching expertise is, you can talk about digital citizenship. When it comes to educating your students about online issues, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. There are tons of great resources freely available on the web. You already know about our site, but in case you haven’t explored it fully, below are just a couple of examples of activities you can incorporate into your classes.
Cyberbullying Word Find. You can start a discussion about cyberbullying with a fun activity that introduces important terms and concepts to your students. After all of the words are found you can talk about what they mean and how to avoid problems. Or you could separate the word list from the sheet and announce them one at a time and briefly discuss them as they are found! One school we talked to laminated our Word Find (and our Crossword Puzzle and Word Scramble) and used them over and over in different upper elementary classes and the class that solved them the quickest one a pizza party!
Quizzes. We have three short online quizzes that you can use to assess your student’s knowledge about cyberbullying: The Facts about Cyberbullying; Dealing with Cyberbullying; and Addressing Cyberbullying. You can work through these in a computer lab or if personal devices are allowed in your school, you can direct your students to the site to complete the quizzes on their phone, tablet, or laptop. If those aren’t options, you can always print off the quiz and distribute it the old fashioned way! You can have students work in teams and give extra credit for those who get them all correct. After they are done with our quizzes, have each student (or team of students) search reputable sites online to come up with their own questions and answers!
Ideas to Get Teens Involved. In our presentations we talk a lot about how it takes a coordinated and comprehensive community effort to prevent and respond to cyberbullying. Parents, educators, law enforcement officers, faith leaders, and other community partners all have an essential role to play. But so do the teens themselves. There are a lot of great things youth can do to educate their community about cyberbullying – while learning a thing or two themselves. When working with small groups of teens I often ask teams of 4 or 5 students to come up with 2 creative ideas that they could do to educate their school and community about cyberbullying. One idea needs to be something that they *will do* within the next month and the other idea can be something that they would do if resources were unlimited. They always come up with some amazing ideas! One senior once told me that if money were no option he would get the whole school to go skydiving over the community with parachutes that said “Say No to Cyberbullying” on them. Great idea! What ideas do your students have? Get them involved and invested in creating and maintaining a bully-free culture in your school.
Pause Before You Post. Sameer and I partnered with Jostens to create “A Student’s Guide to Personal Publishing” that summarizes the issues that students need to keep in mind when posting information to the World Wide Web. You can use this guide to start a discussion with your students about some of the problems they see when looking at friends’ profiles. You can also take a few minutes to find some examples from the media where teens from your state or celebrities have gotten into some hot water because of what they have posted on the Internet. Taking the time to pause before you post anything online is always wise. If your school orders class rings or yearbooks from Jostens, ask your local representative about a complete “Pause Package” that includes a DVD, buttons, and other instructional materials.
These are just a few examples of how you can use our resources in your efforts to educate your students or children about cyberbullying and related issues. Please do explore the other resources we have for teens, educators, and parents. And let us know how you are using these and what is working! If you have any suggestions for new resources, drop us a note – we’d love to hear from you! We will share some additional suggestions in upcoming blog posts. There are a number of other great sites out there that have resources that we will highlight, so stay tuned! If you know of any, please let us know so we can spread the word. Also, if you are an educator thinking about teaching a whole class on cyberbullying or digital citizenship (at any level), stay tuned for a forthcoming blog post about what we and others we know have done that works.