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Zero tolerance policies for bullying don’t work: Says Expert

Cyber Safety Cop Saturday, February 8, 2014


Criminologist and cyberbullying expert Justin Pachin says zero tolerance policies often don’t work.

He cites the recent case in the U.S. of a boy who bit into a Pop-Tart in such a way as to make the shape of a gun — he was expelled — and the kid with a butter knife in his lunch box. No weapons allowed.

With cyberbullying, he says the informal, creative responses tend to be more effective than legal responses or blanket protocols.

The goal is to make bullying stop. Sadly, only 15 per cent of victims tell an adult.

“Why? They are afraid if they tell an adult it will get worse, because it does,” says Pachin, the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Centre at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. “We’ve done a terrible job in the past. If we dealt with it without creating hardship on the victim, they would flock to us.”

Pachin’s research has shown that schools with a good climate and positive relationships between teachers and students have fewer incidents of bullying, but also less cyberbullying, sexting and other dangerous online activities.

He says educators should talk to students about what’s appropriate online and not wait for something terrible to happen at their campus. Incidents elsewhere can be teachable moments.

But when an incident does occur, be creative. Make a bully create an anti-bullying poster or video, he said, or write a research paper on harassment, but without using any technology. Make him go to the library, with a paper and pen and make him write it by hand or on a typewriter.

Use “social norming” — to make kids aware that most students do not like bullying. “Make it cool to care — bullying is for losers,” Pachin says, citing a number of initiatives led by students to stand up for victims, like Pink Shirt Day in Canada, which started when 200 grade 12 students wore pink shirts in solidarity with a younger boy who was teased for it.

And give students opportunities to report incidents anonymously online, or with a dedicated texting number, or with a drop box.

Finally, Pachin suggested organizing “Delete Day” — to purge personal websites of any inappropriate pictures or comments, memberships in hurtful groups and “friends” who you don’t know in the real-world.

There are more than 4,000 photos uploaded to Facebook every second, kept forever on people’s timelines, not to mention personal information providing fodder for potential harassment in the future.

(Catherine Solyom, Gazette Education Reporter)
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