Bully Prevention for Kids and Educators Alike

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Labor day, the unofficial mark of a new school year, has past. Kids are acclimating to the rigors of schoolwork and homework, noticing the foibles of their new teachers and getting reacquainted with friends missed over the summer. While allegiances are being formed, some kids may feel left out. This can be considered one of the social and emotional “growing pains” of adolescence.

There is a difference, however, between feeling left out and being bullied; and while this difficult subject has been broached extensively at most schools; it is still a malignant characteristic of adolescence that, due to the explosive world of social networks, has become ubiquitous. No longer is bullying confined to the playground. Cyberbullying follows children to their homes and spreads all across the web.

For the most part, the benefits of technology as an educational tool are many. Students have quick and easy access to information. Learning can take place any time and anywhere, and there are a myriad new and enjoyable ways to learn. Collaborative learning is simplified and easily accessible through video streaming, video projects and interactive eBooks. Even Mother Nature benefits. Because of technology, trees can be used for climbing and shade instead of textbooks.

However, like most great inventions, not all the innovations have been used for good. Social media can be a bully's best friend. Sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter can be entertaining but are often used to incite fear and anxiety. New anonymous social networking sites and apps popping up almost daily that allow bullies new platforms to torment their victims.

Teens and tweens are not the only ones being victimized. A new form of cyberbullying – cyberbaiting - is targeting educators. Cyberbaiting is when students goad, irritate or 'bait' teachers into verbal outbursts while other students video the results of the harassment and post the footage online. As disturbing as this technology trend is, there are steps that can be taken to thwart it.

School staff, parents, teachers and students should work together to develop guidelines and regulations regarding smartphone use on campus. Like any other school rule, consequences need to be established and clearly communicated. These policies must be coupled with discussions about digital etiquette.

Students should always perceive their teachers as teachers, not friends. Teachers can be mentors and role models but not friends. Parents, on the other hand, need to be "friends" with their children online so they can monitor their activities and know whom their children are associating with.

Teachers should never "befriend" a student on any social media site. There are other online options for teachers to reach out to their students without crossing professional boundaries, like creating a class website or communicating through parents AND counselors.

Technology is everevolving but the golden rule is timeless and always applies. If a teacher is respectful, kind and considerate with his/her students, the majority of students will, in turn, be respectful and courteous. Students need a positive climate in order to flourish – heck, we all do! Teachers who model empathy and compassion are much less likely to be targets of any sort of bully behavior and may prevent their students from becoming bullies or the victims of bullies.

Contact Margaret Lavin at elementarydays@gmail.com.