Your school or organisation will have an Acceptable Use Policy that students and teachers are expected to follow. While such policies are clearly an essential part of ensuring students are safe online, they are often primarily a list ‘do’s and don’ts’ intended to protect the student and the school community. The problem is though, a document will not of itself protect children. Necessarily, “students need to know how to keep themselves safe online beyond the safety measures put into place by schools.” (Intel Collaboration in the Digital Classroom, Module 5, Lesson 1, Activity 1) So in addition to an AUP, keeping students safe means empowering them to keep themselves safe. To do this they must:
- Know what to do
- Know whom to trust
- Know what to avoid
- Know how to react
- Know the consequences
How could this approach be practically and effectively implemented with your students? Teachers and parents need to prepare young people for situations they may encounter online. Without over dramatising, discuss realistic scenarios with them. Choose familiar contexts so that they are mentally and emotionally engaging to them. Here is an example:
Scenario: You receive a Facebook friend request from Angelica*, a student at your school. You hardly know Angelica, but you accept her as a Facebook friend anyway. The next day at school a friend tells you that Angelica has shared one of your pictures and made some mean, untrue comments about you. You check and see that this is true! She has even set up a poll so that others can vote on what they think about your choice of clothes! To make matters worse, people have been voting!
- Know what to do: You feel humiliated and upset! What should you do first? Retaliate by sharing one of Angelica’s pictures and add some mean comments about her just like she has done to you? Tell all your friends to unfriend Angelica? Lock yourself in your room and avoid everyone? Immediately protect yourself from further harassment from Angelica by taking a screen shot of what she has shared and her comments, unfriending her and changing your Privacy settings to “friends only”?
- Know whom to trust: You want to do something about what Angelica has done, but you are unsure of the wisest thing to do. You want to fix it not make it worse! Who can give you reliable advice? You print out the screen shot you wisely took as evidence of what Angelica did on Facebook. Who can you trust to talk to about this? Should you show the screen shot to everyone in your class and ask them for advice? Show your parents and ask them what to do? Talk to no one because you can’t trust anyone? Call the police? Speak to a teacher you trust? Speak to your school’s Guidance Counsellor?
- Know what to avoid: Even though it was Angelica who started the problem, your actions can make a big difference to how things work out in the end. You could get a group of friends together as support, confront Angelica with the screen shot and demand an explanation? You could threaten Angelica? Delete your Facebook account? Do nothing, hide in your bedroom and never come out? Create a Facebook page called OMG Angel-eeeeka smells! and invite everyone you know to add a comment to the page? Maybe you should call the police? Perhaps hire a lawyer and sue Angelica for everything she’s got?
- Know how to react: When you are feeling upset, humiliated or hurt there is a danger that your emotions could end up driving what you do. In situations like the one Angelica has created, you don’t want to react emotionally – you need to act strategically. First think about your goal. Do you want to fix the situation that Angelica created? Would you rather get even with Angelica? How would you feel if what you now did made the situation worse? Do you know why Angelica has done this to you? If there was a problem between you both before Angelica shared your picture could it be sorted out by talking with her? Has she done this before or to other people and you are just her latest “victim”? Perhaps if a teacher was to sit down with both of you then you could sort out the problem? If Angelica will not cooperate or if you feel uncomfortable about approaching her, who would be the most effective person to support you? What plan of action will bring the best result?
- Know the consequences: Whether you do something strategic, act on your raw emotions or do nothing at all, there will be a consequence for both you and Angelica. Before you do anything you need to think about these possible consequences. Doing nothing may mean that Angelica will continue her cyber bullying behaviour and make your life an ongoing misery. That is unacceptable. What could be the consequences for reacting by behaving like Angelica and posting cruel material about her online? It may briefly make you feel better by does it resolve anything? Will it stop her or make it worse? How would behaving like her make you look to others? Where could it end? How would following the advice of a trusted teacher, counselor or parent turn out for you? The last thing you want is to be in an all out feud, but neither should Angelica’s behaviour be allowed to continue!
* Angelica is not a real person. Any resemblance to an actual person is purely coincidental.
Note to teachers: Ask students to raise different scenarios. The class can then discuss them using the five headings above. This could be done as a collaborative project between classes or between schools. They could produce a website, Wiki or video resource that could become part of your school’s cyber safety program.
Your aim is to give them the skills and discernment they need to recognise potential issues and to know how to respond in a way that protects them from harm.