Local schools respond to cyberbullying discussion
The Oct. 10 suicide of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old, Vancouver-area resident whose death is being attributed to bullying, has sparked a public discussion on the use of technology in intimidation.
One local principal is using the incident to raise awareness of the damage cyberbullying can cause.
Earlier this month Cathy Ziegler, principal of Ecole Airdrie Middle School (EAMS), held an impromptu session to bring students’ attention to the issue.
The learning experience included discussion about the RCMP guidelines on bullying and Internet safety.
Ziegler also wrote a letter to parents that included a link to a site that gives tips on how to avoid cyberbullying.
“As a school, we are saddened by the loss of a young woman in British Columbia, whose untimely death is linked to cyberbullying,” penned Ziegler. “Although those people and events may seem far away, we know that cyber mistakes and cyberbullying take place everywhere, including here.”
The letter went on to say that EAMS staff is consulting counseling staff at George McDougall High School to get tips on how to help the school’s grades 5 to 8 students avoid cyberbullying. Ziegler also encouraged parents to discuss the topic with their children.
Ziegler said many parents have responded to her message.
“They were really glad to see we were taking on the issue and working with partners,” she said.
On Oct. 22, Ziegler released a list of strategies the school created to deal with cyberbullying.
The strategies included dedicating regular mentorship classes throughout the year to the subject, during which teachers and students will talk about how to be a good citizen.
Other strategies included stopping the clock to bring attention to the Amanda Todd case; showing the students an RCMP site dedicated to cyberbullying and having the youth write commitment statements on how they will behave online.
The school is also planning cyber-citizenship follow up sessions with an RCMP officer in January.
Jenna Scribner, a peace coordinator who works with kids on a one-on-one basis at Good Shepherd School, said bullying is a part of the school experience, but cyberbullying is becoming more prevalent with the growing use of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“Students… can access the Internet and text messaging… it is at their fingertips and it is a lot easier to say something to a person through technology than face-to-face,” she said.
Scribner said kids who are being bullied can often become withdrawn, experience lower grades in school and may have difficulty concentrating.
Scribner added many bullying victims may have lower attendance and not want to go to school.
Scribner said she advises students not to respond when someone leaves a nasty message on a social networking site and to always think long-term before posting comments or photos.
“Leave the device and talk to a trusted adult,” she said, adding she suggests parents always contact the school or appropriate authorities if they learn their child is being bullied.
Scribner said it is also imperative that parents keep tabs on their kids and ensure they are present when children are using their technology.
“As much as teenagers hate having parents in their business, you have to be in their business, especially when it comes to cyberbullying,” she said, adding anything that is posted on Facebook – including private messages – can not be deleted.
Scribner said there are several excellent websites on the topic of bullying and encourages parents to read up on the issue.