Students, parents, teachers, and administrators in the past several years have developed a heightened awareness of cyberbullying. With the ever-increasing presence of technology in and out of the classroom, students have experienced both the benefits and drawbacks of our high-tech world. Three educators, Christina Beaufort (school librarian), Jackie Jaros, (guidance counselor), and Lisa Fabian (information technology teacher) from Deer Lakes Middle School, a sixth- through eighth-grade building in Cheswick, Pennsylvania, have collaborated on a seventh-grade cyberbullying lesson to compliment an existing sixth through eighth grade anti-bullying program.
Teachers and staff have witnessed a dramatic change in the way students interact with their peers since the age of cellular phones, texting, and social media arrived on the middle-level education scene. Educators have seen the negative results not only in classrooms but also in less-structured areas, such as hallways and the cafeteria, and outside of the school walls. Many issues that surface outside of the school day return to the building in the form of threats, angry words, and social isolation.
Many students find it much easier to make a comment or share an insult with a classmate, friend, enemy, or “frienemy” (sometimes friend/sometimes enemy) from behind a computer screen or any other electronic device keyboard. “Cyber muscles” allow a student to respond to a peer in a negative manner without the immediate response, emotional exchange, or instant retaliation that students are used to with face-to-face confrontation.
A statistic from the Bullying Statistics website that could not be ignored while planning this extension to the curriculum was that suicide has been cited as the third leading cause of death among teens resulting in approximately 4,400 teen deaths per year (
- A definition of cyberbullying
- Strategies for safe use of social media
- Awareness that choices have consequences.
The anti-bullying program at Deer Lakes Middle School began eleven years ago and was managed by school librarian Rebecca Morris. Jackie Jaros, the building guidance counselor, joined the program one year later. The program was for all middle-school-age students (grades six, seven, and eight). The program was integrated into the curriculum through social studies classes three to four times a year. Later, when the new school librarian, Christina Beaufort, came on board, she and Jaros continued to review the program.
Over time, as Beaufort and Jaros became more concerned with the negative effects of online communication, social media, and the use of texting, they revised the curriculum to include cyberbullying. In the process they realized they needed another learning environment that would help all educators at the school deliver the content; the natural fit was to involve the information technology educator, Lisa Fabian, and the computer lab.
Beaufort, Jaros, and Fabian met and collaborated through a teacher in-service; they researched current movies with a anti-bullying message and reviewed online resources and materials on the subject. They wanted to provide all seventh-grade students and staff with a reminder that would keep the message strong in the minds of the young and impressionable teens with wrist bands carrying the message of choice, “DELETE DIGITAL DRAMA AT DLMS.” T-shirts were also designed and purchased for Beaufort, Jaros, and Fabian as a way to send a message to the entire building about the concern regarding cyberbullying and to reinforce the school’s stand on making positive choices online. Grant funding was secured by Beaufort through the generosity of a local business, PPG (Pittsburgh Plate Glass), so that this project will continue at Deer Lakes Middle School.
SETTING THE TONE
A great deal of collaboration and planning went into the format and the topics to be covered. To establish the proper mood, the students entered the computer classroom to the musical selection “No More Drama,” by Mary J. Blije, playing in the background. Students quickly took their seats in anticipation of what was to come. The class period started with defining cyberbullying: “when a child, preteen, or teen is tormented, harassed, threatened, humiliated, embarrassed, or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen, or teen using the Internet, interactive digital technologies, or mobile phones” (
MAKING IT PERSONAL
Cyberbullying then moved to a personal level when each student answered a series of electronic questions anonymously by using interactive clickers. The questions included technology usage and ownership, misuse of the computer/technology, being a victim of cyberbullying, and taking on the characteristics of the bully. The results immediately served as conversation starters with the very curious seventh-grade students. Feedback was given by the students on their knowledge and experience with technology and cyberbullying. A list of questions was then compiled for the students to answer to help teachers better plan the lesson and meet the students’ needs.
During the fall semester of 2012, all seventh graders were surveyed during the cyberbullying lesson. These data revealed that eighty-four percent of the students (165 males and females) have a cell phone. This large percentage shows a growing trend of young cell phone users in the Deer Lakes community. Texting is a popular way for teens to communicate with others, and it was found that ninety-three percent of Deer Lakes students text using a cell phone, MP3 player, or tablet.
