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Stop Cyberbullying

How Teachers Can Stop Cyberbullying

Mar 23, 2018 2018-03-23

Editor’s note: Teacher Trevor Muir shares his experience with bullying as a student and compares it to cyberbullying today. He offers educators insights into how to fight cyberbullying and empower students to stand against bullying.

Originally posted on on February 19, 2018.

When I was in 7th grade, I gave my class picture to a girl I really liked. On the back of it I wrote, “Hey baby, I heart U” because that‘s what you did back in the 90s. I didn't know this in that moment, but the picture didn't make it into her pocket. Instead, it landed on the floor of a middle school hallway.

Later that day, I saw a group of kids across the classroom looking at me and laughing. One of them passed something underneath the table to someone else. When I asked what was funny, they just laughed and said, “Hey baby, I heart you.” I walked back to my seat and watched the laughing spread throughout the room and school like a virus.

I was mortified. The rest of that day I tried to hide from everyone. I went home that night never wanting to go to school again because of the shame and embarrassment. But that night, my friend said he found the picture and would destroy it for me. The next day at school, a few people gave me a hard time, but the photo evidence was gone and most people moved on quickly.

Now I’m a high school teacher and when an embarrassing or revealing picture of one of my students gets put online and spread around, it doesn't just disappear. It lives on screens, Snapchat stories, Twitter feeds, and screenshots forever.

When those kids found my picture and passed it around, some of them used it as a weapon to hurt me. With the ever-changing world of digital technologies, the weapons have gotten stronger. They’re sometimes lethal. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers, and cyberbullying is causing more of them every year. I have heard many stories of rumors about my students, kids in my class who I care about getting slammed and shamed online—and sometimes I don’t think it’s with malicious intent. The anonymity of the internet makes it so easy to do major damage. A simple retweet or clicking “like” can send a rumor or a picture to thousands of people. But I think there’s something teachers can do about it.

Teach Digital Citizenship
Teachers hold a captive audience, and what we say has a tremendous impact on our students. Students listen to us. Instead of just using this influence to teach mathematics, science, English, and history, teachers also need to speak out against destructive practices like cyberbullying. Hold class discussions about it. Share suicide statistics. Get on a pedestal every now and then. It’s easy to think that everyone knows the consequences of cyberbullying, but many do not and the classroom should be a place for them to learn.

Report It
I have overheard students talking about friends of theirs being targeted online, and even about how they themselves are targeting a certain person. My temptation is to ignore what I hear and avoid getting involved in students’ problems. However, this only allows abuses to continue. Adults need to report cyberbullying when they see it and do everything they can to end it. In every situation I’ve intervened, the victim of the bullying appreciates the support. Students should know that no matter what, their teacher has their back.

Empower Students
Teachers and administrators can help to prevent cyberbullying, but no one is as influential as students. Students should be empowered to be leaders who stand against mean behavior online. Encourage kids to report abuses, stand against bullies, and comfort those who are attacked. Antibullying groups and organizations are good and should be encouraged, but the most impact comes when students feel empowered to stand against it in their own social circles.

“How many of you support the use of artificial intelligence to assist and perhaps replace human tutors in the education of your children?” My guess is few reading this are raising their hands. In fact, I can hear whispers of disbelief emanating from the other side of the screen.

When a girl in my class was targeted online this week with damaging rumors, she felt alone and ostracized. She felt as if her reputation was ruined and that she had no place in our school. But then another girl in my class put an arm around her and assured her she was not alone. Following this example, many other students gave this same assurance, and essentially denounced what was said on social media.

Teachers have many roles, but probably the biggest is ensuring the safety of their students. Because of the internet, this is more difficult than ever before. However, it’s also more important.

Trevor Muir is a teacher and blogger who also gives keynotes and workshops about project-based learning. He has presented a TED talk at Tedx San Antonio and had a spoken word poem featured in the Huffington Post. You can find him @trevormuir.

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