I figured this week’s topic of cyberbullying would be difficult. I struggle with finding the line in identifying what really is cyberbullying and what is a result of a decision. What I was able to learn this week is that the core issue with all of this involves empathy and the societal belief that it is acceptable to publicly shame people. Whether or not a bad decision was made, why do we think it is acceptable to make someone else feel badly? Why are people intrigued, obsessed almost, with the drama of it? These struggles are what I faced this week, but the solution to it all is still the easiest: education.
Understanding what cyberbullying is, along with why it is so dangerous, has helped me to conclude that educating our students about its effects is incredibly important. Cyberbullying is “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices” (Hinduja and Patchin, 2015, p. 11). Any time anyone is purposefully and repeatedly hurting anyone while using technology, they are cyberbullying. What is even scarier is that it is impossible to escape from since it “is not restrained by time or space and can use multiple media platforms” (Brewer and Kerslake, 2015). The self-esteem of our youth is directly affected. This is what happened to Ryan Halligan (Ryan’s story, 2015) and Kylie Kenney (Stuglinsky, 2006) and what, unfortunately, still happens to teens today, despite the knowledge we have now.
One of the ways people are cyberbullied is by distrust. It can be as easy as taking private conversations and making them public for everyone to listen to and shame them with. Monica Lewinsky’s (TED, 2015) story is one I am familiar with from my childhood. When I had listened to her share her story I thought about how I would feel listening to my own private conversations played out loud. Through the media, adults are demonstrating to children that it is acceptable to attack others online for their mistakes. Our children are mimicking what they see online, but the effects on children are more devastating because they are still discovering who and what they want to be (TED, 2013). Children also have not yet developed the coping skills necessary to deal with this type of attack. If we want children to stop hurting each other online, then we have to be the ones to consistently teach them the importance of reporting cyberbullying.
Empathy is a skill that is often not taught in classrooms. With all of the state required standards and content that need to be taught and understood before mandated tests are given, teachers don’t necessarily have the time needed to teach this important skill. This is a skill that I address with my students when it arises organically. If we want to see a real difference in future generations with how we treat each other, we need to make empathy and digital citizenship priorities. Being kind is one of the easiest things a person can do.