BMS Educates Students on Cyber Bullying
Feb 28, 2019 06:00AM
By Pamela Johnson
Jeff Croteau and Eileen Kneeland
written by Amy Bartelloni, Contributing Writer
There’s no doubt that with the advent of social media and other online platforms, bullying is an even bigger issue than it ever has been before. That’s why Bellingham Memorial Middle School brought in an expert to speak to the students regarding the dangers of cyber bullying. Eileen Kneeland from the Worcester Country District Attorney’s office visited BMS on Wednesday, January 23rd, with separate presentations for students in upper (6th and 7th) and lower (4th and 5th) grades, tailored to their age groups.
“We have some people that have struggled with cyber bullying,”BMS principal Jeff Croteau said in his introduction. “We want you to understand that when you hit ‘Send,’ it’s forever. That’s the big takeaway.”
Kneeland put her position in context for the students, explaining that the D.A.’s office is the chief law enforcement agency in Worcester County. Within this agency, her job is community outreach. She spoke to the 2010 anti-bullying law, which mandated that every school district in Massachusetts have an anti-bullying policy. Part of the policy is yearly education for students, parents, and teachers, and information on how to report bullying.
“What the anti-bullying law says is that there’s no bullying allowed in school, and there’s no bullying allowed outside of school if it affects the way someone feels in school.” This includes creating a hostile environment, a situation where the student feels unsafe in school.
That brings up the actual definition of bullying, described by Kneeland as intentional, aggressive behavior targeted at a person or group over and over, enough to make a reasonable person afraid of harm. “It’s important to know that bullying involves an imbalance of power,” she explained, “so that one person has a perceived power over someone else.” While a situation has to be recorded three times to be considered bullying, Kneeland urged the kids not to wait to tell a trusted adult.
“We want you to tell someone right away, because maybe we can put an end to the bully situation, or maybe we’ll find out that it wasn’t a bully situation.”
Her number-one piece of advice if students feel unsure or concerned at all is to tell a trusted adult.
Students may encounter four different types of bullying, defined as physical, verbal, social (excluding someone from a group), and cyber—her focus for the presentation. “Cyber bullying happens more than any other kind of bullying at all,” she said, “because everybody has technology now.”When bullies can’t see their victim’s face, it’s harder to empathize, and with the constant connection it’s hard to get away from a difficult situation. She suggested stepping away if the bullying is happening on an online forum, shutting the platform off for a while, and blocking that person.
Not every disagreement is a bullying situation. Kneeland described the difference between conflict (two people not getting along) and bullying, where there’s an imbalance of power. Once an incident is reported, Croteau will make the final decision as to whether it’s a bully situation, and he reminded the students that even if they don’t see the bully get into trouble, it doesn’t mean nothing was done. Some things need to be kept quiet for privacy purposes.
With explanations out of the way, Kneeland had some suggestions for dealing with bullies.
Telling a trusted adult was her number-one piece of advice, but should a student find themselves a bystander in a bullying situation, a video that she showed encouraged them to be an “upstander” instead by doing four things: being a buddy to the person being bullied, interrupting the situation by suggesting another activity or changing the subject, speaking out by calling the bully out, and, most important—telling someone.
There’s an important difference between reporting a bullying situation and tattling, Kneeland explained. Reporting a bully situation will prevent harm. It’s not meant to get another person into trouble or to be spiteful.
The students watched a short video on empathy, encouraging them to understand how other people feel. That led to a video from online personality Kid President of the top 20 things you should say more often (found on YouTube at https://youtu.be/m5yCOSHeYn4). The list included such phrases as “thank you, excuse me, I’m sorry,” and “you can do it,” and maybe most important, “I disagree with you, but I still like you as a person.”
The program finished by reminding the students of their digital footprint. It’s a subject she goes more in depth about with 6th- and 7th-graders, reminding them that we all leave a digital footprint of everything we do online. “There’s a record of everything you do online, and it lasts forever,” she told them. She reminded them to think before they hit “Send” because future employers will be looking them up online, and some things can’t be erased.
“Use the grandmother rule,” she urged. “If you wouldn’t share it with your grandmother, don’t share it online.” She told the students to make sure what they share online is safe and responsible, and to never give out private information such as their full name, phone number, or where they go to school.
She finished by talking about kindness, reminding students of the importance of some universal rules: treat people the way you want to be treated and, if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. “If you focus on kindness,” she said, “you have less time to focus on being mean.”
The Bellingham school system’s bullying policy can be found on its website at https://www.bellinghamk12.org. School officials are working on a bullying information session for parents, scheduled for spring.