Needham responds to state anti-bullying legislation with innovative strategies for cyberbullying prevention and intervention
Needham Youth Services, Massachusetts
The town of Needham, Massachusetts, has long been proactive in educating youth about online safety and cyberbullying, but the passing of stringent anti-bullying legislation in May 2010 heightened the town’s attention to this issue. The new legislation requires schools to address cyberbullying when it impacts the victim at school or disrupts the school environment. This not only increased the pressure on schools to bolster prevention programming, it also encouraged them to improve their strategies for intervening in cyberbullying situations.
Needham’s comprehensive bullying prevention strategy includes social emotional learning (SEL) curriculum and peer leadership programming. Specific elements address online behaviors; for example, the locally designed Safe Surf curriculum teaches about online safety and the complex nature of “cyber-friendships,” and powerful student-produced video vignettes of realistic cyberbullying situations promote discussion of cyberbullying and the consequences it can have on teens’ self-esteem, friendships, school engagement, and mental and physical health. As Needham High School Assistant Principal Jonathan Bourn explains, “Kids could relate to the videos because it was someone in their halls sharing stories that, even if they were fictitious, weren’t far from the truth.”
An additional community component includes parent workshops, print materials, and a month-long Needham Unplugged event that challenges parents to think about the role of electronics among youth in the community and within their families.
When bullying incidents in Needham occur, the schools refer students who bully to the Bullying Intervention Program run by Needham Youth Services. “The program came about because the laws changed in Massachusetts, and we knew that more kids were going to be identified for this sort of bullying behavior,” says Jon Mattleman, director of Needham Youth Services. The 10-session program consists of a personalized, counseling-based approach in three areas: assessment of the problem, education on the definition and consequences of bullying, and skill-building to improve decision-making and coping strategies.
Student-reported data* shows a 2 % decline in cyberbullying from 2008 to 2012 among Needham high school students, compared with a 5% increase in the region surrounding Needham. Furthermore, youth who completed the Bullying Intervention Program report that they have a new understanding about what situations constitute cyberbullying and that they will think more carefully before posting anything online. Needham Assistant Principal Allison Coubrough-Argentieri says, “It’s not a punishment . . . it’s really about education and growth.”
*MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey. Conducted by Education Development Center, Inc.,and funded by the MetroWest Health Foundation.