You see them everywhere, on TV shows, in movies, comics, even in your own schools. Bullies are everywhere. Public schools in America have a bad reputation for housing bullies, students who pick on others, make fun of, and even beat up other students. If you’re a teacher and you see a student shoving another kid into a locker, it’s pretty easy to see that A)a student is being bullied, and B) to step in immediately and take action to protect and take charge of the situation. But what if you can’t see the bully, what if you don’t know their real name, or even what grade they’re in. How do you stop a bully that you can’t see?
Cyber-bullying is still a serious issue. Though our students have moved from AOL chat and Myspace, to Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, and a host of other social media platforms, there are still those who choose to use their online anonymity to troll, bully, and hurt others. Unfortunately we are not very adept at dealing with cyber-bullies. Though you can find a bully in every comment section, commenting back, or reporting them, rarely solves the issue. It’s just too easy to create another username, fire back more angry words, or just plain ignore it. Even our police force is woefully inept when it comes to cyber-bullying. One woman went to the police claiming harassment because her ex-boyfriend had posted nude photos of her on twitter, the officer’s response? “What’s Twitter?”. In fact there are often no laws related to online harassment whether it be sexual, verbal, psychological, or other. The sad truth of it is that even though there are criminals everywhere on the internet, we as individuals and as a society, are not prepared to deal with it.
So back to the cyber-bully. With no laws, no authority, and no way to truly ban people from the internet, how do we keep our student’s safe? Respect, kindness, and community. As teachers it is our job not just to impart information, but to teach our students how to be good people. To create a classroom culture that is respectful, open-minded, kind, and able to step-back from the situation. As adults we must set an example both in personal and technological situations. The way that we choose to treat each other as friends, peers, colleagues, and human beings, greatly impacts our students and kids. Whether it’s in school hallways, the park down the street, or a hateful comment, bullies are more than just students, they are our friends, family, coworkers, and peers. Our students and children will follow our example, gossiping, hateful comments, snap-judgements, and closed-minds will create lasting impressions on the kids that you meet and teach throughout your life.
We can’t track down the IP address of every hateful commenter. We can’t stop using the internet or our phones. The world we live in demands our technological connection. If we can’t escape the medium of our bullies, how do we deal with them? I don’t have a good answer but we can provide resources, materials, and ideas for reporting, tracking down, and dealing with bullies. We can model kind behavior and open-minds. We can be good people and do good things. While we can’t stop the problem in it’s tracks, we can certainly try to slow it down.