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Ah, the good ol' days. Back when kids ran lemonade stands, gas was five cents a gallon, everybody knew your name, and they were always glad you came….
No, hang on a minute…that's Cheers.
But back in the good ol' days, the only bullying we had to worry about was easy to detect. Johnny broke Timmy's nose, Suzie was teasing Sally on the playground…you know. That stuff.
Nowadays, the Internet provides bullies with a number of nifty new tormenting tools. They can leave hurtful comments on blogs, leak private photos, spread gossip, even threaten your life—all from the safety of a username.
And if that's not enough, those tormenting tools? They all have futuristic cybernames to keep track of. Words like "flaming," "creeping," "phishing," and "denigration" might sound like cool indie band names (seriously, we'd listen to "Flaming Phishing" and "Creeping Denigration"), but they're actually much more serious.
It might sound overwhelming, but keep in mind that most kids know not to trust everything they see on the Internet. Sometimes, though, the thrill of thinking they're chatting with an up-and-coming L.A. superstar is enough to make them forget it could just be Creepy Carl who's asking for selfies...
O brave new world that has such cyber problems in it.
What You Can Do
So you taught your students how to stay safe online. Your job is done, right?
See, even if your students know what precautions to take, there's still a chance they'll end up the target of cyberbullying.
So what can you do to support your students?
Step 1: Make them feel safe.
Your students need to know that you care and want to help. If you tell them you'll do your best to keep the issue quiet, they'll be more likely to open up to you.
It's also a good idea to have an anonymous way for shy victims to report online harassment. Whether it's a private online survey or a sealed box they can drop a note into, having a private outlet may help students discuss what's going on.
Step 2: Encourage bystanders to report it.
Social media keeps us all scarily connected. Even though you haven't seen Jimmy from elementary school in twenty-five years, thanks to Facebook, you're freakishly up-to-date on everything in his life and have spent far too long mindlessly clicking through his profile pictures…and his wife's…and his kids'…
Point is, if one of your students is being harassed online, chances are someone else has witnessed it. Encourage your students to report inappropriate behavior, or to simply tell the bully "that's not cool, dude." Sometimes, another person jumping in is all it takes.
Step 3: Tell your student to save all evidence of bullying.
If the case gets serious enough, having proof of what's going on will be incredibly important to actually stopping that cyberbully. It may seem like the easiest thing is to click delete, but hey, the Internet remembers.
Step 4: Don't be afraid to take action.
If you can't stop the bullying, call in law enforcement. You never know how far a bully may push the envelope, and if you're not qualified to deal with the situation, find someone who is.
And even though you're the teacher, it doesn't hurt to study up on unfamiliar topics. All those weird words you read earlier? There's a lot more where those came from. Familiarizing yourself with the vocabulary of the Internet will make it easier to spot cyberbullying if and when it occurs.
The Internet is a beautiful thing, but in the immortal words of Bret Michaels, "every cowboy sings his sad, sad song," and…wait. Wrong lyric. We meant, "every rose has its thorn." Even though the Internet is full of amazing things, it has its dangers. As long as we're careful handling it though, we should be okay.
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