I’m Not Changing My Mind About Cell Phones…

Regardless of what transpired at school yesterday,  I am not changing my mind regarding cell phones at school.  See the posts here and here for my earlier thoughts on this topic.

Here’s what happened.  A fifth grade girl got on the bus at the last stop on the way to school.  There were no open seats next to other girls, so she was forced to sit next to a fifth grade boy.  A group of fifth grade boys thought that was funny, so they started teasing the two kids who were sharing the seat.  The pre-adolescent teasing took a turn for the worse when the boys yanked out their cell phones and started taking pictures of the “couple.”

The boys were adding graphics such as hearts to the pictures on their phones, and they were threatening to send the pictures to other fifth graders’ cell phones.  The girl was covering her face and telling the boys to stop.  They continued with their taunting, taking pictures and teasing the two kids, even as she pleaded for them to stop.  It ended when the bus arrived at school a few minutes later.

This caused some big time embarrassment and grief to both the girl and the boy in the seat.  The girl was especially upset, and she immediately told her teacher who shared the story with me.  I, of course, dealt with these boys in an appropriate manner, and I spoke with each of their parents at length.  Fortunately, all of the parents were horrified at the behavior of their sons, and I think these boys are in for a long weekend at home.

I have two big issues with this poor behavior.

First, is the abuse of cell phones on school property including the school bus. The school is responsible for the students’ safety and their behavior on the bus.  We allow cell phones at school so the students can use them to contact their parents in case of an emergency or to change or discuss plans.  The phones should be turned off and stored in backpacks during the school day unless a teacher chooses to use the phones for academic purposes.  That has not yet happened in the elementary school, but I think the day is coming.

This group of students abused the privilege of bringing the phones to school, they used the phones to harass (sexually?) other students, and they invaded others’ right to privacy.  This type of behavior is what causes knee jerk reactions from those who want cell phones banned from school.

Please, do not ban cell phones from schools! Instead, use these examples of poor behavior to teach children to use their phones (and other technologies) responsibly and appropriately.  Teach children the positive uses of technology so that they respect the power they hold in their hands. Instead of eliminating cell phone use in school, use cell phones more in school.  Teach children how they can take and send pictures that relate to the curriculum, that have merit, and that show creativity.  Give children the freedom to explore the uses of technology with the proper guidance and instruction.  I believe that once kids respect the technology, the examples of irresponsibility, cyberbullying, and “sexting” will diminish.

My second big issue with this incident is that the female victim repeatedly told a group of boys to stop their inappropriate behavior, yet they continued to taunt her.  She held her hands over her face, pleading with the boys to stop, but to no avail.

We MUST teach boys that when a girl says “STOP” they have to stop. In other words “No means No.” As the father of two daughters, you can imagine my horror when this realization hit me.  If this is the fifth grade version of sexual harassment, imagine what the high school version might look like – A group of boys surrounding a girl who is begging for them to STOP.  They don’t.  It’s all good fun until…

The image sends chills down my spine.

Regardless of yesterday’s incident on the bus, I am not changing my mind about cell phones in school.

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Bullying in the 21st Century

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.