"We are living a public life on a global stage, the ones who can express themselves best, will be heard." -Laura Hill, Author The Great Story World Mix-Up, co-creator #whatisschool

Read the books I write with my children.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Turning CyberBullies into Digital Citizens

Yesterday, in the neighboring High School, a 15 year-old boy was arrested for using the social app YIk Yak to make shooting and bomb threats against his school.  A student in his grade saw the threats and alerted his parents, who then alerted school officials, who called the police.

This wasn't the first time a bomb threat was made using Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is a social app that allows users to post anonymous messages to anyone in a 1.5 mile radius. In schools where BYOD is policy, (and where it’s not), apps like Yik Yak, Whisper, Snapchat, Kik and Tinder make it easy for cyber bullys to post malicious, hurtful messages to entire student bodies.  And though Yik Yak has enforced the use of geofences, technology that limits access within a defined radius of middle schools, because users are anonymous students using these apps to bully, intimidate or threaten other students will largely remain identified.

This is a cultural problem.

In today's teen culture it is easy to express feelings of anger, hatred and frustration in ways that are socially unacceptable. What's frightening is that irresponsible behavior is no longer constrained to on-line. Rude or mean comments made face to face, dishonest and cruel behavior have all been amplified and in some instances have resulted in tragedy, as in the case of the BFF killers; best friends who killed one of the trio after the implied threat that embarrassing photos would be leaked on-line.

Education about digital citizenship is not enough.

In a myopic world where social isolation breeds insensitivity, teens need to understand the effect their actions have on others, and on their own futures.  By creating a digital footprint they are creating a history that employers and college boards take into consideration.  Case studies of teens being denied opportunities due to actions, postings or photos put on-line are becoming commonplace.

Why not teach students how to use social media to improve themselves?

On twitter, thousands of teachers join together each day for professional development, reaping the collaborative benefits of sharing ideas and programs that make their jobs more effective, fun and relevant.  Are we giving students the same opportunity?  In addition to teaching them about being good digital citizens and decent human beings who act responsibly towards each other, we should be showing them ways to use social media to work together for social good.

How much would your students benefit from a self run anti-bullying twitter style forum? Or a collaborative that works to improve the community within the school or even outside it's walls?  How about directing attention towards betterment through real life experience by interviewing local business people, politicians and others to build a living history and explore potential job opportunities. Or even simply setting up a homework study group where help can be found 24/7.

Cyber bullying is more than an action it's a reaction to isolation and lack of self-esteem.

Companies like Yik Yak, who just secured $1.5 million in funding after an initial $10 million infusion are not going away. With more and more time spent in cyber isolation teens and adults need to relearn the value of community and there’s no better place to start than your classroom. Instill the values of working together for common good and hashing out problems in inventive positive ways. You'll be showing your students there are alternatives to problem solving that are much more effective than using apps to lash out anonymously at helpless victims.  Sure there will always be those who resort to bullying but wouldn't it be great if your class was the one that started a culture of community in your school, your district and your town?  You'd be teaching students how to succeed in life while making their world a better place. Isn't that what teaching is really all about?


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