Social media is growing with all age groups, and this trend includes Deer Lakes students. Fifty-one percent of them have a Facebook account, but only twenty-nine percent use Twitter. The teachers showed the students how to set/change privacy settings on Facebook since these students did not know those settings were available. The adults also stressed the importance of those settings since the students control who can view personal information (search one’s name, “friend” social media followers, and “tag” people in pictures).
Surprisingly, seventy percent of the students are involved with online gaming. That is a large percentage, and many of the students stated they have played online games with individuals with whom they were not acquainted both in and outside of the country. That raised concern, especially if parents do not monitor what their children are doing. Security and privacy is a growing concern for any person who uses the Internet. Information about an individual can be accessed easily, especially for someone who is naive and gives too much information to someone unknown. Seventy percent of the students have talked to someone unfamiliar online. That is a large percentage and a good reason to promote the awareness of monitoring kids’ usage and navigation online, especially those playing online games and “chatting.” The importance of not believing the person on the other end of the device was stressed in this lesson. The students were reminded of the dangers of things going viral on the World Wide Web. A major point the teachers discussed in the lesson was cyberbullying. With the number of students receiving devices to access the Internet, safety was of the utmost concern. Nineteen percent of those surveyed admitted cyberbullying and forty-one percent reported being the victim of cyberbullying.
A short video clip from the ABC Family Channel movie Cyberbully was used after the survey was completed. In this movie, released in 2011, a teen-aged girl, Taylor Hillridge, played the lead character. She was given a new laptop for her birthday and was excited by the independence of going online without her mother watching. She eventually signed up for a social networking site, Cliquesters. When she realized that some of her friends were ostracizing her online through a “fake” social media account, checking the site began to consume her life in a very negative way. The clip showed Taylor posting a suicide note online and then, tragically, she attempted suicide in her home. It was a very intense segment for the students, but it was also an excellent way to show the students the consequences of cyberbullying and misuse of social media.
The video clip led directly to the topic of social networking, including Facebook. A detailed discussion of privacy settings, making profiles private, and limiting what is posted online followed. “Tagging” electronic photographs was also mentioned, as well as “blocking” unwanted “friends.”
A discussion of cyberbullying can’t be complete without addressing texting and cell phone etiquette. The dialogue included tips from O’Donnell’s “Texting and Cell Phone Etiquette for Tweens”: messaging should not take the place of one-on-one interaction with friends, messages should be short and direct, texting one friend while spending time with another is rude and can cause hurt feelings, and refrain from texting a friend while angry or hurt (
The discussion moved on to include more important etiquette including how text messages can be easily misunderstood because the recipient of the message cannot see facial expressions or hear the tone of voice; bad news should never be given in a text; refrain from gossiping in a text; never text while driving, while in church, in class, at dinner, or at any inappropriate time; do not share devices with friends.
Closing out the class period, students were asked to read and sign a Cyberbullying Pledge. Upon completion, students were given a black “Delete Digital Drama at DLMS” wrist band to show their awareness and support. Students wore them proudly.
Although middle-school students have always faced socialization challenges as they navigate their early teen years, they face additional hurdles with advances in technology. The pervasiveness of communication tools, such as personal computers and cell phones, combined with their corresponding solitary and impersonal characteristics lead some children to use these devices to prey upon others.
While parental monitoring of children’s technology interactions should be the primary source of supervision, educators in the public school system can play a critical role by providing information and guidance on safe procedures and potential abuses, such as cyberbullying. The Deer Lakes Middle School program, “Delete Digital Drama at DLMS,” increases awareness among students and fosters an environment in which students can share their own experiences and thoughts on this relevant topic. The instructors believe that this session contributed to students’ use of technology communication devices in a positive and beneficial manner.
Create survey questions
Conduct anonymous survey
Compile data and share
Teach how to set /change privacy settings (e.g., Facebook)
Teach about tagging, blocking, limiting posts
State dangers online (e.g., chatting, gaming, strangers)
Emphasize safety online
Convey issues of cyberbullying
Teach texting and cell phone etiquette