The information revolution has made it possible for people all around the world to communicate in real time to share ideas and grow understanding.

Unfortunately, it has also made it easier for bullies to make schools a hell for fellow students.

The concept of cyberbullying is not new, and many states, including Maine, have provided staff training and support to keep kids safe. But according to the latest U.S. Department of Education statistics, cyberbullying in schools is still on the rise and girls are still three times as likely to be bullied as boys, by 21 percent to 7 percent.

It’s a difficult problem for schools, which can only oversee students six hours a day, five days a week. But the internet gives students a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week opportunity to pick on each other. People will say things to each other online that they would never say in person. And there is no respite for victims, who can’t escape their tormentors by going home.

Not surprisingly, persistent cyberbullying has been associated with suicide, which is also on the rise among young people.

So, what should be done and who should do it? Keeping students safe has to be a school’s first priority, and discipline for students who bully a classmate should be swift and sure. Students need to learn to stand up for each other when they witness bullying. And, along with their families, they need to learn to communicate without causing so much pain.

Classroom teachers play an important role in this fight, but sorting out all the drama of their students’ online lives is not another other social problem that we should throw on their to-do lists. School social workers should play a big role, but many Maine schools don’t have enough of them on their payrolls.

In a column in the July 30 Press Herald, 2019 Maine Teacher of the Year Joseph Hennessey wrote that Maine schools have a 303-to-1 ratio of students to social workers, much higher than the 250-to-1 ratio that’s recommended. He said there are hundreds of vacancies for school social workers in cash-scrapped districts all over Maine.

Addressing the fallout from cyberbullying is one of the emotional and mental health needs that should be considered a core element of a good education. We need to make sure that schools have the tools they need to do the job.

 

 


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