Standing Up and Speaking Out Against Cyberbullying
I met Sarah Ball a couple of years ago, as she sat in the front row of a cyberbullying presentation I gave to educators at a national conference held in Orlando. As a teenager, she stood out from the rest of my audience of school professionals. She also stood out in terms of her contagious enthusiasm and interest, which was so evident in our conversation after my talk. Sarah told me of her story, and how she had personally asked the conference organizers if she could attend for free (since she was still in high school!) simply because she cared so much about this issue and wanted to make a meaningful difference. We have kept in touch since then, and we were able to feature some of her personal story in Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral. I wanted to feature it for our site visitors here as well, since it is inspiring – and because it can serve to motivate other teens and young adults to be powerful instruments of change in their communities!
I’ve had to deal with some really horrible bullying and cyberbullying. But I’ve tried to fight the good fight and to do something about it on a bigger scale, especially because I kept meeting others who were struggling, too. With my mind and heart heavy due to my situation and that of others, I started to research cyberbullying. Ryan Halligan, Megan Meier, Jeffrey Johnston, and more and more names kept coming up. Reading their stories and the decisions they made to end their cyberbullying cut me deeply. I remembered an organization my mom had told me about called DoSomething.org. It’s a place for kids and teens to do something to better the world. I then decided to create Unbreakable, a project to help me heal as well as heal others who were bullied. I didn’t have much of a plan at first—I just knew that I wanted to do whatever I could to end cyberbullying.
Soon, I got more passionate and wanted to tell more people what was happening. I wanted to be a voice for all victims of bullying. I printed out hundreds of pages of websites made just to attack kids. I sent a letter describing myself, my Unbreakable project, stories of suicide, and pages and pages of bullying sites to media outlets, politicians, law enforcement, celebrities, school superintendents, and anyone else I hoped would listen. The Tampa Tribune, ABC News, and Bay News 9 responded. Soon I was on a media train with Unbreakable. I created an Unbreakable Facebook fan page. My page targeted cyberbullies and the creators of the cruel sites. It also told the stories of Ryan, Megan, and Jeffrey.
In the beginning, the page was mostly a surge of congratulations to “whoever this is” speaking out. (Before the media buzz, I didn’t tell people that I was behind Unbreakable.) One student who had previously cyberbullied people posted, “I don’t know who this is but you are an inspiration to me. Thank you for standing up and speaking out.” I think it’s awesome that my project has encouraged others to change their ways, and that Unbreakable got a lot more students to think and care about this important issue.
As a result of these efforts, I have been invited to speak at Bullying Summits, Parent Workshops, School Board Workshops, Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, universities, and numerous schools. Through these engagements, I met leaders in my community who wanted to help make a major countywide anti-bullying event happen, even though it had never been done before. For six months, we planned, fundraised, and gathered support from the NHL and NBA as well as local businesses and restaurants. And then the day finally came!
The Unbreakable Movement for Peace program was a massive success. It was promoted all week in all the schools in my county, we had numerous guest speakers, free food and drinks for 500 people, and over 35 vendors. The event kicked off with Central High School’s ROTC performing the National Anthem, and then I spoke about this cause and those who have been victimized by cyberbullying. We all then participated in a beautiful balloon release to remember those who chose death as an escape from their bullies.
I continue to remain passionate about cyberbullying, and aim to keep honoring the platform and opportunities that I have been given. I want to help inspire other teens to make great decisions, contribute to the betterment of society, and stand up for what they believe in (and what I believe in!). We can all take the trials we’ve experienced, and turn them into something positive – something that can help the lives of so many others around us. We just need to stay motivated to take our good intentions and turn them into action!
~ Sarah Ball, 19, Florida
Combating Bullying During Kindness Week
In my line of work, I have the amazing opportunity to meet incredibly passionate educators who care so much about students – and do all they can to create and maintain positive climates in which those students can thrive. I’ve known Becky Nahrebeski, a 9th grade Global teacher, for a few years now, and finally had a chance to be a part of a Kindness Week she and her colleagues planned and put together in October. We are all about sharing success stories that encourage other administrators and teachers that bullying and cyberbullying can truly be combatted and addressed in creative and meaningful ways that make a real difference. It does take a lot of work, but it is so worth it when you get to see the results. I’ve asked Becky to share with our readers about the amazing things they’ve done (and are doing), and her thoughts are below:
Hamburg Central School District is a suburban district about 10 miles south of Buffalo, NY. We have a student body of roughly 3700 students K-12. We are a very high-achieving district. We are always ranked in the top 15 school districts for Western New York. We are ranked 81 in New York State and we are in the top 3% (ranked 682 out of 24,000) of schools nationwide and are a Silver Award winner according to U.S. News and World Report’s 2013 school rankings. We have amazing students that, after graduation, make us proud. We have dedicated teachers that love what they do. We have a supportive administration that has the best interest of the students at heart. We have fantastic parents that work with us and support us in any way they can. We have an unbelievable community that stands behind us and helps out wherever they can. Despite all of these fantastic parts working together, we still have students that hurt one another through bullying and cyberbullying.
