The 3 Rules Of How To Criticise Your Child’s Teacher Online

If you’re reading this post, the chances are you’re a parent, with a child or children who attend school and if you’re not, then you probably know someone who is. If you are a teacher, you may wonder why we are publishing this article - please read on

Online BullyingRarely, these days, does a week go by, when we don’t hear coverage on the news about cases of online bullying. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this phenomenon, tagged as ‘cyberbullying’, is mainly aimed at children, such as the tragic story of 14 year old Megan Evans, from Millford Haven, who, in February 2017, was driven to take her own life, following a consistent campaign of cyber-bullying on the social media site Snapchat.

Such stories are particularly heart breaking when they involve children. Equally concerning though is the increase with which teachers are on the receiving end of similar bullying and abuse and often from the parents of the children they teach.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) receives hundreds of calls every week from teachers who are being ‘cyberbullied’ The majority of such complaints are about parents using websites and social media, in particular, to attack those they entrust with their childrens’ education.

This week, the media has emphasised the problem of inappropriate online posts by singling out some of the top web and social media sites for failing to do enough to prevent illegal and hateful content being shared online.

Criticising Online Has Become Too Easy
We live in a world where anyone can instantly vent their emotions, positive or negative, to an ever-attentive online audience and it seems that the louder we shout the bigger the audience that can be reached. An angry tweet or Facebook post, from a disgruntled parent, aimed at a teacher, could potentially go viral within minutes of being shared, without that teacher being aware that their reputation is being dismantled online while they sleep.

Remember the days of pre-social media and even before email, when you had to write a letter? If you had a complaint, you would invariably put it in writing or visit the school in question, sitting down face-to-face with your son or daughter’s teacher and thrash out your concerns in a reasonably civilised manner. Only the most abrupt and confident of disgruntled parents would resort to name calling or verbal abuse, when sitting in the same room as the person they had issue with. Much of what is posted on social media today would rarely be said if that person was face-to-face with their intended target.

Criticising Teachers Online Affects Your Children
As long ago as 2009, research from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) showed that 63% of teachers who had suffered cyberbullying personally said they had received unwelcome emails. Over a quarter had had offensive messages posted about them on social networking sites such as Facebook and 28% described being sent unwelcome text messages.

Online Teacher BullyingIn 2016 More than half of the 1,188 head teachers who replied to a survey by schools management service, The Key, said that parents' online behaviour was a problem. 15% of the heads themselves, mentioned that they had suffered from negative behaviour from parents. More than half of heads surveyed said that parents’ online behaviour was a concern.

The NASUWT teacher’s union has described the online bullying of teachers by parents and pupils as a ‘growing trend’. It’s important to understand how the result of this behaviour can affect the children of those parents who are taking to social media to vent their frustrations. Teachers are experiencing anxiety and depression, paranoia, often having to take anti-depressants. The result of these measures means that teachers are becoming worn down and in some cases, unable to do their jobs to the best of their ability. This of course has a negative impact on the children they teach. The more the parents persist with their online attacks, the less effective an education their children receive. In short, such online abuse is self-defeating in the long run.

How To Criticise A Teacher Online
There is one over-riding rule, when it comes to criticising a teacher online and especially in public and that is DON’T! Hold your horses, count to 10, whatever you do but resist the all too easy temptation to fire off a tweet or a Facebook post. Let’s face it, when you use social media in such a way you are hiding behind your very own Facebook wall. The person your criticism is aimed at cannot defend themselves, at least not adequately. This approach is itself a form of bullying - is that how you want to come across?

The 3 Rules Of How To Criticise Your Child’s Teacher Online

Rule 1. Stop and consider what you want to achieve from your criticism.
Are you angry and your criticism is simply a way to vent your frustration? Aside from momentarily getting the anger off your chest and most likely upsetting the person the criticism is aimed at, what will your comment achieve? Will it improve the situation you’re unhappy with? Most forms of criticism, unless constructive, can be categorised as aggressive behaviour. The definition of aggressive behaviour is a personal attack, verbal or physical on another person. This type of behaviour rarely gains the support of others, directly involved or those who observe the attack (other online viewers).

Rule 2. Consider the impact your criticism may have on your victim.
That late night, emotional tweet or post-beer Facebook post takes only seconds to construct then share but its impact on the person it’s intended for can last a lifetime. One of the earliest and probably most famous ‘victims’ of online abuse, goes back to the administration of former US president Bill Clinton. Monica Lewinski, who Clinton finally admitted to having relations with, talked about the severe suicidal tendencies she experienced in the aftermath of her affair and the torrent of online abuse she received; her mother would stand in the bathroom whilst Lewinski showered, to make sure she didn’t act on her feelings. Why does online humiliation have such an impact though?

Shame and guilt (perceived or real) are 2 of our core emotions, which we’ll do almost anything to avoid experiencing. These emotions mean that we have failed to live up to our own moral standards. One outcome, when we’re criticised publicly, is that we become concerned that others will think we’re a bad person, this can have a devastating impact on some people, creating a spiralling down of their own self-worth. Social media and its potential reach, simply exacerbates this feeling of poor self-worth. Is your criticism worth the potential consequences that it may cause?

