Words Can Hurt: Celebrating No Name-Calling Week

By Greg Howard – January 23, 2013

No Name-Calling Week 2013Cyberbullying—a form of bullying driven by hurtful words—is making the old “sticks and stones” nursery rhyme look outdated. Words, in fact, can and do hurt, and that’s why No Name-Calling Week is so important.

No Name-Calling Week brings attention to the problem of name-calling in schools. Schools participating in No Name-Calling Week engage in educational activities to help students understand how cruel words affects others.

We’d like to recognize No Name-Calling Week by providing an example of how words can devastate someone’s life. In December 2012, Florida teenager Jessica Laney took her life after receiving hurtful messages on a popular question-and-answer website.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, people sent messages to Jessica, “a beautiful, slender…soccer player,” that called her “fat.” Others said she was “mean,” and still others claimed that “no one liked her.”

One person wrote, “nobody even cares about you.”

Some people even instructed Jessica to take her life.

“Die,” said one person.

“can you just kill yourself already” was the comment of another.

Apparently, Jessica had received these kinds of messages for months before her death. The taunts may not have been the sole factor in Jessica’s suicide, but considering the severity of the insults and the amount of time involved, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to conclude that they played an important role.

This sad story is proof positive that words can and do hurt. By all accounts, Jessica was an outwardly-happy teenager with a bright future ahead of her. However, she was clearly affected by the relentless name-calling—and perhaps driven over the edge because of this bad behavior.

Please take a moment to think about name-calling in your school this week. Name-calling may seem like an intractable, “kids will be kids” kind of problem, but the loss of students like Jessica Laney makes it clear that name-calling awareness and education efforts are necessary and important.

We encourage you to visit the No Name-Calling Week website at nonamecallingweek.org, which offers a wide variety of downloadable educational resources for students in all grades. Also, we encourage you to take advantage of our resources on anonymous reporting. When students have the option of anonymously reporting name-calling and other forms of bullying, they may come forward and reach out for help when they need it most.

It’s Okay to Tip! Teaching Students about Anonymous Reporting

Encourage students to make an anonymous tip about any problem.When we talk about the CyberBully Hotline, one thing we often tell school leaders is that they can’t address the problems they don’t know about. To us, this is more than just a cleverly-worded statement. We believe that school leaders must keep this idea in mind when installing any anonymous reporting program in their school or district.

While anonymous reporting programs can help schools address bullying, violence, and other tough issues, they work only if students buy in to the program. Students must believe that it is okay to tip before they will feel comfortable providing you with insight into their problems.

How do you encourage students to make reports? Here are five suggestions:

  • Ask students to tip—often! Let’s face it: attention spans can be short, and life moves fast. Without regular reminders about the program, students may forget about it. Periodically remind your students about your anonymous reporting program, and do so in every manner that you can—through morning and afternoon announcements, the student newspaper, teachers mentioning the program in class, and so on. You may also want to invite your students to tell you how they want to be reminded! Soliciting promotional ideas from students, and even having them come up with their own promotions, can help encourage participation and engagement with the program.
  • Communicate all the details. Some kids may doubt that reports are truly anonymous, or hesitate to provide tips out of fear that their peers will somehow find out. To overcome this resistance, give your students all the details about your program. Explain who sees the reports, how the information will be used to address problems, and what systems are in place to keep identities anonymous and information confidential. Also, candidly answer any questions about the program that may arise. Showing students that your program is well-constructed, thorough, and well-managed will help build confidence and trust.
  • Help them envision the consequences—good and bad. Peer pressure can work against a young person who wants to make an anonymous report. Fear of being perceived as a “snitch” or a “tattletale” will keep many from reporting. Students may also fail to report because they feel silly or awkward. For example, a student may be hesitant to make a report on a classmate who said they were “just joking” about blowing up the school; they may fear that administrators will be annoyed or see such a report as a waste of time. Tell students that making an anonymous report can help relieve their problems, while failing to report might make their problems worse or hurt others.
  • Remind them that you’re never too busy to help. Students may not have the self-esteem to believe that their problems are worth anyone’s time, or they may feel guilty about asking school leaders to make time for their concerns. Remind students that you will address all reports and tell students that you treat every report as important.
  • Encourage them to trust their feelings. A student may feel uncomfortable about the behavior of a peer or a school official but decide their concerns aren’t big enough or bad enough to report. For instance, a student may feel disturbed by a violent drawing that a socially-awkward classmate has created, but after seeing the drawing, they might deal with the discomfort by telling themselves that the student probably isn’t a threat. Alternatively, a student may receive an unwanted social advance from a classmate or school official, but then afterwards tell themselves that their reaction was somehow wrong. Tell students that if they are feeling weird, uncomfortable, or concerned about something, they should make a report. Remind students that it’s better to be safe than sorry, and invite them to make tips on all situations where they feel unsafe or uncomfortable.

