Confronting Cyber-Bullying: What Schools Need To Know To Control Misconduct And Avoid Legal Consequences
By Shaheen Shariff
Published by Cambridge University Press: 2009:New York, 275 pp.
Bullying has been around as long as there have been children. There’s no denying that some children, sadly, are undeniably nastier than others and take delight in tormenting their peers. What used to be physical bullying — the tackles and trips in the playground or cafeteria — or emotional bullying — teasing, taunts, mocking jokes — has in recent years gotten even nastier with the presence of cyber-bullying. And what makes cyber-bullying especially challenging for teachers and educators is that much of the bad behavior takes place outside of school, yet has lingering and unpleasant repercussions in the classrooms and corridors during the school day.
It’s a dilemma that author Shaheen Shariff, a former lawyer who is on the faculty of education at McGill University, acknowledges and seeks to address in this worthwhile volume, “Confronting Cyber-Bullying.”
She writes, “As technologies evolve and advance at rapid rates and children are immersed in them at increasingly younger ages — and as adolescents become proficient and comfortable with social networking sites, blogs, chat rooms, and mobile phones — many adults, whose use of computers is limited to e-mail and word processing, find themselves incapacitated and left behind — or as some would say, technologically challenged.” The power relationship is uncomfortably disrupted, as parents and teachers often can’t identify, let alone regulate or supervise, exactly what happens on-line.
All too often, that turns out to be vicious cyber-bullying, made easier by the Internet’s culture of anonymity. On the Web, there’s more sexual and homophobic harassment, often with tragic consequences for the students who are targeted. What makes it worse is that these cyber-assaults can happen anywhere and everywhere.
Shariff advises that parents and teachers move away from punitive measures, focusing instead on developing students’ understanding of social responsibility and the consequences of their actions.
Figuring out how to balance the rights of free expression with the need to protect those who are targeted by cyber-bullying is a definite challenge. As Shariff writes, “Schools have an obligation to monitor inflammatory student speech, but it is equally important to recognize that educators have a duty to cultivate an educational atmosphere that is consistent with the moral and political principles essential to expanding democratic values.”
This is an important and valuable contribution on a topic that isn’t about to be resolved anytime soon. #