Teens: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral!
Next week, our newest book will be released. And we are seriously pumped! Like all of the others, this one is on the topic of cyberbullying. But this book is not like all of the others. Rather, it is the first book on cyberbullying that we know of that was specifically and intentionally written for teens. Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral represents our effort to give youth the tools and inspiration they need to effectively prevent and respond to cyberbullying. And more than that, it encourages them to utilize the power of technology to spread kindness throughout their schools and broader communities.
We’ve long advocated that tackling teen tech problems requires a comprehensive and coordinated effort that includes parents, educators, law enforcement officers, and other community leaders. But it should also involve those who are at the very center of these issues: teens! And we know from the many conversations we have had with teens over the last few years that they do want to be a part of the solution. Until now, however, not much was available to help them. This book changes all of that.
Written for Teens
Whether teens are being cyberbullied, or just tired of seeing it affect their friends and school, Words Wound offers real-world advice that they can put into practice today. The book includes dozens of stories from teens who have experienced cyberbullying or who have worked in their communities to fight it in creative and effective ways. Teens are able to learn directly from those who have been wounded by words, but also from many who refused to stand idly by as their classmates were being mistreated. Readers will come to deeply appreciate the serious harm that comes from cyberbullying, but even more importantly learn the strategies they need to do something about it. Specifically, it empowers teens to combat cruelty with kindness, and to harness the power of positive peer pressure to persuade all teens to act with respect toward others, whether online or off.
It was a blast writing this book because it allowed us to get out of our comfort zone and write much more informally than we usually do. It was as if we were sitting down and having a chat with a teen. We get to hang out with students all of the time in schools all across the U.S. (and beyond), so we feel like we have a solid handle on what they are dealing with and how they are confronting online challenges. And we have also heard from them about what works and what doesn’t.
I deliberately tried to get inside the head of teens as I was writing for this book over this past summer by, for example, listening to current pop music by Justin Timberlake, Macklemore, and Lady Gaga instead of my usual favorites from the early 1990s. In fact, Lady Gaga had a small part in inspiring us to write this book. We were invited to participate in the launch of her Born This Way Foundation in February of 2012. The Foundation is all about empowering youth and giving them “the skills and opportunities they need to build a kinder, braver world.” We love this mission! At the launch event, an audience member asked Lady Gaga what she thought was the best way to teach students how to intervene in bullying incidents. In reply, she explicitly called for more resources to be directed to teens to help them navigate these issues (see 1:02:20 in the video). Upon reflecting on her answer we realized that there really wasn’t much out there for teens on how to deal with cyberbullying. We knew they were thirsty for information, and so we wrote this book.
Also Helpful for Adults
Even though this book is for teens, we also see it as a great resource for parents, educators, or really anyone who works with youth to help them navigate the difficult intersection of adolescence and technology. Adults who read the book will learn from teens themselves as their experiences represent the bulk of the book. They will also be given teen-tested and approved strategies for dealing with cyberbullying, and come to appreciate the importance of their role (and responsibilities) as the “Trusted Adult.” We enlisted input from several teen editors to review the content in the book to make sure the suggestions were realistic, appropriate, and relevant to them (special shout out to Kylie and Kevin who went above and beyond in their efforts to help us!).
Moreover, to assist adults, we’ve created a companion Leader’s Guide which will be freely available and allow teachers, counselors, or youth group leaders to use Words Wound to teach teens about empathy, cyberbullying, and digital citizenship. It includes learning objectives, discussion questions, activities, and assessment questions for every chapter. We believe it is perfect for educators who are looking for a teen-oriented book to guide them through lessons on these difficult concepts. This is especially important given the federal mandate that schools teach about cyberbullying awareness and response.
More Than a Book
Ultimately, our hope for this project is to take it well beyond just the book. We really want to create a mindset among teens where care and compassion become contagious and where cruelty is viewed as simply not cool. We know there are pockets of youth out there in their schools actively promoting this perspective, and a few of their stories are highlighted in the book. We will continue to support their efforts by showcasing success stories on our new teen-oriented website www.wordswound.org and popular social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). Be sure to visit those sites, and continue to follow this blog as we roll out exciting new resources and activities to help teens delete cyberbullying and make kindness go viral!
