The world teenagers live in is so different, in many ways, from the one we grew up in. The constant access to social media has caused an uptick in bullying– particularly cyber bullying. Kids are able to hide behind a keyboard or a screen, and in doing so, they are more likely to forget that there is a true human on the receiving end of their messages. I feel like I am constantly hearing from students about how other students are calling them names on Facebook or calling them out as their “ex-friends” by tagging them in images on Instagram.
Recently, two of my students were in a very serious situation where one created a fake Facebook page about the other, writing untrue “confessions” and posting inappropriate photos of the other. The school, and the police, needed to get involved to find the source of the page and to determine the appropriate consequence. There were more tears that day than I can remember ever seeing from any student before. The reality was that neither student was able to respect the humanity in the other because they were both hiding behind technology to spread nasty rumors about each other. This lack of accountability has made many situations much uglier than they need to be.
Ultimately, my team decided to do a whole-grade lesson in advisory about cyber bullying and how we can stop it from happening. Our students learned what it means to be an upstander, and how to promote kindness to combat bullying. In the end, they made beautiful posters to hang around the school. Soon enough, we had a powerful mural– a complete wall full of the students’ hard work to raise awareness about cyberbullying and how to stop it.
As my students made posters we were all proud of, I couldn’t help but see the compassion and the love for others pouring out. I realized that inclusion had helped most of my students in ways I had never noticed as obviously before. They clearly committed themselves to stopping this epidemic, as they realized how it could impact their classmates, their friends, their loved ones. My students’ exposure to people with differing abilities from their own made it so clear that they needed to take a stand to make sure nothing bad happened to those people.
Today’s teenagers’ lives are so different from the lives we lived as teens, but that gives me hope. Inclusive classrooms were less common when we were growing up, and more and more kids have access to their diverse peers than ever before. Inclusion has opened their eyes and helped them respect diversity. It may require some encouragement from their parents and teachers, but our teens are capable of seeing the human in each of their peers and using that sense of humanity to build a loving and supportive community.
— Written by Elise, KIT Blog Writer
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.