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“Stand up, Don’t Stand By” to Cyberbullying

More and more of our kids’ lives are taking place online and on their phones. It’s crucial that they understand the implications of their actions in the digital world. The most recent statistics from Pew Internet and American Life reveal that one in three kids ages 13-18 has been cyberbullied. But that leaves the question – what about the other two?

Whether they’re the bully, who provokes; the target, who feels the effects; the bystander, who doesn’t acknowledge the bullying; or the upstander, who steps in to help, cyberbullying is a part of every kid’s life. But often, kids have a hard time trying to put into words just how much it affects them. And affect them it does.

Cyberbullying is one of a number of potential negative outcomes of digital media that threaten to overpower all of the positives that digital media creates for learning, cooperation, and creativity.

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While it’s important for parents to understand that cyberbullying exists and be able to identify and monitor it, the larger solution to this issue lies in education – this dynamic new world requires new skills and new codes of conduct to ensure that media and technology are used responsibly and ethically.

This means that to address the problem effectively, the whole community – parents, educators, policymakers, and students themselves – must get involved. There’s no one stakeholder who’s responsible; we all are.

At Santa Clara Unified, we believe that it’s best to address cyberbullying and the way our kids treat each other online proactively. We know we have a responsibility to help parents and teachers gain the understanding, skills, and confidence they need to help our kids grow and thrive in this new media world.

That’s why we’ve been working with Common Sense Media to ensure that we’re teaching and empowering our kids not only to stand up to cyberbullying but also to practice safe, smart, and respectful digital behavior every day.

During the 2011-12 school year, elementary and high school teachers from across the district will pilot Common Sense Media’s digital literacy and citizenship curriculum for grades K-5 and 9-12. We’re one of the few school districts in the country to embrace and implement the curriculum so widely. Common Sense’s curriculum is designed to empower students to think critically and make informed choices about how they live and treat others in today’s digital media world. Last year, the middle school portion of the curriculum was successfully piloted and is now a regular part of the technology literacy course content.

In addition to our work with Common Sense, we’re partnering with other key organizations in our community to ensure that parents and staff have the tools they need to support students in a digital world. Last year, Yahoo! and the Santa Clara County Office of Education teamed up to host a Digital Citizenship and Safety Summit, where 21 teachers and administrators learned from national experts how to teach our students to create a positive online reputation. The district also actively partners with our surrounding law enforcement agencies to provide information to staff, students, and parents on the legal issues of dealing with cyberbullying.

But as we all know, teachers and schools are just part of the solution when it comes to ending cyberbullying. Parents can support what teachers and administrators are doing in schools in a number of ways:

1. Make a promise to start the conversation about cyberbullying with your son or daughter. Visit www.commonsense.org/cyberbullying, and make a promise to help your child learn how to stand up, not stand by, to cyberbullying.

2. Talk to your school about digital literacy and citizenship programs. They’re the key to helping kids practice safe, smart digital behavior and acquire the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in a digital world.

3. Embrace their world. Technology shouldn’t isolate you from your kids. Learn about the technology they use and how it affects their lives. It’s up to parents to help kids really seize the potential of digital media.

We – teachers, parents, and community leaders – have a real opportunity right now to teach kids how to live and act responsibly in a digital world and stand up to ending digital abuse and harassment. Both the benefits and the pitfalls of this technology for our kids are too great to ignore.

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