Cyberbullying remains a priority issue for middle school administrators and educators. Many are making great efforts: revising formal policy, implementing curriculum enhancements, holding assemblies, managing staff development trainings in this area, developing investigative protocols, and improving the school climate to reduce peer conflict—offline and online (Hinduja & Patchin, 2012). Here are some more ideas to promote awareness by enlisting the help of your students.
- Have them develop questions to ask cyberbullying experts. They can find them online and then drop them an e-mail or give them a call to learn more about this problem.
- Get them to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in which they express their concerns about the problem, share how it is affecting kids they know, and encourage adults to take it seriously.
- Motivate them to create a public service announcement. All they need is a creative mind and their cell phone, digital camera, or digital camcorder and some editing software. They can then recruit some friends and make a short video to educate others by posting it on YouTube and Facebook!
- Bring them to the table to review your school policy on bullying and cyberbullying. Kids will be able to tell you if it is adequate or deficient. They can clarify whether it covers the types of (mis)behaviors they witness and experience at your school (or other schools). They can offer suggestions for improvement and think of issues and solutions you've never even considered.
- Encourage them to teach their younger friends and relatives how to be safe online. They should, for example, take a look at a little cousin's Facebook page to see if she has any information posted that could be used to cyberbully her. They could also show a little brother what to do if he is cyberbullied (for example, keep the evidence, block the user from messaging him, report cruel or embarrassing content, etc.).
- Inspire them to mentor younger students and, thereby, appreciate the responsibility and risks associated with the use of computers, cell phones, and the Internet. Ask their former teachers or principals from elementary school if a group can come talk to their students about cyberbullying. Your middle schoolers can then share their experiences and ideas on how to keep safe online and advise what to do if they run into trouble.
- Work with students on social norming campaigns. Social norming has to do with modifying the environment or culture within a school so that appropriate behaviors are not only encouraged but are perceived widely to be the norm. That is, schools must work to create a climate in which responsible use of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, for example, is "what we do around here." They need to understand that the majority of their peers do use websites and electronic devices in positive ways, and only a small minority don't.
Overall, the goal is to encourage youth to take responsibility for the problem and to work together in coming up with a solution. This includes fostering respect and acceptance of others—no matter what—and getting kids to see how their actions affect others and how they can purposefully choose behaviors that promote positive peer relations.
We hope these suggestions are received enthusiastically by the kids you serve and care for and dovetail well with your own efforts in fostering and maintaining a "Bully-Free Zone" across your school campus.
Sameer Hinduja is an associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, and Justin W. Patchin is an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Together, they co-direct the Cyberbullying Research Center (www.cyberbullying.us) and hold trainings for educators, parents, and youth on identifying, preventing, and responding to cyberbullying, sexting, and unsafe social networking.
Copyright © 2012 Association for Middle Level Education