Bullying and Technology in the K-12 Classroom

by Asaf Darash,

This post is a continuation of the series I started 2 weeks ago about technology in the K-12 classroom and using tech as a tool in the K-12 classroom. I felt the topic of bullying and technology, and with that accessing inappropriate content deserved it’s own space so I’m writing this post today. Bullying is a HUGE topic and while I don’t want to get into a debate or try to cover the whole breadth of the issue, I wanted to get my thoughts out and open a conversation about this.

At Regpack, we have many clients who work with students inside and outside the classroom – in sport’s leagues, camps, etc. and the topic of bullying and tech is just as challenging in these situations as it is in school. Please feel free to comment with questions or criticisms as I would love to keep this conversation going!

The increase in online or cyber bullying is a huge problem, as is all bullying. Some worry that introducing technology and devices into the classroom and making that common place will only exacerbate this problem. This article argues, “Child predators are a problem everywhere. Using digital devices at school creates just that much more exposure and potential danger for students. In addition, cyber bullying is also an increasing issue. Permitting use of digital devices in the classroom could potentially lead to more of it.”

It’s a valid concern, yet I beg to differ. Claiming that since bullying might get worse due to the use of technology and therefore being against the introduction of technology into the classroom is sort of putting your head in the ground. Technology is here to stay and kids are going to use it.

Furthermore, today a person without technological knowledge (I have a strong opinion on what “technological knowledge” is which you can read here) is doomed to work in low paying jobs and will struggle to find fulfillment professionally. Hence preventing the entrance of technology into the classroom due to the fear of bullying will only deprive the less fortunate and the lower income families from the chance of getting out of that situation. Students, no matter their economic background or personal home circumstances, should have access to the same technology, to use it for it’s advantages and learn how to use it properly so they are equipped for higher education and the world beyond.

We should not prevent it based on a fear that an unwanted behavior might flourish. As educators we should be making sure that there is a no tolerance attitude to bullying regardless of the medium it is taking place in.

 

Parent and Teacher Vigilance

Of course more access to technology means more opportunities for bullying to happen and parents and teachers need to be vigilant whether it’s happening online or on the playground. Technology at school and during classroom time should be monitored closely by teachers regardless, not just because of the chance of increased problems between students.

And technology outside of school is going to be used by students whether they have online assignments or school issued tablets. The challenge is still there for the parent to monitor online activity and what their children are looking at, doing and who they are interacting with online. You could probably argue that giving all kids access to ‘equal’ technology and leveling the playing field is actually a lesson in and of itself to learn to use technology properly and with respect.

You can also argue that the reason so much cyber bullying, and inappropriate behavior in general online, is happening because kids aren’t being educated well enough, both at home or at school. They aren’t being taught how to use the internet responsibly, what are safe and approved ways to connect with people and what red flags to look out for. We are taught from a young age to not get into a car or accept things from strangers. In the 21st century, we just need to add to the list not to email or chat with someone we don’t know or share personal information with ANYONE in person or online before checking in with a parent or trusted adult.

Tech becomes a teaching opportunity and a way for parents and teachers to be more connected to what students are doing online and offer up the chance to constantly reinforce and monitor the interactions between students and reinforce proper online behavior and etiquette. I hear all the time parents reminding their kids that what they put on the internet is there forever, and this is true! Future employers, college admissions staff and more have the ability to see what a person has posted, said or shared online.

Using tech more only offers more practice and more lessons to students about this idea – that what they put online can never disappear and to think carefully about their activities as it can impact them negatively in the future. It also preserves the lesson that the internet and online tools allow them to learn and connect in ways they couldn’t before.

 

Pornography and Other Inappropriate Materials Online

Access to inappropriate materials online is also a concern, namely pornography or other indecent or inappropriate material. If schools are providing tech devices or requiring students to use the computer MORE, students can accidentally stumble upon non-age appropriate material or actually seek it out since they now have access. What to do?

