Communication is the key to protecting students.
As leaders, educators and parents, we are tasked with teaching and guiding students to grow socially and emotionally. Before the Internet and social media, the wisdom of experience was more easily applied from one generation to the next.
That has changed with digital communication. While it has benefits, there’s also more secretive and harmful elements that create barriers between us and our students such as cyberbullying.
How teens communicate today.
Everyday life is now deeply intertwined with digital technologies, especially for teens. According to the Pew Research Center, 95% of teens have access to a smartphone and 45% say that they are online almost constantly.
And six years ago, Common Sense found in a survey of over 1,000 teens that students preferred face-to-face communication over any other form of communication. Yet now, the same survey found that 35% preferred to interact with their friends through texting, 16% on social media and 10% through video chatting. Less than one third choose to interact face-to-face.
Communication has a major impact on school culture.
But how does this rapid shift to digital communication affect your school’s culture?
There are many positives to digital communication. It is now where relationships are developed, maintained, and reinforced, allowing for interactions unimaginable only a few years ago. Yet it can also devolve into cyberbullying, rumor spreading, peer pressure and digital ostracism only adding to the growing mental and emotional health epidemic that students face today.
Last year, 15.5% of high school students were cyberbullied (CDC, 2017), and 90% of teens who reported being cyberbullied also reported being bullied offline. And the effects of this negative communication is substantial:
- Approximately 5.4 million students skip school each year due to bullying or cyberbullying (Patchin & Hinduja, 2016).
- Students who experienced bullying were at higher risk for suicide, depression, antisocial personality disorder and panic disorders (JAMA Psychiatry. 2013).
- 75% of school shootings have been linked to harassment and bullying (Secret Service Study).
There is hope.
A 2018 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 31% of teens believe social media has a positive impact because it connects friends and family, helps them find news and relevant information, allows them to meet others with similar interests, keeps them entertained and upbeat, allows for self-expression, allows them to support others, and helps them learn new things.
School leaders must meet students where they are, in the various channels of communication within their school community to enable healthy communication and encourage positive self-expression. Taught in the right way, communication becomes the key to cultivating a school culture of respect and safety.
School leaders - teachers and students are following you.
Students learn acceptable social behavior by modeling the behavior of adults and those closest to them. They learn the boundaries of acceptable and respectful communication through the social norms practiced in their immediate communities.
In the U.S., students spend half the year in school and are required to receive approximately 1,000 hours of instructional time per year. Thus school becomes one of the most important communities in a child’s life.
If our leaders and teachers can interact with students in their digital environment through a safe social network, they can encourage and reinforce positive, kind, respectful and empathetic communication. With constant engagement, educators can shift communication norms in their schools leading to a more trusting, safe learning environment.
Building school culture through communication is a process that requires some key steps to succeed:
- Create a safe, closed communication channel using community-based communication technology
- Incorporate an opt-out system of communication
- Teach and practice digital citizenship in school
- Establish accountability where behaviors are “seeable”
- Infuse positivity in communication
- Recognize and reward positive behavior and interactions
- Practice restorative discipline and communication
How we envision the future.
At Bridgit, we believe that the statistics cited above are aptly reflective of our current digital communication model that undermines any hope of promoting healthy, respectful, and fulfilling interaction. Instead, our digital culture relies mostly on disrespect, denigration, and exclusion.
In today’s climate, social amenities that result from two-way conversation—active listening, striving to understand a different point of view, sharing insights, resolution through collaboration—are progressively falling by the wayside.
School leaders must take the responsibility of ensuring that future generations are taught to embrace the philosophy and practices of the dialogue, the collaborative, and the restorative. Only then can our culture continue its high resolve for a continually stoked democracy, providing its fires of freedom and success for all.