Cyberbullying is using the Internet to harm, threaten, harass, or humiliate others. It can be over social networks, email, texting, or elsewhere online. Cyberbullying is a significant part of many of our kids' lives and has a seriously detrimental impact on their emotional and mental health.
So of course our schools have gotten involved. As parents we entrust our kids to them for a 7 or more hours a day, and protecting the welfare of those kids is a job they take very seriously.
By now, I'd be surprised if there was a public school anywhere that hasn't developed some kind of cyberbullying policy. Many schools have implemented 'zero tolerance' policies that impose harsh penalties for cyberbullying, even suspension or expulsion from school.
Some kids express frustration with these policies, complaining that a lot of their normal behaviors and interactions with friends are branded 'cyberbullying.' Zero tolerance policies mean that they could be kicked out of school just for joking around with their friends like always.
If you've heard tweens and teens communicate with each other, you know what I'm talking about. It's appalling. Girlfriends call each other the b-word as if it's a term of endearment, and boys on Xbox Live trash talk each other with language that would make a sailor blush.
Under many school policies, this is cyber bullying. While it may be distasteful, should it really be punishable as cyberbullying?
In the midst of the cyberbullying epidemic, schools are caught in a very difficult position. What should their role be? How far should they go to protect their students, and what is appropriate?
Whatever your school policy is, the bottom line is that you are responsible for helping your child to deal successfully with cyberbullies and become a good digital citizen. Schools can support parents in the effort to monitor online use and teach about Internet safety, but they can never replace us.