For the last few weeks I have been pondering the question of online behaviour, particularly in relation to whose responsibility it is to monitor the social media activities of students. In some circumstances the answer is quite clear. I have no doubt that the responsibility sits with schools wherever these activities occur during school time, but beyond this the boundaries become somewhat blurred. Does responsibility sit with the School when these activities occur outside of School hours?
There was a time when most people would have agreed that it was the responsibility of parents to keep tabs on what their children were doing outside of school, a time when parents would seek to settle out of school disputes between children themselves. In fact, I still have very vivid memories of my own mother taking me to a friend’s house to apologise for my behaviour towards their child and likewise seeking an apology from another child where they had wronged me. These were simple times where right actions were underpinned by clearly defined values and the boundaries between the world of the adult and the world of the child were understood.
With the advent of technology and significant changes to the structure of society however, things are no longer so clear cut. Many of the responsibilities that were once the province of families, the church or the local police, now fall to schools as part of an ever longer list of responsibilities. In the time I have been teaching, schools have been required to add a raft of additional responsibilities to the original 3R’s including road safety, drug and alcohol education, career education, sex education, financial literacy, nutrition and now cyber-safety, leaving teachers little time for their core business of teaching the knowledge and skills of the mandated curriculum. Of these additional responsibilities however, online behaviour and the related issues of cyber-bullying are without doubt, the most demanding on any School’s time.
Accepting this, my question becomes:
How can our school community help us respond to this new threat to our children’s wellbeing? For me there is only one answer… we need to work together to develop a culture where everyone looks out for everyone else so that when a concern arises, we can all take appropriate action. From experience we know that when there is a threat to cause harm—either to one’s self or others—someone sees or hears about it. What do our students do at that moment? Are they empowered to take action themselves? Do students feel comfortable talking with their parents or an adult at school about what they witnessed or heard about? Do they feel that telling their parent or an adult at school or at home would resolve the situation? Do they value our advice? Do they seek our support?
Consider this contradiction: When we ask a student what they should do if they are being cyberbullied, or if they see it happen, more often than not they will respond with “tell an adult.” Yet, when you ask them if telling an adult would help, they often say no!
Clearly we need to be able to respond to bullying and cyberbullying in a way that quickly stops the harassment without further harming or humiliating any of the parties involved, so that students feel more comfortable in seeking our help when problems arise in the future.
To achieve this, I believe we need to use a multi-faceted approach that includes:
- sharing information about social media sites to keep everyone in our community up-to-date on changing technologies, increase our awareness of online prevention and intervention strategies and inform us about the positive use of social media
- encouraging students to make use of online incident reporting mechanisms so that they become comfortable to intervene as bystanders, and know how to use social media in positive and productive ways
- providing parents with increased support and technical knowledge to carry out monitoring and rule-setting to reduce negative online interactions taking place outside of school, thereby reducing the incidence of cyberbullying and the subsequent burden on the school to respond
- seeking further opportunities to share and discuss best practices in school-based cyberbullying prevention and intervention.
As a community we have a collective responsibility to the wellbeing of the young people in our care and I hope you will actively support us in the implementation of these strategies.