Recently in Victoria Australia we have had mass media coverage over cyber bullying following the tragic suicide of a teenage girl in Geelong who was found to be a victim of cyber bullying; and worst of all she was the 4th suicide from that school in the last 18 months alone.
Media outlets lapped it up including 60 minutes because it was yet another societal story of doom and gloom of epidemic proportions that did not involve the global financial crisis, Swine Flu, Iraq, Afghanistan. What made this cheap journalistic booty so appealing to current affairs programs across the country was that it had a real fear factor for parents, suggesting their kids could be involved in this in their bedrooms late at night right now and we could quickly start shifting the blame to our schools for it as this is where cyber bullying manifested itself in reality. After all this is where their teenage sons were all filmed as mourning friends, stressed and angry parents teachers and principals the next day.
As an ICT leader in a numerous schools over the years I have had a number of parents increasingly approach me to seek instant solutions when they finally find out what their kids are up to online at home and are looking for someone to blame and rectify a massive problem with a click of a mouse. I have dealt with irate parents looking for someone to blame as they have simply too lazy to enquire or invest any interest or time into what their children are capable of at home on a computer.
Certainly I can block another website or have yet another internet safety and etiquette session with students for the tenth time. Every one of them can tell me ‘That the internet is the dumbest place in world to bully someone as you leave the strongest trail of evidence behind you.’ They can tell me this because their teachers have told them 100 times before.
As a parent myself I don’t throw my children into a swimming pool as a toddler go and have a coffee and assume that the lifeguards will save him when they get into trouble; I don’t assume that if I leave the front door open they won’t walk out on to the road. And as a teacher I don’t assume inquisitive students won’t want to seek out inappropriate content and get up to mischief with their friends and yes bully other kids online.
As a teacher I take pro-active action towards preventing it by educating and informing students as to the do’s and don’ts of behaving online and instilling some sense of morals and ethics when dealing with others online or in the real world – Treating others with respect doesn’t change.
Then I take it further and remove all temptation such as MSN, Facebook, Myspace and a multitude of social networking and chat platforms from our school network. Before all of this is done I make all of our students co-sign an agreement with their parents outlining our expectations and rules of computer use at my school.
You see the thing that annoys me most of all about all this is that I am not alone in doing this and this action will not be a revelation to any teacher with half an ounce of professional credibility.
What annoys me is parents who let their kids run free at home on the internet until the crack of dawn involved in this kind of behaviour and get a phone call from school the next day to say that their son’s nose has been broken in a fight over something that has been brewing under their own roof for the last three months.
I teach these kids in class and I can tell you that 9 out of 10 times this bullying is not occurring in the classroom or the playground it is taking place from the security, anonymity and freedom of home. Yes the ramifications and reality are seen on the playground and in the playground but if mum and dad had actually stopped to ask their children some very simple questions this may never have happened in the first place.
So what can parents do to help their Kids?
- Never leave a teenager unattended for hours in their room without any expectation that you as a parent can ask what they have been doing and accept that you actually are responsible for them using a computer for an appropriate purpose.
- If your child uses a chat service ask them to sit down and explain it to you and enquire as to who all of the people are that they chat with. Are they your friends? You don’t need to read messages but you do have a responsibility to know who your children associate with.
- Ask them what kind of things they do in chat rooms, Do you feel uncomfortable at any time? Have you ever been involved in bullying at school or online and what lead up to it?
I guarantee that parents will learn a massive amount about their own children by investing a little time and effort to find out what their kids are getting up to in cyberspace. And I applaud parents that do this already there are plenty of them out there.
The real shame is that these parents and kids don’t make news they avoid it. Kids will be kids and no one is perfect; but we all need to take ownership of cyber bullying and as a parent ask yourself what have I done to ensure my kids are safe online and treat others with the dignity and respect I ask of them in the real world.
I would love to hear you feedback and thoughts from all sides.