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Cyberbullying Prevention: Kids Can Help

Live from the Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference in New York

Bullying is a serious school issue that every classroom teacher will have to confront at some point—and the presentation schedule here reflected that. I attended the last of the four bullying-related sessions, which addressed the need for schoolwide efforts to prevent cyberbullying.

Patricia Agatston, who has written cyberbullying prevention curricula and is a consultant for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, explained that conventional bullying and cyberbullying have many similarities—they are both aggressive, repetitive, and difficult for the victim to defend against. But cyberbullying, which occurs through email, instant messaging, websites, and texts, is threatening in other ways as well. Cyberbullies can remain anonymous, they are less inhibited since the interaction is not face to face, and they have access to their target around the clock. Digital messages are also easily replicable—for instance, a damaging video can go viral.

Many kids are afraid to tell their parents about cyberbulling because they fear the technology (cell phone, Facebook, etc.) will be taken away, said Agatston. While that response seems to make sense—if the cell phone is a problem then you don't need it, parents think—it unfairly punishes the victim and takes away access to friends and part of their support system.

Ron Slaby, a senior scientist at the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital in Boston, offered tips for teachers and schools on preventing cyberbullying. He encouraged teachers to review their state bullying laws, educate parents and students, attend professional development sessions (like the one we were sitting in), and create "acceptable use plans" for digital media.

Student-driven awareness campaigns are often the most effective, he said. One 14-year-old girl came up with Students Against Being Bullied, a three-tiered anti-bullying initiative that was adopted by her district's board of education, after her friend told her he was contemplating suicide. Slaby was wearing a ring students created to warn other kids about the dangers of putting material on the Internet, which says "think b4 u post."

Despite the impressive amount of media attention cyberbullying has gotten over the last year, I realized at this session what a multi-faceted problem it is and how much left there is to learn.

Here are some resources offered by the presenters:

eyesonbullying.org
cyberbullyinghelp.com
stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov

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