We, as a district, refuse to ignore this issue. In our district, we have a DASA (Dignity for All Students) committee comprised of counselors, social workers, school psychologists, a teacher, and an administrator to deal specifically with bullying. This committee was started in preparation for the passage of New York State legislation (the DASA Act), and since 2011, we have been working on going through bullying reports to identify “hot spots” and determine our prevention efforts. We have attended countless conferences where we learn the latest research on what is happening. We educate parents, staff, students, and even our bus company on some of the best practices in bullying prevention. We meet monthly to stay on top of everything going on in the district.
One of our most esteemed achievements was the planning of an anti-bullying week for our district K-12. It was a massive undertaking, but well worth the hours we put in planning it. Our preparation leading up to this week included a contest entitled “Create a Culture of Kindness.” Students K-12 could enter the contest and compete in different categories. For example, they could write a poem, essay, or song. They could create an anti-bullying poster or public-service announcement video. The goal was for them to take their skillsets and talents and apply them to help transform our school communities by making it cool to care about others. The response we received was truly incredible. It is amazing how perceptive and intelligent our students are on the issue of bullying. It also became clear that it was an issue that our students cared deeply about, as was evident in some of their project submissions. We had well over 100 submissions and it was very emotional and difficult to choose our winners. If you ever are curious how deeply students care about the issue of bullying, put together a contest and you will see how affected your student population is.
Our week began on Monday with a staff meeting with Dr. Hinduja. He trained our staff and shared with us important information about school policy and the best prevention and response strategies that have evolved, and how all stakeholders must play a role. On Monday evening, we held a Youth Rally. We had all our contest entries displayed for everyone to see. We had vendor tables set up in our cafeteria for all to peruse. Attendees had an opportunity to create a link in our chain against bullying. Our band played, and our cheerleaders cheered, and it was a very festive and fun environment with snacks and beverages and a celebration of our students’ efforts! We announced all of our contest winners right at the beginning of the evening. Then we announced our guest speaker, Dr. Hinduja, who spoke to our attendees about technology and role of the parents in helping schools to combat the bullying/cyberbullying problem. He also allowed time for Q&A, which was really valuable to our parents.
On Tuesday, we started our day with a survey we gave to all of our students in grades 6-12. We wanted to make sure we could gauge how well all of our efforts were working throughout the course of this year. We plan on doing a post survey later this year to compare our data. All of the questions from our survey came from Dr. Hinduja’s book Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard. Then, Dr. Hinduja spoke to our middle school and high school students. He was dynamic and the kids really got a lot out of his presentation. He addressed everything from being smart online, protecting yourself by keeping your information locked down, and the impacts that bad decisions can have on your life. Students raved about how everything he discussed with them applies directly to them right now. They took a lot away from his presentation.
Students also watched the documentary “Bully.” This was a tremendous empathy-building opportunity. Students really got a strong message about not bullying and also to be a bystander that acts (upstander). They felt such sadness for the kids that were impacted by the bullying and many felt they would not allow something like that to occur in our schools. Students did debriefing activities for both of these activities where they had some discussion, some writing opportunities. They also made Sorry Slips, and participated in a Paperclip Pledge. A Sorry Slip is a slip of paper on which students can anonymously apologize for something they feel bad about. A Paperclip Pledge is where students vow to not bully, and to step in if someone is bullying. They get a paperclip with a ribbon and make a chain of paperclips, which then serves as a visual reminder of their promise. In all, it was a fantastic day.
On Wednesday, Dr. Hinduja, our high school drama club, and our DASA team traveled to all four of our elementary buildings. Dr. Hinduja spoke twice to each building to students grouped K-2 and again to students in grades 3-5. He was great even with these age groups and delivered a message that they related to. Opposite him, our HS drama club put on a performance of a skit they wrote and answered questions that they students had. Then each school had their own plan for the rest of the day. Throughout the rest of the week, our schools did follow-up activities that included pep rallies, classroom activities, and the hanging of visual reminders around the schools. One common thread in all of our elementary buildings was a Create a Culture of Kindness quilt. Each student created their own square by drawing or writing a message they got from the day. The squares were then put together to form quilts. It remains an awesome visual left over from our week.
The work in preparing for this week was intense, stressful, and at times, all-encompassing, but well worth every minute put into it. Our students raved about the week and asked that we “do stuff like that more often.” They made it clear that they don’t want our efforts to end there. As such, we have some follow-up activities loosely planned out for the spring. We are hoping to bring in a speaker for a one-hour assembly that can speak on the merits of being an upstander, and give our students some great ways to “step in” if they see an instance of bullying. We are also working on putting together a panel of students to share with our teachers what is really going on in our schools. We are also hoping to create a Public Service Announcement for our community. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we remain inspired based on all of the progress we’ve made and interest we’ve received! In closing, I want to share the primary message we received from our students: they want to talk about these types of issues; they want to work with the adults in preventing instances of bullying!
