This is a riveting New York Times piece on the challenges to schools from cyberbullying. I am torn as to what the schools’ rightful role ought to be in policing the nasty adolescent exchanges that are becoming far too common on the Internet.
Read the lengthy Times piece when you have time. It is disturbing, especially since my twins start middle school in August. (My oldest daughter had a very rough first year in middle school. My older son had very little drama in middle school, but sidestepped a lot of the social tussling. And he had neither a phone nor a personal computer until high school.)
I still think one answer to cyberbullying is keeping middle schoolers off Facebook and other social networking sites. I am also not a fan of giving middle school students cell phones, as my 11-year-old daughter is quick to complain. Her older sister used to ask me to please dip into her college fund to get cable TV. Now, we have cable, but the 11-year-old asks me now instead to tap into her college fund to pay for a cell phone.
According to the Times piece:
Schools these days are confronted with complex questions on whether and how to deal with cyberbullying, an imprecise label for online activities ranging from barrages of teasing texts to sexually harassing group sites. The extent of the phenomenon is hard to quantify. But one 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization founded by two criminologists who defined bullying as “willful and repeated harm” inflicted through phones and computers, said one in five middle-school students had been affected.
Affronted by cyberspace’s escalation of adolescent viciousness, many parents are looking to schools for justice, protection, even revenge. But many educators feel unprepared or unwilling to be prosecutors and judges.
Often, school district discipline codes say little about educators’ authority over student cellphones, home computers and off-campus speech. Reluctant to assert an authority they are not sure they have, educators can appear indifferent to parents frantic with worry, alarmed by recent adolescent suicides linked to bullying.
Whether resolving such conflicts should be the responsibility of the family, the police or the schools remains an open question, evolving along with definitions of cyberbullying itself.
Nonetheless, administrators who decide they should help their cornered students often face daunting pragmatic and legal constraints.
“I have parents who thank me for getting involved,” said Mike Rafferty, the middle school principal in Old Saybrook, Conn., “and parents who say, ‘It didn’t happen on school property, stay out of my life.’ ”