The Rise of Cyberbullying Puts Greater Emphasis on Anti-Bullying Assemblies

Carrie Schmelkin : Gossip from the Hallways
Carrie Schmelkin
Web Editor, TMC

The Rise of Cyberbullying Puts Greater Emphasis on Anti-Bullying Assemblies

kid bullied.jpgWhen I was a reporter in Connecticut covering the education beat, one of the most touching moments during my two years of scouring the news in suburbia was when I attended an anti-bullying assembly at New Canaan High School called “Names Can Really Hurt Us.”

The program, created by the Anti-Defamation League, asks upperclassmen to undergo weeks of training to lead underclassmen through one of the most powerful programs I have ever seen. As the assembly begins, seniors take to the stage to act out an incident that touches upon bullying. In so doing, student leaders hope to convey the message to underclassman that the biggest threats in school are not actually bullies but those that sit by and watch others get victimized – bystanders.

The highlight of the program comes at the end when students participate in an open mic session where they are asked to come in front of their peers voluntarily to talk about their experiences with bullying. And if you think a bunch of 14 year olds would be too nervous to get up in front of their friends, think again.

I have witnessed this program three times and all three times, dozens upon dozens of kids flocked to the microphones to lament times they could have stood up for someone, repent for times they have bullied others and confront their victimizers. Each time there was not a dry eye in the room and the sound of a pin dropping on the floor could be heard in the auditorium as kid after kid made their way to the front of the room.

Here is just a sampling of what students relayed to me before and after the assembly:

-          “I found it so courageous and strong of them to get up in front of all their peers," a freshman girl told me at the time. "I am a different person because of that assembly."

-          “I thought it was amazing of them to get up there and talk," a freshman girl said of the open mic session. "It brought us closer as a whole and we can now rely on each other.”

-          "It was eye opening," a freshman boy told me. "You don't really think about how people are dealing with these issues, and it takes a tremendous amount of guts to get up there; I never could do it."

-          “Kids here, they do such a good job of hiding what they are really feeling," another freshman boy told me. “I learned that I judge people on their expressions if they are smiling I assume they are happy, and that's not always the case.”

As an awed participant at these three assemblies over two years, I feel it is truly incumbent upon me to advocate the adoption of programs such as these.

So, to all you teachers and administrators out there listen up: There is no better time than now to bring an assembly like this to your kids.

Through the years, bullying has taken on some horrible forms as kids were ostracized during recess, picked on out on the athletic fields and mocked during class presentations. But none of that compares to the cruelty of cyberbullying. A jab that is made at recess in front of the crowd stings but is not nearly as permanent or troublesome as something that is done on the Web. Bullying that takes place on the Internet is etched with permanent marker into cyberspace where it lives on forever.

The repercussions of cyberbullying are cause for great alarm. Teachers and administrators can no longer be complacent in thinking that mundane, preachy assemblies and code of conduct books will suffice in teaching kids how to treat each other. Conversely, modern day assemblies which are led by kids, the ones going through this, are the way to go.  Assemblies in which bullies and victims come face to face and share pain with one another.

I am not naïve in thinking that kids who sit through the “Names Can Really Hurt Us” campaign do a 180; I am going to assume after all that the jocks still want to hang out with jocks, drama kids still prefer to hang out with kids of similar interests, and girls who have the best clothes still look down upon those that don’t dress as well. But there is something so admirable about seeing kids stand up in an auditorium and confront their victimizers. And for that one hour during the assembly, I can promise you that a feeling of hope actually becomes palpable.



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