Kik, Yik Yak, and Askfm have been linked to cyber-bullying, suicides, bomb threats, and abductions. As an anti bullying speaker, I have dealt first hand with the fallout from inappropriate use of anonymous apps. The educational community needs to counter this threat to our children’s wellbeing. Here are four strategies that have proven effective.
- Call it wrong. This may seem simple. But with my travels to schools throughout the nation, I sometimes find a reactive stance rather than a proactive one. Schools need to be up front and loud in regards to preventing cyber-bullying. Here is a simple statement that should be communicated to teens and children in your school or district: “Hiding behind KiK and Yik Yak to launch hurtful attacks is cowardly and wrong.” Simple, yet effective. You can have a club or group make some posters, have the statement read in the morning announcements, or create an article around it in the school paper, and you’re on your way. Now, you would think they know this is wrong. But many teens and children have an incomplete social compass. They think something like, “I can’t be caught, therefore, it must be “OK”. In other words, their perception that they will not get caught means, in their mind, that what they are doing must not be bad. Their self-talk goes, “Most likely, I won’t be punished, therefore it must not be punishable.” Your job as an educator is to make sure your students understand that using anonymous apps to hurt other people is both wrong and punishable. You can use school wide student assemblies, posters, class level announcements, videos, and interactive lessons to get the word out that cyber-bullying is cowardly, wrong, and prosecutable. The students need to know where the school stands. You may think they do, but unless you do something ongoing and overt, your anti cyber-bullying message will fade into the background. It may seem a waste of time to call something that is so apparently wrong, wrong. But youth culture is showing us that it must be told what is right or wrong in regards to social media use.
- Educate parents on how technology can be used to monitor technology. Parents need to know that there are tools they can use to monitor social media. The majority of parents are not running interference in the social media world. There are many filters and tools that can be used to limit access to apps and monitor social media behavior. I covered monitoring tools extensively in another post and I provide materials schools can use to promote parent involvement. The point here is to get parents to actually be parents when it comes to social media. Make that happen by giving them specific instructions rather than broad objectives. If you put out communications suggesting that parents “keep their children safe online,” nothing will happen. If you send out an email that says “download internet and social media filters” with links and instructions, quite a bit will happen. I know, I’ve helped schools get parents to monitor their children’s social media use. Which leads to.
- Create a social media campaign that combats social media abuse - use social media to fight social media. Don’t you love it? Send out videos and information that shows how harmful social media abuse can be on social media. You are not anti-social media, you are anti-social media abuse. As an educator, you have a school website, email lists, phone/text lists, twitter accounts, and other vehicles for contacting parents. Think about it, you use the school website to promote the upcoming volleyball game. Why not use it to promote links and strategies that will reduce students’ exposure to hate, bullying, and drama? Once again, don’t just send out a message that voices your general concern, send out something that gives parents specific solutions. For example, let parents know they can limit the number of apps their children download by using the “settings” feature in an iOS device. Encourage parents to use technology to fight technology by emailing or texting, or placing on your website a link to “Use Technology To Fight Technology.” Encourage parents to talk with their teen by broadcasting a link to “Social Media and Your Child: The Talk.”
- Have the students sign an anti-bullying pledge. If you are like most schools, students signed a general conduct pledge at the beginning of the school year. This “code of conduct” probably included language about bullying. However, by having students sign a completely separate pledge that exclusively deals with bullying and cyber-bullying you are making a powerful statement. You are saying “this is so important to us that we have generated a separate document and are taking the time to run it off and have you sign it.” Collect the pledge and keep it on file. That way, if you have to punish a student for cyber-bullying and you have a parent in the office that claims, “Billy didn’t know he could be suspended for this,” you can produce the pledge with Billy’s signature on it and prove that Billy was educated about cyberbullying and its consequences. Fill out the contact form on my site, www.DontBullyOnline.com, and request the pledge and I will email you the one schools use after my assemblies.
By taking these four simple steps, you can be a proactive school rather than a reactive one. Just by stating to students that cyber-bullying is wrong and punishable, sharing with parents and guardians tools they can use to monitor social media usage, using your school website and social media tools you have to get out an anti cyber-bullying message that provides tools and links, and having students sign a pledge, you can be a catalyst for responsible social media use among your students. Being proactive keeps kids safe. Being reactive involves picking up the pieces. Which would you rather be?Keith Deltano is a former award winning teacher, parent coach, curriculum creator, and nationally touring educational comedian. Contact Keith to book assemblies.