The Sweet Seduction of the Tweet by Erika Guy, Dean of Students
Having the benefit of a “long view” in terms of years on the job, I am often asked by graduates, by current parents and students, and even by members of my own family: "We hear so much about bullying these days, are kids any worse/better toward each other than they were years ago?" While one could argue that the prevailing Lord of the Flies mentality of generations gone by created a harsher climate in which to grow up, the process of adolescent psychological development has not changed very much over the years. Adolescents still need to find ways to carve out an identity for themselves and to develop independence if they aspire to healthy adulthood. This process is not often pretty. Along the way, they test out these developing skills in a variety of ways. Too often, failed attempts to establish one’s identity or develop a level of independence create stress in relationships (those between parent and child and those between peers). Adolescents who struggle the most with these developmental tasks are often those who wrestle mightily to build healthy relationships with others. These individuals are the ones who most often intentionally or unintentionally treat others poorly. These kids have always been there, but in 2012 the tools with which they operate have gotten much better.
If I was being bullied or harassed (and these ARE two different things) while at elementary school in Fort Lee, N.J., I knew that once I got home, I’d be safe. If my nemesis wanted to torture me after school hours, s/he would have to phone my house and speak with one of my parents first. Few bullies back then were so bold. For the bullied in 2012 there is no refuge. The very devices that are the weapons of choice for bullies, are carried into the homes, the bedrooms and even the beds of the victims. In a recent forum at Nobles, psychologist JoAnn Deak cited the hours between midnight and 6 a.m. as the most active bullying time.
Our students are told almost daily that their opinion matters. Whether it is their vote for the next "American Idol," their posted comment on a YouTube video made by a 14-year-old Canadian girl who was bullied into killing herself, a tweet from a sophomore to 30 followers offering an opinion about a performance in a Nobles Assembly, or their take on another student via FormSpring—the culture of judgment is deep and wide and more public than it has ever been. It is at once empowering and terrifying. So what are adults/schools to do? We need to do what we have always done: educate, confront, intervene, assess and correct.
In the weeks before winter break all students in the Upper School will be taking an anonymous survey to determine the culture of safety at Nobles. In collaboration with the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Nobles has created a survey that will be a part of a larger initiative to assess the relative safety of our climate. This Harvard “Making Caring Common Initiative” will allow us to determine where we stand relative to other schools in the Commonwealth. Our goal is to assess, note areas of concern and address those in a swift and deliberate way. While we cannot control the far reaching effects of a social media dependent culture, we aspire to do what we can within our walls to make sure that all of our students feel safe. We will keep you posted on the results of that process in early 2013.
Happy holidays to all and thanks for reading.