Whose responsibility is it to teach students to be safe online?
Today’s students have two powerful tools at their fingertips—mobile phones and personal computers. These students are the original digital natives. Technology is their world. However, until they are mature enough to use these expensive gadgets appropriately, it is the responsibility of schools and parents to guide and protect them. On their web site, THE X LAB, Mac OX addresses Internet safety for children. They identify education and supervision as being “the two most under utilized techniques for insuring safe computing.”
• Educating children to the problems and perils, so they know what to avoid and what to look out for.
• Parental supervision of a child's activities on the Internet, including Web surfing, downloading, and participation in chat rooms.
Teachers and administrators recognize their responsibility for students’ safety at school and take steps to assure that students are following and learning safe guidelines when using the Internet. At home, parents must assume this role. Many parents are knowledgeable and diligent about keeping up with their child’s online activities. Too often, however, parents are not equipped to do this. Consequently, schools need to be prepared to educate the parents about the ramifications and possible dangers that result from some online behaviors and provide access to guidelines for safe computing at home.
This responsibility includes netiquette and cyber-bullying. We try to teach our students how to handle bullies face to face in day-to-day school activities—on the playground, in the hallways, the gym and dressing room. In one school, a second grade teacher taught his students how to assume an aggressive stance, look an individual in the eye and tell the person that they didn’t like what they just said or did. The teacher had a cue, and on cue the students stood up and went through the drill several times a day. Knowing how to respond and being able to show that they were not an “easy target” reduced the reports of bullying from his students by about eighty percent.
Online bullying is different. There isn’t anyone to look in the eye. That’s what makes it so easy to take place. Making sure that students are aware of what constitutes cyber-bullying is fundamental. Many students do not realize that some of their activities, done without thought, can be considered cyber-bullying. Defining online bullying as part of the AUP and having a published procedure for students to follow whenever they feel that they are being bullied will send the message that such activities are not acceptable and will be addressed by those in authority. Knowing what their rights are and how to respond can keep some students from becoming easy targets.
Also of consideration is the nebulous area between home and school. Incidences of cyber-bullying that occur in this area must be addressed as well. When children are bullied, whether it occurs online, via mobile phone or in person, they need to know their rights. Electronic bullying is more problematic since the source can be difficult or impossible to find. Where does the school’s jurisdiction begin and end? If bullying originates from a home computer but comes onto campus, does the school have the authority to act? Will including strict rules in the AUP/School Rules make it possible for schools to take action whenever action is needed?
Take a stand against cyberbullying
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We must teach our children that silence, when others are being hurt, is not acceptable. Learning to recognize cyber-bullying as bullying is the first step in teaching them how to react, which means not merely refraining from being involved but also reporting an offense when it happens to someone else. In the end, our children will be safer online and offline as well. We will have helped create a generation of good cybercitizens, who control technology rather than being controlled by it.