To pre-order a copy of Words Wound, visit Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound.
If it takes a village, where is that village? Reflections on the Dolphins’ bullying case
I’ve been studying the phenomenon of bullying for my entire professional life, and as much as I believe the best about others, I also have discovered that boys, girls, men, and women do not always *naturally* know the right thing to do. To be sure, they eventually learn what is socially acceptable in many situations, but not in all. And as we get older, the situations become more complex, and are acted on by many outside forces such as peer expectations, conflicting worldviews, personal insecurities and dysfunctions, and the sometimes miserably difficult nature of life. And in this murkiness eventually surfaces major problems. I think of teens taking their lives in part because of bullying. I think of child abuse and domestic violence and sexual assault. And I think of many other wrong choices and behaviors where one person ends up really hurting someone else. Like in the Miami Dolphins’ maelstrom involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.
We’re familiar with what has occurred, and the story seems to be getting more complicated and implicating more individuals every day. But let’s take a moment to focus on Incognito and Martin to determine if this could have been prevented (at least in part) if we magically were able to go back in time and influence their lives while growing up. Of course, we can’t, but if something can be learned, it can be applied to the teens we do have in our lives right now. And maybe, just maybe, it will compel us to act in ways that reduce the likelihood of a similar outcome in the future. We must remember that this doesn’t just affect two people, but has reverberations throughout the NFL, sports (with the NBA recently acting to prevent hate and harassment), and adult workplaces in America and beyond, and therefore – by extension – touches every area of our society.
The general sense from media reports about Richie Incognito was that he probably overstepped a line when it came to the way he interacted with Jonathan Martin who – assumedly – was just different in personality and constitution from him (and perhaps other NFL football personnel who believe Martin is soft, weak, and emotional). Perhaps those differences elicited some sort of reaction in Incognito. Some might say that reaction was hateful, but since we still don’t know all the facts, let’s at least agree that it was disrespectful and mean.
Perhaps it’s easy to condone or justify his actions because of a shared group mentality about how an offensive lineman should be, or about how a football player should be, or about how a man should be. However, from our extensive work with teens of all ages who are continually fighting battles to be included in one group and while not excluded in another group, we have learned that discrimination and stereotypical worldviews about how others should or not be, act, speak, or look is one of the major roots of bullying. Somewhere along the way, there likely was a marked failure of social institutions in Incognito’s life (school, family, faith-based organization, sports teams along the way, etc.) to teach and (more importantly) regularly remind him about peer respect, tolerance, and acceptance of individual differences. Would Incognito (and perhaps others) have treated Martin with hate (at worst) or callousness (at best) if those lessons has been deeply branded upon his mind and heart? Maybe, but I doubt it.
On the other side of the issue we have Jonathan Martin, who by media accounts is perhaps more sensitive than many of his peers in football – or, perhaps, is at least more open in vulnerably demonstrating that sensitivity. He may be struggling with some deep-seated issues, or he may simply have been subjected to repeated bullying to the point of breaking him. Here again, I believe that social institutions have likely failed him. Let’s say that he wears his heart on his sleeve. I can relate to that – I’m the same way (for better or for worse). I don’t imagine this is a recent development in his life, and so I will speculate that Martin has been this way and if so, has likely dealt with mistreatment from others before. To me, that means that there were likely opportunities from parents, from coaches, from teachers, and other adults to provide counsel, wisdom, encouragement, and specific techniques and strategies to deal not only with bullies but also with heavy emotions when life gets really hard. The fallout from this case has happened quite suddenly, but I imagine there were requests and cries for help all along the way that were dismissed or ignored. Perhaps this has been the story of Martin’s life. I am not sure; all I know is that this happens. People try to get help, and/or never receive the guidance and support they need, and then a major awful event happens.
For adults like Incognito and Martin (and perhaps for many others in sports and other spheres of life), there has probably been a massive failure somewhere along the line. For Incognito, perhaps no one really taught him how far is too far (and no one seemed to care enough to stop him, either). For Martin, perhaps no one was able to fully be there for him, to counter feelings of exclusion and rejection with feelings of inclusion, respect, and esprit de corps. Both of these failures could happen to anyone, and are happening to so many around us. And all of this begs the question: what are you doing about it?