Rule 3. Criticise the action not the person
Chances are that it’s rarely the person that you’re unhappy with. More likely, it’s a behaviour or an action you believe they have taken that is the cause of your anger – focus on that action or behaviour only. Teachers are people, sometimes they get things wrong, it’s human nature. To criticise someone’s character (“you are stupid, an idiot, an imbecile) implies that you know this person well enough to suggest these are this person’s permanent character traits. If this were true then it’s unlikely that this person would ever have become qualified as a teacher. Identify the specific behaviour or action you’re unhappy with and if you must criticise online, stick to that issue. When you complain about an action or a behaviour then facts can be assessed to determine whether the criticism is warranted or not. When you attack someone’s character, then it is far more difficult for you or anyone else to justify your actions. It is unsurprising therefore, that people who display regular patterns of aggressive behaviour, have few real friends or supporters.

The University of Oxford’s ‘Practical Ethics’ publication, which draws on research from students and researchers, based at the Philosophy Faculty, also explains an irony in the behaviour of people who attack others online. ‘The people who feel the most insecure about a certain character attribute (e.g., being honest) are also the ones prone to call out other people on it, this is known as self-completion theory. Such public criticism is a symbolic act that achieves self-completion and makes people feel secure about themselves.

There will obviously be occasions when you have legitimate causes for complaint about the quality of the teaching your child is receiving. Teaching is no more a perfect science than any other form of vocation – people make mistakes, they make poor decisions, they are fallible. How about you, can you boast a blemish free life, personally or occupationally?

It is your right to criticise your child’s educators, when you feel the quality of teaching or care falls short of the expected standards. You should do so however, with the intention of improving that quality of education and care. If you criticise simply to put someone else down, then you lower yourself to the level of the playground bully.

We would like to thank Steve Phillip of Linked2Success for this article. Steve will be hosting our Digital Reputation webinar in July - to find out more and register, click here.

If you would like to share your thoughts or experiences with other teachers, please use the comments section below

Written by Steve Phillip on May 04, 2017 12:29

Social Media and Mental Health

Is the mental health of young people being adversely affected by Social Media?

Social Media Mental HealthKate Winslet has recently been very vocal about how social media is banned in her household. A mother herself, she has openly said that in her opinion, the unhealthy obsession of thinness and the media's idea of beauty leaves her in no doubt that it causes women (and girls especially) to suffer low self esteem and potential mental health issues. Controversially she has also gone further in this argument by stating that parents are losing control and that smart phones should be confiscated off teenagers for good.

She is able to put her money where her mouth is too as she has a clause written into her L'Oreal contract preventing them from airbrushing or retouching her photos. In 2003 she bitterly complained very publicly about how GQ magazine in her words 'reduced the width of her legs by a third' on the front cover of the magazine. She flies the flag for the representation of 'real women' (as she puts it) and it's her opinion that social media has encouraged girls to fashion themselves for the purpose of near strangers to 'like' their pictures.

I share her concerns to an extent. I conducted a survey recently through an online mums group with 4000 users. I really wanted to hear real life stories from parents about whether they agree they are losing a battle against the draw of social media sites and if they felt deep down that it is adversely affecting their teenagers lives.

It's difficult to admit you should be doing something when you're not. All parents know too much online time is never a good thing. The results of my questionnaire reflected this. Nearly all parents agreed that their teens spend far too much time on devices and that any sort of phone amnesty was met with strong resistance and disdain. Parents of girls were very keen to identify a lack of advice and guidance on the subject and it was obvious that they felt they needed more information about the risks to childrens mental health. They were shocked at the amount of apps dedicated to photo manipulation too - they spoke of teens being open about desiring comments and likes and gaining the maximum number of followers as possible.

Other concerns were voiced about saturation of social media 24 hours a day, online bullying and general spitefulness toward each other causing distress and anxiety (not to mention the affect this has on learning and taking up precious time at school trying to pick apart online disputes).

This concurs with a Daily Mail story recently that had the headline 'children glued to Facebook are twice as likely to suffer mental health problems'. They claim 56% of kids spend more than 3 hours a day on such sites. Parents biggest concern was how they noticed their child's mood altered during or after usage. Large numbers of families stated that there were marked changes in attitude and distress according to what was posted by viewers. Worrying information. To kids of the 80's like me it’s definitely something we find hard to relate to as growing up in a non technological world now seems very simple, innocent and appealing. So, as our first generation digital natives mature, are we yet to see the true consequences of their excessive social media exposure?

According to a national survey conducted in the US, the research provides a more positive outlook. Their findings illustrate teenagers are using social media for much more positive reasons. Headline statistics show teenagers aged 13-18 are sourcing health information online from social media sites that positively influenced them to change their behaviour about diet, exercise and well being. Far from technology being a catalyst for anxiety and depression, instead it was a self help tool for them that made a difference.

