By Diana Graber, co-founder of Cyberwise
Cyberbullying is the use of technology to threaten, harass, embarrass and/or target another person, and can be an unfortunate byproduct of digital life. Although it’s usually easy to spot — a text or social media post appears threatening or cruel, for example — it can also be less obvious and thus go undetected (except by the target, of course). Additionally, at the other end of the spectrum, many are quick to label everyday teasing or “digital drama” as cyberbullying, sometimes unfairly. It’s a multi-layered and complex topic.
So when I teach students about “cyberbullying” in our first year of the digital literacy program—Cyber Civics—it takes six weeks. Unfortunately, many schools see this as a span of time they simply cannot afford to spend on this topic.
I argue they can’t afford NOT to.
A study out recently from the American Academy of Pediatrics underscores why this is so important. This study finds that being bullied, or spending an excessive amount of time on the Internet, could increase teen suicide risk. It also finds,
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents 15 to 19 years of age.
- Being a victim of school bullying or cyberbullying is associated with substantial distress, resulting in lower school performance and school attachment.
- Youth seem to be at much greater risk from media exposure than adults and may imitate suicidal behavior they see.
- Pathological Internet use correlates with suicidal ideation.
Teaching cyberbullying in a “one-and-done” manner, which is what many schools do due to time constraints, is a disservice to everyone. It takes timefor a young mind to put all the parts that comprise online interactions, their subtleties and their impact, in a way that makes sense to them. That’s why we break it into six lessons (after they have a foundational understanding their “online reputation”):
Lesson 1: Introduction
Students engage in a fun project that helps them understand how online communication differs from face-to-face conversation. They also learn how the distinct attributes of online “talk” might enable inappropriate or bullying behavior.
Lesson 2: What is Cyberbullying?
Playing out sample scenarios helps students think through the differences and similarities between cyberbullying and in-person bullying and, most importantly, encourages them to empathize with the “targets” of both.
Lessons 3 & 4: Teasing, Cyberbullying, & Digital Drama
It’s important to help students distinguish the difference between good-natured teasing, cyberbullying, and “digital drama.” This two-part lesson helps them identify the characteristics of each of these behaviors.
Lesson 5: Be Upstanding
This lesson empowers students with strategies to stand up to cyberbullying, or bullying of any kind. It also challenges them to craft a “Bullying Policy” for their class and/or school.
Lesson 6: 3 Step Solution
Students are given an opportunity to role-play and practice an effective three-step solution to bullying.
While not every child will be the target, or perpetrator, of a cyberbullying incident, most will witness online harassment at some point in their lives and not know what to do about it. According to NoBullying.com, “95% of teens who have witnessed bullying on social media report that others, like them, have ignored the behavior.”
It is critical that we provide all students with the necessary tools to address cruelty, online and off.
If you would like to see the entire Cyber Civics curriculum, including the lessons on cyberbullying, contact email@example.com.
Contributor: Diana Graber is founder of CyberWise.org and CyberCivics.com, two organizations dedicated to helping adults and kids learn digital literacy skills. A long-time media producer with an M.A. in “Media Psychology & Social Change,” Graber is also a regular contributor on digital media topics to The Huffington Post and others. She was also Adjunct Professor of Media Psychology at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP).