The beginning of the school year brings lots of new things – new clothes, new friends, new schools to attend and new incidents of bullying.
The Washington Post reported (July 16, 2019) that a report filed by the National Center for Education Statistics, that online bullying and texting is the rise among middle and high school students. So, even though incidents of bullying remained steady, in the 2016-2017 school year, there was a 3.5 percent jump in those who were bullied or by text or on line. That was a jump of 15 percent from the 2014-2015 school year.
How do researchers account for the increase in bullying? According to techcrunch.com, the average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10.3 years. Tablets have surged from 26% to 55% usage as kids’ device of choice during car rides. Smartphones trail at 45% (up from 39% in 2012).I have been in restaurants, like many of you, where children, some very young, were using their cellphones and not engaged in any conversation with the adults at the table. Eighty-eight percent (88) of 13-17-year-olds have access to cellphones. Ninety-one (91) percent have access to computers, tablets or cellphones.
More parents are sending their young children to elementary school with a smartphone. The Washington Post reported (October 8, 2019) that the percentage of third-graders who had their own cellphones had “more than doubled from 19 percent in 2013 to 45 percent in 2017 About 50 percent of fourth-graders and 70 percent of fifth graders went to school with a phone in 2017.” Parents believe that giving a child a phone is a safety issue. But research indicates that a child with a phone increases the likelihood that the child will either become a victim of bullying or a bully themselves. As the number of children obtaining a cellphone at earlier and earlier ages, the likelihood of bullying increases unless parents and schools take a responsibility to teach young children the responsibility of having a cellphone.
Who gets bullied? Anyone perceived as being different – too tall, too short, too poor, too rich, too good looking, not good looking enough, too fat, too skinny, being the wrong gender, race or grade level, Bullying leads to depression (the leading cause of suicide) and lower academic achievement. The Washington Post reported that high school campuses in Virginia with more reports of bullying reported lower passing scores on Virginia’s standardized tests. Boys are more bullied in person, while girls are more frequently bullied by text or online. More white students, 17 percent reported being bullied on line, compared with 12 percent of other races.
Where in a school does bullying take place? Forty-two percent say it happens in classrooms. Forty-three percent say it happens in a hallway or stairwell.
What can parents do?
- Your children do not own their cellphone. You do. You always have a right to look at the cellphone. If your child says you don’t explain who pays the bill and stop paying for it. Develop a cellphone use contract with the child outlining their responsibilities. Have them do chores in order to reimburse you for the privilege of having a phone. Include the right to check the phone to check for bullying, cyberbullying, or sexting.
- Ban the use of cellphones at dinnertime. Dinnertime should be family time. Establish a “no electronics policy” at dinnertime including for adults. Discuss the events of the day, politics anything to reestablish family discussions.
- Take away the cellphone at night. Encourage your child to read. Bedtime should not be the time for texting or calling.
- Limit use while doing homework. After homework, is completed to your satisfaction, your child can make phone calls.
What can schools do?
Schools have a responsibility to children and parents but have a larger responsibility to educate. And while parents cite “safety” as a reason for giving their child a phone, there are sufficient phones in school that can be used in cases of emergency. Develop with parents and faculty a phone use contract. Based on the age appropriateness of the children allow their input. After the contract is developed, uniform enforcement by staff, teachers and the administration, is essential. Violation of the contract voids the contract with the abuser. Carrying a cellphone isn’t a right – it’s a responsibility. Part of the educational process is the teaching of responsibility.
Mr. Schargel is an author, consultant and Senior Managing Associate of the School Success Network, an educational consulting organization interested in Improving School Performance and Increasing School Graduates. He is also the author of 12 books on school reform. Visit his website, www.schargel.com for additional material on school reform. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.