My daughter’s backpack always comes home filled with interesting things – art projects, homework assignments, half-eaten lunches. Two days ago, an unexpected letter was there. It notified us that the students at her elementary school would be discussing diversity, accepting differences and peer pressure as part of our district’s anti-bullying focus.
I was extremely glad this was happening at our schools at a young age. My husband and I, like many involved parents, teach our kids to respect others and our differences. We’ve told them never to harm anyone physically or emotionally (and to tell us if someone’s trying to harm them). We hope they will internalize this to the point of making good choices when we’re not there to guide them, like the 30 hours a week they’re with their classmates. We believe this is the foundation needed to ensure they do not become bullies and will not tolerate it from others. Having the school nurture the same is invaluable and the kind of partnership parents and schools need to deal with bullying in the age of the Internet.
I realize we are now experiencing the impact of a Massachusetts law passed earlier this year requiring schools to deal with bullying in a comprehensive and proactive way. It was passed in response to recent cyberbullying cases ending in suicides, such as that of Phoebe Prince. The law clearly states that bullying, including “through the use of technology or an electronic device”, is prohibited. School districts are required to have prevention and intervention measures in place, to train staff and students accordingly, and to involve parents and community in the process. But while I am not a lawyer and after reading through the details of the law, I did not see any minimum age requirement to begin educating students.
Kudos to our school district for including kids my daughter’s age in the process. It makes sense to begin as early as possible since some of the technology used to bully today are ending up in younger hands.
And as far as involving parents in the process, I anxiously await to see how this will unfold. Today we received an email from the superintendent telling us the process had begun and the program would be rolled out soon, and I will be monitoring (and critiquing on this blog) the progress. . I am not suggesting that cyberbullying should be solved solely by schools. Teaching good behavior is the purview of parents and guardians. But the challenge of cyberbullying is that it’s happening in the ether – neither at school nor at home. It happens many times between students from the same school, but the technology used and the time it is done is often at home. I believe a common understanding of the issues and shared responsibility to prevent and intervene is needed between parents and schools. It could go a long way to getting a whole community to stand up to bullying online and off.