In the past, teachers had to worry about how to stop bullying in the classroom and on the playground, but now, there is an entire world online where students are free to message, post and stream whatever they want, whenever they want. To prevent bullying on the world wide web, Turlock Unified School District is working to develop a series of videos which address cyberbullying, digital footprint, internet safety and suicide, connecting students to resources and raise awareness of acceptable online behavior.
“When working with student bullying issues, the best intervention is prevention,” said Director of Student Services Gil Ogden. “So, we are teaching students essential skills that they may use online to prevent bullying and remain safe, as most of the issues that we deal with involve students that do not know how to respond when being bullied online or how to access the resources available.”
The District has partnered with Cole Video to create seven videos: three 3-minute informational videos for grades K-6 and grades 7-12 (six total) which focus on the subjects of cyberbullying, digital footprint and cyber safety and security, with content modified for grade level. A 30-second video focusing on suicide prevention will also be developed, which will serve as a public service announcement and raise awareness for students in grades 7-12.
The seven videos, which will be distributed to staff as a resource and placed on the school and District websites, will focus on providing essential skills online, said Ogden, such as a secure digital footprint and how to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources online. For students who may be struggling with loneliness, depression or despair, the 30-second suicide prevention video will help to connect them with one of Turlock’s many resources and let them know they are not alone, Ogden added.
“The hope is that they take away the understanding that what they do online does not go away, and they need to be careful with what the put on social media,” he said. “What they do online which may seem okay might have significant consequences in the future.”
According to BullyingStatistics.org, over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying. More than one in three young people have experienced cyberthreats online, and over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the internet.
Ogden said that within TUSD, cyberbullying continues to be an ongoing issue with students. The District has also seen an increase in students posting “inappropriate” things online, which has caused most of its current issues, he said.
“It appears that the behavior is more to shock and impress other students,” said Ogden. “Some students need to tone down their online presence and be careful what they say or post.”
Ogden hopes that through the video series, the District is able to prevent this type of behavior through education, teaching appropriate social media skills.
“Remember, many of these students just started going online and interacting on social media. There were no rules upfront. It’s like going out and driving a car without any training,” said Ogden.
BullyingStatistics.org also reports that three million kids per month are absent from school due to cyberbullying, and 20 percent of those who are bullied online contemplate suicide. One in 10 actually attempt it. The Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” depicts the story of a teenage girl who is cyberbullied and singled out at her high school, resulting in her suicide. Because of the graphic nature of the show, many school districts throughout the country have either banned the series, or reached out to students whom the show may have affected.
TUSD sent a flyer to parents regarding the show’s storyline, ensuring them that there is available staff within the District who can provide counseling or make referrals to outside agencies for students.
“It is important to emphasize that anything coming out of Hollywood is fiction,” said Ogden. “They do a great job of making it look real, especially to teens.”
The suicide prevention video will refer students to counseling services or other resources outside of the District, and along with the other six videos will most likely star some of TUSD’s own students. While the videos are still in the scripting process, videos developed by TUSD in the past have always included students in the creation process and as actors.
“The suicide video will be more about connecting with people and awareness that each student is not isolated and that we really do care for them. Sometimes, with all the information overload, kids today just get lost. We want them to know that it is okay, and that many of us have been in the same place in life and we can help,” said Ogden. “As you know, we have more of an impact if the students from Turlock are in the videos. Kids see their friends in the videos and they can relate to them and make the connection.”
In today’s age, Ogden hopes that the videos will make a difference in how TUSD students behave and treat each other online.
“It starts by making the difference with one person, just one,” he said. “If the videos prevented one person from being bullied online or one student from contemplating suicide, then it worked.”