Bullying has taken on a new form, moving from the traditional in-person act into the digital sphere with cyberbullying. According to DoSomething.org, girls are twice as likely to be victims and perpetrators of online bullying than boys.
Given these trends, how are our teachers, parents, and experts using new techniques to address the problem? Are they focusing on the prevalence of bullying among females? And how are young women themselves involved in addressing these issues? Over 1,000 educators, administrators, and experts from across the country gathered to discuss these issues at the annual Girl Bullying and Empowerment Conference, part of the Innovative Schools Summit, in Las Vegas on June 27-30. I presented at the event with After School Vice President Jeff Collins.
As a victim of bullying myself, I was excited to attend. The conference held promise that novel ideas would be introduced and discussed, and that adults would come together with teenage girls to try to understand the root causes of the problem.
Over the course of the conference, several key themes emerged for me:
- Educators care. Attendees ranged from principals to teachers to school safety resource officers. These adults, are tasked not just with educating but also with providing students a safe and healthy environment. These participants listened carefully and shared useful insights, all so that they could take back to their schools and communities actionable information to help alleviate bullying.
- Student involvement needs to increase. If we don’t listen closely to the voices of teens who face these issues everyday, then how are we going to be in a position to help? Involving students in all levels of this issue — including at conferences like this — is an important and necessary component of addressing the problem of bullying.
- Collaboration is key. If educators, companies, law enforcement and field experts come together, progress can be made on shared goals. Educators should reach out to companies, and companies should openly share with educators. It takes a village to make headway on issues like cyberbullying and online threats. Greater cross-sectoral sharing is the way to construct that village.
Although the conference was useful in many ways, and I applaud the organizers for tackling this issue, I felt that it could have been strengthened in some respects. In the spirit of collaboration, helping make continued progress on empowering girls and reducing bullying, I’ll offer some constructive criticism and suggestions.
To begin, the conference could have included more women who had experienced bullying as speakers/panelists. Many of the panels were led by men and there, as far as I could tell, were few women in attendance who had either faced bullying (digital or “in real life”) or bullied others. Based on the conference’s focus — girl bullying and empowerment — young women should have been included. Discussion between young girls and the adults concerned with these issues would have helped the adults in the room understand better what young people are dealing with each day, and then work as a group to begin to build strategies suited for our digital world.
I also felt that the conference also would have benefitted from more focus on the empowerment portion. It’s very easy to sensationalize the bad and brush aside the good that is happening — not only in the real world but also online. It’s important to highlight when students are behaving well online and encourage those actions so that others can take inspiration from them and conduct themselves in a similar manner.
Greater focus on going beyond the term “girls” would have helped elevate the conference from good to great. “Girls” presumably includes young women of different societal class, ethnicities, religions or sexual orientations. Not all teen girls are alike and neither are the bullying experiences that each subset faces. Yet, there was only one session that explored the issues faced by some of these subsets. The well-attended and powerful session, titled “My name is not B…Relational Aggression Solutions with a Focus on African American and Latino Girls,” tackled the unique bullying issues that African American and Latina teens face whether it’s from their fellow peers or from adult educators. I’d wished the session (and other sessions) could have expanded to talk about other groups, such as Muslim girls. Every person’s experience is different, and more attention is needed to guide teens of all types through this period of growth in their lives.
Another critique is that the conference could have built in additional time for discussion. Most sessions at this conference were speaker-to-audience presentations, with little time left for the kind of interactive discussion that is needed when working on complex, nuanced problems like bullying.
Finally, it would have been beneficial to have the inclusion of more digital and social media representatives. Many speakers discussed or touched on societal trends related to the internet and mobile technologies — usually from a very critical, wary perspective. The addition of teen perspectives and the views of digital companies would have enhanced discussion of these issues and sown the seeds of future collaboration.
For this reason, our company After School participated, leading a breakout session on “Threats, Bullying, and Anonymity: An Open Social Media Discussion with After School.” During the session, we were able to describe how we work to prevent bullying and encourage positivity. We also were able to answer questions and address concerns of the teachers, counselors, and school resource officers in attendance. The session helped improve understanding of how After School functions and the purpose of the app and helped us meet educators who we plan to collaborate with in the future.
On behalf of After School, thank you to the Girls Bullying and Empowerment Conference for inviting us to participate and lead a session, and to those who attended our session and asked probing questions and provided constructive criticism on how to make our app a better place for high school students.
This post was written by After School Outreach Manager Hani Khan.