Photo credit: Lynne Sladky/AP
Teacher shames student in classroom after student bullies teacher on Twitter
Recently, a female student in Northern Mexico posted very offensive comments about her teacher – Ms. Idalia Hernandez Ramos – on Twitter. These included referring to her as a “whore” and a “bitch,” and defaming her in other hurtful and insulting ways. At best, the behavior is a youthful indiscretion that unfortunately hurts the feelings of an innocent person. At worst, it was a very cruel and painful act of harassment which could leave serious emotional and psychological wounds, apart from severely damaging the teacher’s reputation now and in the future. According to how we define it, it would be considered “cyberbullying.”
Most of us likely wouldn’t have heard about this case if not for a video uploaded to YouTube documenting what seems to be a typical classroom scene. In this video, Ms. Hernandez Ramos is teaching her class and covering material that interestingly, (and not coincidentally, we find out) relates to social media etiquette and digital citizenship. At one point, she singles out a female student and engages her in healthy dialogue about how online hate and bullying is extremely harmful, and can destroy the image of the person being targeted – and how teens can suffer legal consequences for their postings. And then, suddenly, the dialogue turns into an inquisition of sorts, as the teacher confronts the student about what she posted, and asks her why she would do such a thing.
At this point, the student is emotional after being called out in front of her classmates. She admits her role as the author of the hateful tweet, saying she was upset when she wrote it. Ms. Hernandez Ramos then remarks how she too is upset, and that so many others have seen the tweet, and that damage has been done. She then demands an apology from the student (and another student who shared the tweet with others) and states she will not allow “young brats” to call her that.
The epilogue of this story is that the student was suspended for two weeks, and the teacher has been placed on classroom leave while authorities determine whether she should lose her job. Overall, the case can serve an instructional lesson as we continue to wrestle with novel problems that arise from the misuse of technology in our everyday lives.
Harm is Harm No Matter Who is Involved
I am glad we are sensitive to the student’s humiliation and shame. However, we need to be equally sensitive to the teacher’s humiliation and shame as well. She was victimized. The worth of one’s dignity should not be on a sliding scale depending on how old you are. Furthermore, it does warrant defending. I would speak up and defend myself if ever bullied, harassed, embarrassed, threatened, or otherwise mistreated. Doing so must always be encouraged among everyone – but it should be done through the proper channels and in the proper environment.
It is good that the teacher confronted the student about her poor judgment and harmful online speech. But it is not good that the teacher publicly shamed the student in front of her peers. To be sure, the teacher herself was publicly shamed. However, we must hold adults in supervisory positions over youth to a higher standard of integrity and character. Whether they like it or not, they serve as a behavioral model to teens. They should take the “narrow road” and emulate wisdom and maturity every chance they get.
In this case, if I were the teacher, I would have been very upset and emotional about the situation. I believe such feelings are justifiable and natural. However, I would have spoken to the student in private, one-on-one, when I was calm and level-headed. In this case, the teacher “set up” the student. She asked other students to record the confrontation and apology. When I speak with teens, I remind them that retaliating is never the answer. It never defuses the situation or resolves the conflict. In fact, it usually makes things worse. Here, the teacher is clearly avenging the wrong she experienced.
We do need to remain gracious and understanding towards teens when they demonstrate immaturity. I wouldn’t want the student expelled, and I believe that two weeks of suspension is a just penalty. However, I wouldn’t want the teacher fired. Given what I’ve said above, can’t we extend some grace towards Ms. Hernandez Ramos as well – especially considering the emotional turmoil, stress, and sadness she must have experienced? Yes, she could have responded in a better way, but her victimization is an extenuating circumstance that lowers the maliciousness of her intent.
Not the First Time We Have Seen This
This reminds me of the situations involving parents who publicly shamed their daughters to teach them a lesson. Supporters of those parents’ actions termed it “creative parenting,” but it rightfully could be considered “cyberbullying.” If the dominant desire of any adult is to instill fear, guilt, and shame instead of conveying a life lesson about right and wrong in a healthy, encouraging, and loving manner, we’ve got a major problem. I’d consider such actions downright abusive. Caring adults should serve a protective function to buffer kids from the harsh realities of the world since they are at such a delicate point in their adolescent development.
