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Bullying in 2012: Fighting Fear With Facts

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You hear about it at the water cooler, read about it in the paper, and might have even experienced it in your own family. Concern over bullying is a growing trend that worries parents and educators alike, perhaps because today bullying happens not only at school but also anywhere that youth communicate online, even at home. But what do we do about it, and whose responsibility is it to protect children and teens?

Today, there is little in the way of proven research on how to prevent online bullying. As a researcher, I know that the most effective way to deal with challenges young people face on social networks is to first fully understand the issue from the perspectives of those concerned -- educators, parents, and teens themselves.

Newly armed with a grant funded by Facebook, our research team at Education Development Center (EDC) hopes to accomplish that goal.

Earlier this week, Facebook named recipients of $200,000 in Digital Citizenship Research Grants. Our team is one of four in the United States, Canada and Europe that will explore issues that help parents, educators, and social networking sites address bullying, specifically, and the notion of digital citizenship at large.

As part of our grant, EDC will focus on online bullying prevention, conducting research in approximately 25 school districts in Massachusetts currently formulating and implementing state-mandated bullying prevention efforts. Ultimately, we want to provide strong recommendations for bullying prevention that can inform the strategies of school districts across the country.

EDC will start off by doing a careful analysis of school policies and programs that aim to prevent online bullying and to protect students when it occurs. We will talk to school leaders to find out what they're doing to educate students and school staff, how they're responding to incidents, and what steps they are taking to create safer school environments that discourage all forms of bullying.

Once we have a comprehensive view of what educators are doing, we'll take it a step further, talking to parents and teens about the issue. We'll ask them whether schools are doing enough and what could strengthen their efforts. We'll also find out what they think of steps being taken by social networking sites, and what could be done to increase collaborations between family, school, and online efforts.

Our work will synthesize information from schools, parents, and youth to generate recommendations for enhancing school-based and online bullying prevention strategies.

Ultimately, online safety is a responsibility shared by parents, teachers, teens, policy makers and the online industry. We are thrilled to see companies like Facebook step up to the opportunity to better understand these issues.

We are optimistic that our research can strengthen anti-bullying education and promote the positive use of social media among youth.