THE DARK SIDE AND THE BRIGHT SIDE OF OUR DIGITAL WORLD
There is a dark side to our digital world and it is called cyber-bullying. Our intervention is required.
Cyber-bullying is lethal but I did not appreciate the depths of this reality until I looked it in the face and saw the upset and nightmares it creates. I had read the articles about cyber-bullying. I had watched a video. I thought I was aware but I was wrong. It was only when it faced me directly, when one of my students was taken down that horrible path, that I fully understood what it is and why it must be addressed. It is the dark side of our digital world.
The student in question is a very quiet, intelligent, accomplished person, with wonderful friends and a bright clear future. When this student was away for many classes, I worried. The Guidance department then sent out a note to the student’s teachers explaining that medical issues prevented this young person from attending school and since it was near the end of the year would we each please contact mom and help the student to complete the year successfully, understanding that the student was not capable of doing everything normally at least for the time being.
I called mom – and learned the horrible truth. Her child had been the victim of a vicious cyber-bullying attack. This wonderful, quiet, young person was talking about suicide. Not as a “drama queen/king”, but quietly, intelligently… and that is when mom and dad sought emergency counselling and started round-the-clock care so their child would never be alone. When I was on the phone with mom she completely broke down. She was in tears, I had tears running down my face, and it suddenly was all too real. When I suggest that “lethal” is the only word to describe cyber-bullying, I truly mean it.
When I called mom I had a game plan in mind. I do house calls. I don’t do them very often, and I always have parental permission before I “drop in” and it occurred to me that this was the time for one of those visits – if the student could not come to me then I would go to them and the family agreed to this. It is very difficult to explain what it is like to see a warm, caring young person who used to look so good now looking like they were in Hell, but that’s what faced me. I said I was there to provide support and to show that their child meant the world to me. I didn’t care about the academics – they had a fabulous track record in my class and further work was not needed. I had taken the time to come over to prove that this teenager was a very important person and had every reason to live. That was why mom allowed me to come over. That was my whole message. The visit lasted about an hour. There were warm hugs all round, many tears were wept, some anger was vented, some details were shared. And I learned at point blank range just how destructive and horrible cyber-bullying is. Not “can be”, not “could be”… “is.” Period.
Teens don’t have a lot of inner resources with which to deal with life’s challenges and their executive function – well – it’s just not at an “executive” level yet. They depend heavily on their friends and peers for their identities and the internet is a large part of this. Watch some teens on their phones and you’ll see how distraught they become when they miss part of an online texting conversation. Not all teens do this at this level, but many do, and cyber-bullying preys on that vulnerability and dependence.
We do amazing things with amazing kids and it is a privilege and an honour to be a part of their world. Being allowed into someone’s home is an even greater honour and for that I offer a heartfelt thanks to that family. Thank you for letting me in. I am glad I could help in some small way. Like the title says, there is a dark side to our digital world and we must address it directly. It is time to create a curriculum that helps to undo the dark side. Please send your thoughts and comments – I would like to hear what you are doing in this regard.
Fortunately, there is also a bright side to our digital world. It is called student success. Here are a few examples from my past year of teaching.
Working in multimedia is wonderful and each year there are moments when we see kids succeed in ways that only these media allow. One young fellow has many learning challenges. Doing academic work is difficult for him. He tries but it’s not usually very successful. He was bailing on all of his classes, including mine… and then he completed his music video. What a breakthrough! He worked with a few friends and put together a movie using Premier Elements 9.0 and suddenly the storyteller that is locked away inside this young man was revealed. The video was far from perfect but it was a fabulous statement from him. I love Premier Elements because it does so much and is so accessible. Another student worked with her partner to tell the story of a monster that stole people’s dreams. Hours and hours of filming and scripting and editing (again in Premier Elements 9.0) finally came together in their labour of love. They were justifiably proud of their accomplishment. Over and over again I watched students tell stories and comment on their lives through the videos and posters they were making. The power of multimedia was very much in evidence all around my classroom lab. It was a joy to see the tools of our trade being used to create healthy, productive projects. As I look back on the year I was reminded that most kids in most situations do indeed do the right thing. When I was dealing with the cyber-bullying situation I needed to remember this.
My year ended on a strong up note when the bullied student showed up at school on report card day (they were back!!!) to say a very warm and deeply felt, thank you. It doesn’t get any better than that. I hope your year has been as warm and nurturing.