Mandi Sonnenberg is a professor and educational technologist at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri. Aside a busy work life, she has a busy home life with two children, a two-year-old and a second grader.
“Schools say there’s zero tolerance [for bullying], and I wholeheartedly believe that every school wants that,” she says. But she says it’s hard for schools to necessarily know which students are the troublemakers all the time, because bullies nowadays can hide behind cell phones and social media accounts.
She says it also isn’t helping matters that schools are now using more technology in the classroom. “I think as we integrate more iPads and cell phones in the classroom, then there’s more opportunities for kids to become bullies,” she says. “Bullying is running rampant because of social media. You post one little remark, and that’s bullying. It spreads like wildfire.”
So, what can schools do to help? Does Sonnenberg believe that there is an anti-bullying program that schools can buy that will show great effects?
She says that she believes schools are most likely to buy an anti-bullying educational program if it can show that it has been proven to drop cyberbullying in schools by a significant amount. “Schools want to see stats,” she says. “At the end of the day, data is what drives instruction. No school is going to buy a program that hasn’t shown some success.
Anti-bullying educational programs often come with manuals and lesson plans that help teachers encourage empathy and companionship in the classroom setting. And while school administrators quoted in this New York Times article certainly seems to think that classroom lessons in empathy do well for children, I’m not buying it. I think it takes more than teaching good behavior. You have to use modeling techniques to physically show children that bullying will not be tolerated, and you need to single out the children who are bullying, punish them and show them that what they’re doing is wrong. But that’s just the advice from one formerly bullied student.
And Sonnenberg, as a parent herself, too understands where I’m coming from, and how horrible it can be if you are the victim of bullying. “We live in a world where people make fun of each other,” she says. “And it’s hard. You can tell kids to just ignore it, but at the same time, it’s like how can you teach kids to not care about what others say about them?”
So, what’s her advice for teachers? Sonnenberg would recommend teachers check out netsmart.org for a “trendy and honest” look at the issues children face with bullying and how to help prevent it in a classroom setting. For bullied victims? “I think kids have got to realize that they need to separate themselves from looking at their phones all the time and obsessing about what people say about them online. And I know it’s hard.”