Do you have ideas on how to encourage students to provide tips? We’d love to see your suggestions in the comments!

Promoting an Anonymous Reporting Program: Building Awareness

Bayless School District superintendent Ron Tucker posts a sticker on one of his district's school buses to promote the CyberBully Hotline program to students.

Bayless School District superintendent Ron Tucker posts a sticker on one of his district's school buses to promote the CyberBully Hotline program to students.

Promotion is one of the most important aspects of implementation when it comes to anonymous reporting programs. Schools must continually make sure that students and parents know about their program. Two important methods of accomplishing this goal are to use awareness materials in the places where students might experience bullying and to use kickoff meetings to introduce the program.

Awareness materials are essential in helping people understand, remember, and utilize an anonymous reporting program. Since we introduced the CyberBully Hotline program, we’ve provided schools with customized promotional posters to use in high-traffic areas of a school, wallet cards, and more. We also partner with schools to provide them with other awareness materials that they may need.

Our partnership with the Bayless School District in St. Louis is a perfect example of how we’ve worked with a school district to create new awareness materials. As we wrote about in our Hardin, TX and Wentzville, MO case studies, the CyberBully Hotline has been successfully used by several schools to address school bus bullying. Our friends at the Bayless School District were aware that bullying could happen on the bus and wanted on-bus materials to promote the CyberBully Hotline program. To help them, we created some customized stickers that could be posted on the interior of each bus.

As you can see in the picture, Bayless superintendent Ron Tucker decided to post stickers in the middle of each bus, where they could be easily seen by students.

Mr. Tucker told us that parents want to know that school leaders are doing something to address bullying. “Parents like the fact that we’re making it easy for their kids to report things,” Mr. Tucker said of the CyberBully Hotline.

Another important part of building awareness is to use kickoff meetings to introduce the program. Good kickoff meetings give parents and students all the details about how an anonymous program works and encourages both to make reports about any concern.

Again, our friends at the Bayless School District are thought leaders in this regard. Mr. Tucker told us that his district was about to launch an Olweus program to assist with bullying prevention. To let parents know about both the Olweus program and the CyberBully Hotline program, the district invited parents to attend a kickoff meeting to introduce both.

Considering that the CyberBully Hotline program integrates well with bullying prevention programs like Olweus, introducing both programs in the same kickoff meeting was a good decision.

Besides awareness materials and kickoff meetings, there are many ways to promote an anonymous reporting program. Our free upcoming webinar on implementing anonymous reporting programs is designed to provide school administrators with best practice guidelines on how to install, promote, and manage an anonymous reporting program. Click here to register for your free seat.

Teen Cutting and Self-Injury Prank: What Adults Need To Know

By Greg Howard – January 9, 2013

Internet photo of teen singer Justin Bieber.

Teen singer Justin Bieber.

As a subject of discussion, teen cutting and self-injury is no laughing matter. That’s why a recent internet prank was so appalling, and why school counselors and administrators should take note of it.

The bizarre story began with the recent release of pictures showing teen singer Justin Bieber apparently smoking marijuana. In response, someone left an anonymous posting on an infamous message board website that put the aforementioned prank into motion.

“Lets start a cut yourself for bieber campaign,” the person wrote. “Tweet a bunch of pics of people cutting themselves and claim we did it because bieber was smoking weed. See if we can get some little girls to cut themselves.”

Apparently, the idea was to encourage Bieber fans to self-injure as a means of showing the singer how disappointed they were about his alleged marijuana use.

The posting was eventually deleted, but not before pranksters took to Twitter and started posting graphic images depicting cut flesh. Many photos were thought to be fake, but some are feared to be real images from young Bieber fans responding to the prank. Furthermore, because of the prank, the Twitter hashtag #cut4bieber became the top trending topic on Twitter in the U.S. According to social analytics site Topsy, the hashtag was used almost 30,000 times in the span of twelve hours.

Cutting and self-injury behaviors are common among teens who are struggling with emotional or mental distress. Such behaviors are often not life-threatening, as most teens do not intend to take their lives when they self-injure; many teens use cutting and other forms of self-harm as a means of dealing with anxiety or bad feelings. However, if taken too far, self-injury can result in hospitalization or death.

With this in mind, school administrators and counselors should reflect on their own efforts to prevent incidents of self-harm. As this prank demonstrates, you can’t possibly predict the events that may trigger a teen to self-injure. Moreover, since self-injury can take place on campus, it’s an issue that school leaders must be comfortable addressing.

Our upcoming webinar on teen cutting and self-injury behaviors will help school leaders understand the phenomenon of self-harm among young people. We encourage all school administrators who need the latest information on cutting and self-injury to attend.

Click here to sign up for the webinar.