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Last week, I attended a conference at McGill that was organized by “Define the Line”, a research program based at McGill University and directed by Dr. Shaheen Shariff, an international expert who has pioneered research on cyberbullying over the last decade.  The panel of speakers consisted of Honourable Senator Mobina Jaffer, Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, Dr. Shariff and her team of graduate students, law professors,  and President and CEO of Kids’ Help Phone.  The main focus of the conference was to discuss the challenges of cyberbullying and how we must foster digital citizenship in youth from a young age. Below is a recap of the main conference highlights and issues raised:

– What is digital citizenship?  The ability to navigate and use the internet, specifically social media, in a responsible way.

– We have a responsibility to take driving lessons and learn to drive before we buy a car. The same rules should apply for allowing our children to use technology devices. Children (and adults!) need to be educated on how to use these devices in a safe and responsible way.

– Dr. Shariff refers to youth as “digital natives”, children growing up immersed in digital media and  at times are  having difficulty differentiating between harmless jokes and teasing online and entertainment that has legal consequences.

– Should cyberbullying be a criminal offense? Legal and education communities must come together and look at this issue and determine what is in the best for all parties involved with cyberbullying.

– Should suspending a child from school or putting young people in jail be the answer to all cyberbullying cases? Dr. Shariff and other education would argue that it should not be the answer. Our goal is to engage in restorative justice, to reintegrate the perpetrator back into the community and provide teachable moments. We need to engage in dialogue with these children and talk about the severity of their actions and educate them on cyberbullying.

Along the lines of this important topic and related issues, February 19th, 2014 is “Anti Bullying Day: Stand up, Be a Friend” at Akiva.  We will be continuing the important discussion on cyberbullying in our older grades on this day and take opportunities throughout the year to educate our students on digital citizenship and responsibilities of Internet use.

To learn more about more about cyberbullying, digital citizenship and Define the Line program, please refer online at:
http://definetheline.ca/dtl/
And for more information on parent and youth guides on Cyberbullying from the Senate of Canada ( PDF files), please refer to the below links:

http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/411/ridr/rep/CyberBullyingYouthGuide-e.pdf
http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/411/ridr/rep/CyberBullyingParentGuide-e.pdf