Students create fake online identities to bully peers

This was the title of an article in Education Week that I stumbled upon today.  I looked at it in shock, not because I couldn't believe it was happening, but more because I had a sort of "No kidding, duh!" reaction to it.

Does it surprise you that kids are doing this? It shouldn't.  It's one of the unintended consequences of enacting laws to deal with cyber bullying and online harassment.  The kids who are doing the bullying and harassing are trying to cover up who is doing it because they want to evade laws and policies that forbid and punish this kind of behavior.

What we are seeing then, is the problem being compounded. Not only is it bad enough that students are doing the bullying -- online or off, -- now we add sneakiness and subterfuge to the list of "bad behavior."

Nearly two years ago, I called attention to the problems with isolating cyber bullying as a separate "thing" from off-line bullying, something that somehow needed a different solution.  While there are some things that make cyber bullying somewhat unique, the basic root cause of why people bully and harass online is the same as what drives off-line behavior (and, as a matter of fact, frequently online bullying LEADS to offline, in person bullying as well!)

The people who bully lack the sensitivity, compassion and consideration that allows them to understand that treating others like this is just plain wrong.  Before you go off telling me I'm wrong, let me qualify this: I'm not saying that bullies don't know it's wrong when they bully; I'm saying they lack the basic character development that allows them to care.

Further, bullying is about power. It's about a zero-sum game that says, "Hey, in order for me to be a bigger deal, I have to make you a lesser deal."  If I write you a hurtful note on paper and stuff it in your locker, I may hurt you, but you and I are the only ones to know.  If I do it on the Internet, though, a whole "universe" can know.

Now, take the fake id action and you see that these students will use the anonymity of the Internet to do their damage without any obvious way of being held accountable for their actions. I say "obvious," because kids don't usually realize how traceable the Internet really is. I myself (and I'm not a cyber-expert by any means) was able to track down (more…)

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Why “Anti-Bullying” Doesn’t Work – Part I

don't bully anti-bullying doesn't work pro0social skillsAs I sit down to write this, I'm already imagining the controversy this post is going to generate. But before I go too far down the path, let me say that this is not an anti-bullying bashing party.  It's an attempt to explain what is fatally wrong with our attempts to end the bullying epidemic in our schools and communities.

I believe the "anti-" approach is wrong.

In many of my presentations that I give across the country to parents, educators and administrators, I use a quote that Mother Teresa once said about our attempts to end global conflict and a request that she appear at an event. She responded by saying

"I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there." - Mother Teresa

I use this quote a lot because it seems we have the same problem with "anti-bullying."  We're calling attention to the wrong thing, and, very much too late in the game.

If you know much about brain functioning, you may have heard that our human brains have difficulty computing negatives. It's as though the brain has to do a double-take and "reprocess" the information when it encounters something like "don't" or "can't." The study of neurolinguistics is finding some very interesting results that seem to back this up.  An article I recently came across may suggest that using the words "don't" when trying to change negative behavior may be actually unwittingly supporting that negative behavior.

I'll try to summarize this but you can read the full article here.   One example the author uses is the effect of telling yourself, when in a stressful situation, "Don't panic."  If you hear a fire alarm in a crowded gymnasium and repeatedly tell yourself "Don't panic, don't panic" you may find yourself breaking into a run in spite of your best intentions.  This effect is referred to as "negation."

Now, imagine you are a young child in the same situation.  Children are believed to be more susceptible to negation's effects, so the "don't" message that we are trying to teach them. Tell a toddler, "Don't touch" invariably causes that child to want to reach out even more strongly.

I can personally vouch for my brain's "don't" disconnect. Any of you play golf?  Ok, in that case, here's a real-life scenario for you and tell me if this hasn't happened to you: (more…)

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To end bullying requires a cultural change

I had an interesting experience last night, one that may serve to partly explain why we're not making much headway on ending bullying in our schools.

I was speaking last night at a local school, for a group of parents and educators. The talk I was giving was advertised as one on "preventing" bullying (actual title is "7 Steps to Eliminating Bullying in Schools: An Inside-Out Approach"). The presentation goes into details about defining what bullying is, explaining the different types of bullying, who does the bullying and why...all as part of the setup to explain how to cure it.

I wasn't more than 7 slides and 15 minutes into what was supposed to be a 1 hour and 15 minute talk when the first questions started. That wasn't a problem; I had encouraged the group to ask questions during the talk. I wanted it to be interactive, to address the concerns and issues they had so I could be sure their issues were heard.

What I wasn't prepared for was where the questions were going to go.

(more…)

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