We discovered our second case of inappropriate internet use by students today. I wrote about the first incident here back in March of 2007. Back then, we had a student post an inappropriate word on a classroom wiki. Although I was bothered by the incident, it was not a personal affront to anyone.
Today’s incident was a different story. We had a fifth grader create a blog designed to bash another classmate. This site was created over the weekend from home, not at school. He then sent the link to a couple of other boys who joined in on “the fun.” Fortunately, the target of this cyber-bullying learned of the site and told his parents who came in to see me this morning. They were understandably shaken and upset by this situation.
My first reaction was anger at the boys who were involved in this mean behavior. I spoke with each one separately, and each boy fully admitted his involvement. After thinking about this situation for a little while, I came to the realization that although these kids were involved in some hurtful, insensitive behavior toward a peer, they are basically good kids who have not been in trouble in the past. As I talked about this situation with each boy, my anger and disappointment started to subside, and I decided that we need to do a better job teaching students about appropriate ways to use the web.
That fact that this blog was created out of school presented me with a dilemma. Although it was mean spirited, there was nothing threatening or dangerous posted on it. I really had no authority to discipline these boys. I did spend a lot of time speaking to their parents, and I made sure the parents understood the seriousness of their sons’ behavior. If not addressed correctly, this may happen again with much more devastating consequences.
Without appearing too overly dramatic, I have two worries about situations like these. First, the idea that an 11 year old can create a humiliating site like this which is published for anyone to see is scary. Luckily, we caught this in its infancy. I shudder to think about what could have happened if the rest of the fifth graders joined in on the bullying. It would have gotten out of control.
Second, what impact will this have on the student who was being bullied and on his parents? The long-term effects of something like this could be devastating. This is not something this boy will quickly or easily forget. The irony is not lost on me that we discovered this website during the week of the 10th anniversary of the Columbine shootings. Is this where it starts? Do these types of acts build up over time and lead to violence?
My technology teacher and I are now looking for ways to teach the dangers of cyber-bullying and importance of internet responsibility to elementary school students. Any assistance or advice would be appreciated.