Cyberbullied Adults Need Support, Assistance, and Guidance as Well
A number of adults contact our Center for assistance when being targeted. Their stories are as real, raw, and as devastating as the ones we hear from children and teens. Educators need to be trained and equipped to deal with online harassment and hate. This situation allows us to once again shine the spotlight on cyberbullying and ensure our prevention and response efforts are measured, informed, and best suited to truly make a meaningful difference.
What Teens Are Doing Online
(reposted from the Free Spirit Publishing blog)
Some adults are under the assumption that just about everything that teens do online is either hurtful to themselves or others or a complete waste of time. To be fair, there’s no shortage of daily headlines that seem to point to the conclusion that many teens are using technology irresponsibly. But the reality is that those stories represent a small part of what most teens are doing in cyberspace. For example, very few young people are trolling chat rooms looking to meet new friends. Most teens use computers, and more often mobile phones, to interact with others whom they know in real life. Sometimes they are communicating with friends of friends or “strangers” while playing online games, but generally they are connected to those they know. According to recent data released by the Pew Internet & American Life project, 60 percent of teen Facebookers have their profiles restricted to friends only and nearly three-quarters have deleted people from their friends list. So in short, most teens are using social media conscientiously.
Moreover, many teens are using technology for educational purposes. In every survey of students that we have done over the last decade, “using the Internet for schoolwork” has always been among the top five weekly activities reported—ahead of Facebook, online games, and YouTube. In our most recent survey of about 1,500 randomly selected middle and high school students in one large district, almost 94 percent of respondents said that they used the Internet for schoolwork at least every week (by comparison, about 19 percent said they used Twitter as often). We regularly hear stories of students using Skype or FaceTime to collaborate in real time with classmates, and the World Wide Web allows curious learners to dig even deeper into a topic.
We also know from our work that the vast majority of teens are not behaving recklessly, carelessly, or maliciously. On average, about 17 percent of the thousands of students we have surveyed over the last five years have admitted to us that they have cyberbullied others at some point in their lifetime (less than 10 percent say they did it in the previous 30 days). So this means that between 80 and 90 percent of teens are not cyberbullying others! These data belie the conventional wisdom held by many (adults and teens alike) that a significant majority of teens are using technology to torment.
Furthermore, a significant number of students are now taking the power of technology and using it to do good. We’ve written about the Nice it Forward movement on our blog before, and it appears to be growing with students at schools from all around the United States setting up social media pages for the purpose of encouraging and recognizing their classmates and others. Kevin Curwick, the 18-year-old founder of the @OsseoNiceThings feed that really got the movement going, recently told us that he started the Twitter account to “bring back a sense of school unity, and to show support for students of all interests.”
Jeremiah Anthony and his friends at West High School have been complimenting classmates for nearly 2 years on Twitter and Facebook at @westhighbros. Like Kevin, Jeremiah sought to exploit the power of technology to spread a positive message. “Our Twitter account is here to prove to every single doubter of the goodness of people, that people my age really do great things with technology.” Similarly, there has been increased interest in adolescents to artfully weave words into a message of hope, compassion, and respectfulness when using technology as illustrated in a number of poetry slams recorded and posted online. (Here is just one recent example.)
In short, it is clear that the vast majority of teens are using technology safely, responsibly, and appropriately. And it is also likely that many more are proactively using it to spread positive messages rather than negative ones. Our mandate as caring adults is to encourage the teens in our lives to choose positivity over negativity and to acknowledge the efforts of those who do the right thing, instead of drawing unnecessary attention toward those who do not.
Educators, Students, and Conversations about Technology Misuse
During the last several years, school staff have become well aware that what happens online often significantly impacts the environment at school and the ability of students to learn. It is also true that what goes on at school influences the nature and content of student interactions while away from school. That means that a lack of connectedness, belongingness, peer respect, school pride, and other climate components may very well increase the likelihood of technology misuse off-campus by teens.
We are huge on the importance of creating and maintaining a positive school climate, and so we wanted to study this relationship through our research. We’ve done this in part in a blog entry late last year which demonstrated that in schools where students reported a better climate, students also reported fewer cyberbullying and sexting incidents. To reiterate, schools that were rated by students to have relatively “low” school climate had more reports of cyberbullying and sexting than those rated as “medium” or “high.”
