Internet Safety Education: Early Intervention Can Prevent Campus Tragedies

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Tim Keenan is Senior Vice President for Keenan & Associates, a leading insurance and risk management consultant based in Torrance, California. Tim leads the Community Colleges Practice for Keenan and has more than 25 years of experience working with California public education institutions. You can reach him at tkeenan2@keenan.com.

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Tim Keenan, Senior Vice President, Keenan & Associates, Torrance, California
Abstract: 

As recent incidents of suicide on college campuses related to online harassment show, cyberbullying is not an issue limited to elementary, middle and high school grades. To the extent that the impacts of teenage harassment can sometimes emerge when youth reach college age, it is a legitimate higher education concern. We believe there is a role for community colleges in advocating this issue. One possibility for advocacy is for community colleges to reach out to local grades 6-12 public schools to support anti-bullying campaigns and safety education programs. Social media and widespread access to computers and Internet-enabled mobile devices are such new technological developments, it has been difficult for educational institutions to stay ahead of the risks, both to students and the institutions. Cooperative Internet safety education programs and local advocacy can help minimize the potential risks and help create a “culture of safety.”

Article: 

With the explosion of social media sites and instantaneous communication technologies, bullying and harassment is, sadly, no longer confined to the schoolyard. Social media has an enormous effect on the lives of young people who often share pieces of their life with their social networking friends that they normally would not bring up during face to face conversations. As recent incidents of suicide on college campuses related to online harassment show, this is not an issue limited to elementary, middle and high school grades. To the extent that the impacts of teenage harassment can sometimes emerge when youth reach college age, it is a legitimate higher education concern.

While college is not the ideal time to educate students on Internet safety, we believe there is a role for community colleges in advocating this issue. One possibility for advocacy is for community colleges to reach out to local grades 6-12 public schools to support anti-bullying campaigns. Besides providing an important public service, the effort could also raise the college's visibility at those schools, and lead to a sustained relationship.

Today, the Internet plays an important part of young peoples’ lives, though the boundaries between real life and virtual life are blurry. It’s important to teach children proactively about the serious risks of social media and the long term consequences of their online behaviors. However, this must occur with more than a written policy. This requires a coordinated effort of teaching students, teachers and parents about the inherent dangers of social media.

Certainly, the time to intervene with preventive measures is in the early grades, well before students begin their college careers. Internet safety education is an essential need to protect against the dangers that social media, online and mobile networking resources pose to children and young adults. A study conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center showed that victims of cyberbullying were nearly twice as likely to have attempted suicide as youth who had not experienced cyberbullying.[1]

The magnitude of the problem was given greater emphasis as President Barack Obama held a White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in March. During the conference, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called for the creation of a “culture of safety.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called the problem a “silent epidemic” that can go beyond simple bullying and any such actions involving race, religion, or sexual orientation may rise to the level of a federal crime.

As a result of tragic cyberbullying incidents around the nation, the issue could put schools and colleges in legal jeopardy. Social media and widespread access to computers and Internet-enabled mobile devices are such new technological developments, it has been difficult for educational institutions to stay ahead of the risks, both to students and the institutions.

To help stem the epidemic of cyberbullying in our schools and colleges, Keenan & Associates has made Internet safety curriculum available for school districts.

Educational institutions need to update their bullying and harassment policies to address 21st Century social media risks and explicitly identify cyberbullying as an unacceptable behavior. In addition, schools should address both the behaviors that occur on school grounds and those that utilize school-owned resources. Through cooperative Internet safety education programs such as these and local advocacy, schools, colleges, students and parents can help minimize the potential risks and help create a true ‘culture of safety’ in and beyond the campus.





[1] Hinduja, Sameer and Patchin, Justin W., Cyberbullying and Suicide Cyberbullying Research Summary http://www.cyberbullying.us/cyberbullying_and_suicide_research_fact_sheet.pdf, 2010.