Preventing cyberbullying: a librarian’s role

We began this week’s focus on cyberbullying with a video of Jamey Rodemeyer. Listening to the voice of this young man, who later killed himself due to the pressures of cyberbullying, put this issue into perspective. Unlike many of the issues we will deal with as school librarians, cyberbullying can indeed be a matter of life and death. There is no doubt that this is an issue we must address as educators. Just how to address it, however, is a matter of some debate.

Danah Boyd, in a series of articles on this topic, makes a convincing case that many efforts to educate young people about the dangers of cyberbullying fall on deaf ears. This is true for the simple reason that many educators speak about this issue using language that fails to connect with young peoples’ reality. The simple use of the words “bully” and “victim” is problematic, since most students would be unwilling or unable to see themselves in either of these roles. Instead, many young people experience a gray area of online teasing among peers. When exactly this crosses the line into harassment may not be easy to identify. To address cyberbullying effectively, I’m convinced we should abandon the black and white labeling of bully and victim and focus instead on helping students to analyze the gray area and determine for themselves what words and actions cross the line.

So what would this look like as part of the school library curriculum? I would begin by addressing this issue each year, K-12, spiraling upwards in complexity over time. That may sound like overkill, and it would be if the same lecture-based “don’t be a bully” message were drilled into students each year. But if this issue is addressed creatively, with a careful focus on making it relevant to students’ own experience, then reinforcing it each year helps to build a positive school culture around this issue. Specifically, I would teach about positive and negative online interactions through specific scenarios and examples, gathered whenever possible from the students themselves. I would bring in guest speakers, authors, (thanks for the idea, Erin Bennet!) and older students to share their experiences. Finally, I would help students to recognize the potential for positive online interactions to provide a counterbalance to the teasing and harassment they might see. The story of Daniel Cui, and how his teammates and classmates supported him when he was targeted, provides an inspiring model for how students can take direct positive action online against bullying. This example highlights how the fight against cyberbullying may best be fought by students themselves (with the support or educators, of course) through the very same social media channels and with the very same tools (profile pictures, status updates in facebook, etc.) that are misused when online bullying occurs.

There is so much more to say on this issue. I haven’t even begun to address how educators can support students like Jamey Rodemeyer who have been the targets of online harassment. My hope is that through creative education on this issue, with a particular focus on relevance, and with the fostering of a school culture in which all community members vow to take direct action against online cruelty when they encounter it, there will be fewer Jamey Rodemeyers and more Daniel Cuis.

AASL Standard addressed: 4.3.4 Practice safe and ethical behaviors in personal electronic communication and interaction.



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5 responses to “Preventing cyberbullying: a librarian’s role

  1. I agree with your point that when educators try to “lecture” students about how bullying is wrong, it falls on deaf ears most of the time. Students don’t want to be lectured at, especially if they don’t think they are doing anything wrong. I like the idea of instead starting out by showing them positive online interactions, so that they know what is to be expected of them when they are online. That’s why I believe teaching internet etiquette is such an important part of our job these days because students don’t know how to appropriately act online and when they are crossing the line into bullying. We should give them positive role models so that they can see how to interact with others online as well as how to handle the information they encounter.

  2. “This example highlights how the fight against cyberbullying may best be fought by students themselves (with the support or educators, of course) through the very same social media channels and with the very same tools (profile pictures, status updates in facebook, etc.) that are misused when online bullying occurs.”

    So true, and teachers and admins don’t have any access to these networks because of privacy settings. All the more reason for the commitment to respect come from inside the student rather than from a fear of getting in trouble.

  3. Great post. I agree, that students may not identify themselves as a bully or victim. Only talking about black and white (bully/victim), there is a place in between, and those gray areas are not addressed as much. I like your idea of showing positive and negative situations online, as well as starting education about online etiquette very young. By raising awareness at a young age, hopefully, the message will stick with them for years to come.

  4. Caleb Heslop

    I too found it interesting how the students identified the bullying as drama to create protective shield against their aggressors. It does highlight the issues we as educators have with helping educate or assist the students as they experience these traumas. Until the students are willing to accept they are a victim it is hard to help them, but if they accept they are a victim then there are so many psychological factors that have been created. It is a tough situation for all involved to overcome.

  5. Milly you hit the head on the nail with focusing on the students. It is our students who must dictate an event or discussions about cyberbullying. Their culture has evolved to one that we do not fully understand. Simply the connotation of the word “drama” to downplay abusive relationships as Boyd describes in her article. I love the Daniel Cui story and it’s amazing what students will do to stand up for their peers if given the opportunity. This is why I believe social networks are so powerful. We as librarians can facilitate the conversations and provide the opportunities for student leaders to facilitate their own conversations. Sue Kowalski has a student who several years ago came to her in the 6th grade and told her she wanted to start a club called “STOP Bullying Now” or SBN I believe. (I might have the name wrong.) But this group talks about bullying online and off and how they as students can make a stand. Sue didn’t have to encourage this or get students on board. One student pulled her friends together and made it happen. Every week more students would listen in from across the room or jump in to participate. It was truly powerful to see.

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