Here technology can be very helpful and actually giving access in a school where there is a network manager can make sure that any sites and areas that are not appropriate will simply be blocked. That said, blocking is by no means a silver bullet. There will be times children will have unmonitored access. Hence the solution here again is technological education, not removing opportunities for kids to use and have access to tech!

We need to teach our kids to see the red flags and the signs indicating that this is not appropriate for them. This can start from the simple things like teaching them about color use on internet sites and making sure that they understand what some of these industries do in order to supply the material they put online.

Another issue for parents seems to be reconciling their rules about screen time in their home with the assignments and requirements for school, especially when schools are now giving students their ‘own’ devices and students feel it’s their right to use them, or might lie or stretch the truth when they say they need to work but use the device or their allotted internet time to work on non school related things. This is really no different than all other challenges parents face and the pros of using tech and learning how to be tech creators for the future, far outweigh any negative aspects. Kids WILL always find a way to do something they shouldn’t be doing, you can’t prevent it but you can educate them and monitor them as you would any thing else.

 

So how can parents and teachers do their best to protect students and teach them what is appropriate and monitor their activities?

  • TALK to students and converse with them regularly about what inappropriate content is, what to do if they find it and why it’s important to avoid this type of content.
  • Have technological devices in the open when in use. This can be as simple as putting the computer the children use in the living room to setting a rule that they can use their tablet only in the common area of the house. The very fact that you might pass by will prevent them from looking at inappropriate content.
  • Set rules and boundaries – know passwords, learn how to view sites visited by yourself and set up filters, or parental controls that don’t allow kids to access certain sites or hide their activity.
  • There are helpful guidelines on how to make the internet safe for kids and teens. Here’s a great resource.

The resources below go into more detail about how to achieve these goals, but it really comes down to open communication and monitoring, just as with anything. Finding a balance between encouraging learning and giving students a level of independence and trust is important, as is making sure their activity isn’t hidden or kept secret so problems like bullying and viewing inappropriate content can be avoided, or at the very least, limited.

 

Resources

Below are a list of resources that seem relevant for teachers and parents a like when it comes to online access for K-12 students.

Student Rights and Responsibilities in the Digital Age (ACLU)

Teacher’s Guide to Keeping Students Safe Online 

Internet Safety 101: The Ultimate Guide for Parents

Protecting Students from Stay Smart Online

NSPCC’s Online Safety Guide

Cyberethic’s Tips for Teachers

8 Tips for Protecting Children and Teens Online: A Security Guide for Parents, Caregivers and Educators

Tigermobiles.com has a great Infographic with a TON of tips on keeping children safe when using a smartphone.

 

Build Digital Resilience

Xooloo has an interesting theory about digital resilience. They say,

“The best way to build digital resistance is to take a three-pronged approach, as follows:

  1. Preventing and reducing exposure to risk whenever possible.
  2. Focusing on resources that help foster resilience in children (e.g. online safety education programs).
  3. Supporting the natural ability of children to adapt, while strengthening the relationships children have with mentors, honoring cultural traditions, and encouraging healthy cognitive development.”

 

Conclusion

You know you might read these rules and think: “gosh if we just removed these devices we could go back to the ‘good old days” where we didn’t have to worry about these things”. But the reality is, even if we limit screen time, remove devices, etc – access to technology will still exist and our children and students will find a way to use it despite our control. It seems providing and teaching students the skills they need to use technology for ‘good’ is more worthwhile than the task that comes with educating them to use it properly and keeping them safe.

We need to have conversations with kids regardless of how much or little access they have to tech about online safety, appropriate behavior and inappropriate behavior. If you don’t allow tech in your home, they will use it at school or at a friend’s house, making these conversations just, if not more, relevant.

The resources provided in this post and opening up the conversation with other parents and teachers, especially as tech dives right into a more prominent role in our schools, is the best way to set guidelines and rules to how to educate kids in using technology best.

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About The Author

Asaf Darash

Asaf has extensive experience as entrepreneur and investor. Asaf has built 3 successful companies to date, all with an exit plan or that have stayed in profitability and are still functional. Asaf specializes in product development for the web, team building and in bringing a company from concept to an actualized unit that is profitable.