Here are some other important findings worth mentioning:
Educators’ Efforts Matter
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 cyberbullying others.
Also, those who told us that a teacher had recently talked to them about using their cell phone responsibly were significantly less likely to say that they had sent a sext to another student. Of course the content of those conversations is also important. Once again, we call for more research to clarify what works in terms of teachers talking with students about safely and responsibly using computers and cell phones.
Students Remain Reluctant to Report
It is also noteworthy that fewer than 10 percent of targets of cyberbullying told a teacher or other adult at school about their experience (about 19 percent of the targets of traditional bullying told an adult at school). Much of the reluctance of students to report these kinds of behaviors stems from their skepticism that the teacher will actually do anything useful to stop the behavior. In fact, most students we speak to suggest that telling a teacher (or other adult) will often make matters worse.
Interestingly, 75 percent of students in our study felt that the teachers at their school took bullying seriously, but fewer (66 percent) felt that the teachers at their school took cyberbullying seriously. So clearly, adults in school have some work to do to convince students that these problems can be resolved effectively. How can a school or classroom hope to have a positive climate if students are afraid or hesitant to talk to adults about these issues? This is just one aspect of school climate that must be corrected if school administrators hope to develop and maintain an environment where youth can freely learn and thrive.
Expectation of Discipline
In our most recent research, we asked students to tell us how likely it would be for someone at their school to be caught and punished for cyberbullying. In general, about half (51 percent) of the students said that it was likely that a student from their school would be punished for cyberbullying. To note, this number dropped to less than 40 percent among the students who had actually been victims of cyberbullying.
When we examined this question from the perspective of different school climates, we found that students from the schools with more positive climates reported a higher likelihood of a response. Specifically, 65 percent of the students at the schools that scored “high” on our scale said that cyberbullies would be punished at their school compared to only 35 percent of the students at the “low-scoring” schools. Here again, the quality of the climate at school shapes student perceptions of accountability for behaviors online.
What is the take home point of this research?
Basically, there are fewer behavioral problems and higher academic performance in schools with a positive climate, the influence of climate extends beyond the school walls. Students who feel they are part of a welcoming environment will largely refrain from engaging in behaviors that could risk damaging the positive relationships they have at school.
You can’t separate climate from instruction. You can’t separate climate from leadership. You can’t separate climate from the purposeful things you do to build a relationship with students. If a school is doing great on one thing, it tends to all fall in line.
~ John Shindler, director of the Western Alliance for the Study of School Climate
Now that we better understand the online experiences of our students, and know that the climate at school is related to those experiences, the next step is to work to transform your classroom and school into a place where students feel safe, respected, involved, and connected. The resources on this site, and our latest book School Climate 2.0 can provide you with a road map for doing just that. Even though it is not an easy path to travel, we are confident that you will not be disappointed when your efforts materialize into happier students and staff and an overall better place to learn and teach.
There is a definite link between school climate and student online behavior. Without question, problems that occur between students in an online environment become issues at school. These issues often include a large number of students, as they can quickly share their opinions online with many of their classmates. Usually, the concern is brought to my attention by a student who reports being bullied or a parent who wants to know “What are YOU going to do about it?”
We have worked hard to educate our students and parents regarding online safety. Recently, we added a curricular unit at the seventh-grade level (soon to start in fifth grade). Each grade level participates in activities regarding cyberbullying. Additionally, we have had experts come in and talk to our students, staff, and parents about how to be more aware of online issues and how to respond appropriately. We are currently working on steps to communicate and practice online behavior expectations as part of the overall system of Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) at our school.
We try to assist students in resolving cyberbullying issues even if the behaviors did not occur at school. We have had our counselor or trained peer mediators meet with students who are involved in online conflicts to work toward a resolution. As the principal, I have met with several parents to inform (and often educate) them about their child’s online behavior. By confronting the issue, I believe our school climate has improved. Students (and parents) know that we care about them beyond the school walls. They know we believe a safe, bully-free environment is critical to providing the best education possible.
~ Dr. Barry Kamrath, Principal, Bloomer Middle School, Bloomer, Wisconsin