Facebook and Twitter are turning purple today in support of "Spirit Day," an initiative of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). The purpose is "to honor the teenagers who have taken their own lives in recent weeks," and "to show the hundreds of thousands of LGBT youth who face the same pressures and bullying, that there is a vast community of people who support them." One can only hope that community support and the focus on cyber-bullying will remain after the social media mega sites return to their true colors tomorrow.
It is a sad irony that Tyler Clementi left a suicide note on his Facebook page after his roommate used a Twitter account to expose a private encounter in a dorm room at Rutgers University. Rutgers is home to the prominent Social-Emotional Learning Laboratory, headed by one of Edutopia's distinguished bloggers, Maurice Elias.
For many years Dr. Elias consulted with another one of our bloggers, Tony Bencivenga, former principal of Ben Franklin Middle School in upstate New Jersey.
Ten years ago, we documented Ben Franklin's comprehensive social/emotional efforts. Thanks in large measure to digital technology, a lot has happened in a decade, and not all of it has been positive.
Earlier this year, Ben Franklin's new principal, Tony Orsini, shot an email to parents that made national headlines. In response to several cyberbullying incidents at the school, he wrote: There is absolutely NO reason for any middle school student to be part of a social networking site. He suggested to parents that if their children were targeted by cyberbullies, they should "IMMEDIATELY GO TO THE POLICE!"
While banning cell phones and calling in the cops might be options of last resort, they won't do much to improve a school's culture. Instead, organizations like CASEL believe that teaching and evaluating SEL skills - lessons for the heart - are as important, if not more so, than lessons for the mind. And, no surprise, a positive school environment leads to higher test scores.
"We need to teach the Three 'Cs,'" says motivational speaker, Dr. Michael Pritchard. "Connectivity, community, and compassion." Pritchard is often flown in to schools, to pick up the emotional pieces after a suicide or other school tragedy. "We need to stop focusing on test scores, blaming teachers and parents, and start teaching kids how to love and care for each other."
What's the most effective way to deal with cyberbullying and/or teen suicide in school? Edutopia has some resources for teachers and parents; we hope you'll share what has worked for you.
Cyberbullying and Teen Suicide Resources
- Suicide Prevention Can Start in School
- Bullying: How Educators Can Make Schools Safer
- Resources to Fight Bullying and Harassment at School
- Teaching Tolerance: Meet the Teacher Who Started Gay-Straight Alliances
- Frightening Fiction: New Vigilance on Student Writing Can Yield Clues to Mental Health
- Video: A Principal Promotes Emotional Intelligence Schoolwide
- Video: Peace Helpers Become Classroom Problem Solvers
- Video: Educating Hearts: A Districtwide Initiative to Teach How to Care
- Video: Michael Pritchard: Lessons from the Heart