New Year Ideas to Make Kindness Go Viral
Our first book for teens (Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral) came out a few weeks ago, and we’re really excited about its potential impact among students who have dealt with online harassment and want to do something meaningful about it (check it out if you haven’t already!). That said, our publisher (Free Spirit Press) recently asked us to write a blog related to our work to encourage and equip educators with some ideas to kick-start 2014 with school back in session! We thought we would share it with our readers below, and so let us know your thoughts….
The beginning of a new year is a good time to reflect on the previous year while setting goals for the future. Most New Year’s resolutions focus on self-improvement goals (such as dieting, exercising, or learning a new skill). But why not also resolve to work toward an other-focused goal—and do your part to contribute to a better, kinder world? Lots of people share, tweet, and otherwise circulate “feel good” stories on social media about how others demonstrate compassion. The people who circulate them are personally moved. However, have you ever been moved to the point of paying it forward yourself, or—even better—helping to create a legacy of kindness? Your position as a parent or educator offers you the ability to influence legions of kind kids through modeling and intentional instruction.
Interestingly, research now shows that people who learn about, and practice demonstrating, compassion and kindness toward others are more likely to establish long-term patterns of positive behavior. Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and his colleagues have been studying the ways that compassionate behavior actually changes the brain. They found that “participants who learned compassion were more generous” and that “greater generosity . . . was associated with changes in the brain’s response to human suffering in regions involved in empathy and increasing positive emotions.” In short, encouraging kids and teens to be kind and caring can result in neurological changes that may lead to expanded and consistent empathy and compassion toward others.
With that in mind, here are some ways you can encourage the children and teens in your life to delete cyberbullying and make kindness go viral in the New Year.
Set Up a Social Media Compliments Page Most teens have a profile on one or more social networking platforms and are very comfortable navigating these environments. Perhaps you could encourage them to set up a separate account for the purpose of dishing out anonymous accolades to their classmates. This idea was made famous by Kevin Curwick’s “OsseoNiceThings” Twitter feed and Jeremiah Anthony’s “West High Bros” Facebook compliments page. Now dozens of social media accounts have been set up by teens for the purpose of encouraging and praising their peers.
Participate in Random Acts of Kindness More and more individuals in all walks of life are realizing that it’s actually really cool to be kind. It’s even cooler when kindness is dished out anonymously and unexpectedly. Encourage your students or children to engage in random acts of kindness in their school or broader community. Search online for examples of young people being kind to others to give them inspiration. Dozens of videos and even a Twitter hashtag (#RandomActofKindness) can direct you to ideas as well.
Create a Public Service Announcement Many teens have great ideas for promoting positivity that they would love to share with others. Give them creative freedom and let them loose to script out and record a short video with the simple purpose of encouraging others to be kind. They could interview their classmates or “famous” people in their school or community (like the principal or mayor). Leave it up to them about how to approach the activity—they’ll surprise you and hopefully come up with something really compelling! Then you can upload it to YouTube, your school’s Web page, or social media accounts, and otherwise use it as a teaching tool to reach so many others!
Make Posters A simple activity that kids of all ages can tackle is to design inspirational posters that can be plastered on walls around the school. It doesn’t take much artistic talent to inspire others to be kind with drawings or creative slogans. Teachers could work with a particular class or a specific subset of students to produce posters that could be covertly placed all over the school on Friday afternoon or over the weekend. The rest of the student body will return on Monday and be totally inspired by what they see all around them.
Promoting kindness doesn’t have to be a big production. The best ideas are often among the simplest. If you are an educator, maybe spend some time in the classroom brainstorming some ideas with your students. Parents, too, can talk with their children about ways to eliminate cruelty and encourage compassion. Working together, parents, teachers, and kids and teens can make tremendous strides toward combating cruelty in all its forms in 2014. Don’t just share stories of kindness. Make it a priority to write your own, and help others to do so as well!
Image source: http://bit.ly/1cNoNKr
Upper Elementary Assembly
This presentation is designed for students in grades 3-5 who need a general introduction to the safe and responsible use of technology. Students will learn what to do if they are being mistreated online, or if they see something bad happening to one of their friends. Students are encouraged to communicate with adults that they trust about what they are doing and seeing online. General safety principles are covered, including: (1) don’t meet anyone in real life who you only know online without your parent present, (2) don’t share passwords with friends, (3) don’t say mean things to others online, even if they say mean things to you, and many others. Students are also encouraged to use technology, because it is great and fun and educational! But they need to be safe and smart while interacting online.
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Elementary Student Assembly
This presentation introduces upper elementary-aged students, usually 3rd, 4th, or 5th graders, to issues associated with the responsible use of technology. It encourages them to be open with their parents about what they are doing online, and teaches them to be wise when posting information or interacting with others on the Internet.