Educational Equity at FHI 360 has been addressing teasing and bullying behavior in young children since the mid-1990s. Quit it!, our evidence-based school-wide model to address teasing and bullying in grades K–3, has successfully reduced this behavior in urban and suburban schools in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York by over 35 percent. Quit It! A Teacher’s Guide on Teasing and Bullying for Use with Students in Grades K–3 is listed in the UNESCO compendium of good practices in human rights education in the school system, including citizenship education and education for mutual respect and understanding. The project on Starting Early to Address Cyberbullying is being funded by the Free to Be Foundation.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, an opportunity to take action about a problem that, unfortunately, is becoming ever more pervasive and ever more lethal. Statistics tells us a child somewhere is bullied every seven minutes, 85 percent of the time there is no intervention of any kind, and an estimated 160,000 children miss school each day because of bullying. The recent cases of teens being driven to suicide because they were bullied online by classmates are chilling reminders that much more needs to be done.
Where does it all begin? Research we conducted found that teasing and bullying are part of the fabric of daily life for students as early as kindergarten through grade three. It is during these early years that we must start to address the problem before it takes root and grows into even more pernicious behavior.
As the use of cell phones, iPads, and other digital devices become part of the daily lives of young children, elementary school is the time for children to gain understanding of what it means to become a good Internet citizen. Even though young children may physically know how to move a mouse, manipulate an iPad, click on a game icon, or swiftly move though photos on a smart phone, this does not mean that they are prepared to use such devices.
This is where parents and teachers come in. Research has shown that parents’ attitudes toward digital devices and use of social media play a primary role in influencing how children use these devices and the Internet. A recent position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) states that with guidance, the various new technology tools can be harnessed for learning and development; without guidance, usage can be inappropriate or interfere with learning and development.
Even if children are not yet actively using the Internet, it is important to help them develop life skills and to establish principles that will help them deal with the cyberworld in which they are growing up. The shift to new media and the need for digital literacy that encompasses both technology and media literacy will continue to shape the world of young children. We all know how important it is to teach our children right from wrong, and online behavior is no exception. As we have seen in recent news, all too soon, cyberbullying can become a negative side effect of being able to reach so many with just one phone call, text message, or website posting. We can change the statistics. As they say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”