Apps and sites have cottoned onto teenagers growing interest in healthy living and it seems that it is the reference of choice for 67% of young people. It also seemed that young people use it as an ongoing support network, using social media as an instrument to aid continuing success. They report to enjoying online friendships from empathic young people, especially about issues such as bullying, eating disorders and obesity. One of the most popular online searches was not surprisingly to do with sex and relationships. Being an SRE teacher myself, I know and understand the reasons why young people seek information online. Every time I ask the question ' please put your hand up if you talk to your parents or teachers about sex?' ...the tumbleweed blows through the classroom. I can see the appeal of looking up intimate information in private and anonymously and without judgement. So for that reason I can safely say that websites such as Bish and Brook prevent a lot of teenagers contracting STI's or keep them safe from unwanted pregnancy.

So, does this information infer that it's all about developing a healthier relationship with social media and not ruling your life by it? Teenagers, by the very fact they are teenagers will lean on the side of rebellion, push boundaries, take risks, show a lack of self control at times and perhaps an inability to truly understand consequences for actions. So again the way forward seems to lie in educating young people about the pitfalls and challenging the notion that it should rule our lives or define us as people.

Written by Vicki Dan on November 13, 2015 12:11

Social Media - the pressures on young people

Is social media more stressful than exams for pupils?

E-safety Social MediaAccording to Marion Gibbs, a retiring head teacher from James Allen's Girls School in Dulwich, teenagers feel more pressure and stress from social media than they do exams. She refers to a 'Goldfish bowl' world where girls especially feel an overwhelming pressure to look amazing and be popular.

Recently I have seen a definite rise amongst younger and younger students using social media as a platform to prove their popularity and the anxiety it causes when it goes wrong. So I am inclined to agree with Ms Gibbs opinions. I am talking from the position of step parent and teacher.

From my own experience, my selfie-stick loving step children have taken to using special apps in search of more followers on instagram because in their words 'you're really unpopular if you have no followers'. They are 9 and 12. Following on from that, I know of adults too that use these apps to increase their online profiles status by 'buying up' followers and likes. In an attempt to appear more successful and more popular in job hunting for example. The superlatives echo our need to feel accepted and looked up to. Are we all guilty? Do we all in fact feel the same pressures?

In my role a PSHE coordinator I am constantly hearing how students can have literally 24 hours a day of constant contact, photos, statuses and texts at the touch of a button. This can be a particular problem when students fall out and where it was previously left at school gates, now students complain of an inescapable virtual presence at every turn. And in an environment where students can have in excess of hundreds of friends and followers, every thought and picture is scrutinised, judged and commented on. Alluding to the pre aforementioned comments of the head teacher, these issues are all running parallel to an already stressful time of their young lives studying, learning and taking exams, against a backdrop of unequivocal pressure to be popular and to 'fit in'. I feel for them a great deal. As an 80's child, I am so pleased that our school years weren't filled with selfies and status updates and instead was just being nagged for spending a mere 5 minutes on a landline.

Scarily, it's now reported that kids can spend up to 44 hours a week in front of smart phones and tablets, with a further 23% admitting to some sort of addiction to games and social media. Potential warning signals of addiction can range from checking emails and status updates several times an hour; a complete loss of time when on phones and tablets, preferring to interact online than face to face and using tablets and phones first thing on waking and then last thing when going to sleep. Knowing this applies to at least half of my class, it's apparent how addiction and pressure to keep 'in the social media loop' is a complete distraction from real life and provides some sort of escapism.

So, looking forward, what can we do to alleviate these pressures and refocus children? I think firstly lead by example, I know I am guilty of scrolling through my phone during downtimes, it's important to show we can have self control and abide by no phone/tablet times - even though initially this would be unpopular it does provide an alternative focus from technology and gives a chance for free time to be 'uncontaminated'.

We can encourage students to turn off notifications from social media sites, if, every time the screen flashes up with another picture or status update, the young person is so tempted to stop what they're doing and then be drawn back into the cycle. A recent study by Johnathan Spira pefectly illustrates the issue in his findings. If you spend 30 seconds scrolling the internet it will then take you at least 5 minutes to fully re-engage in what you were doing beforehand.

Schools can also adopt good practice too by teaching children the pitfalls of using social media in unhealthy ways and understand its place in relationships. E-safety Support Premium and Premium Plus members can download a series of e-safety lessons that deal extensively with this topic.

We can raise awareness of campaigns like 'ditch your smart phone for a day' (June 28th)...I know I intend to heavily promote this in school, introducing it like a sponsored silence where it's a challenge and discussions can ensue where students share stories of how they coped and what they did with all their new found available time off social media. Ironically, the promotion of the event has massively gathered memento through sharing on social media sites, but, this is also how many people have been reached and reflected upon their own habits, moreover it reflects a desire amongst society to change our habits to improve our relationships and lifestyles. I know that June 28th will be an interesting experiment, no doubt reported in depth by some on social media the next day. I look forward to it.

A recent poll by Schools Improvement Net, posed the question 'Is the pressure to look good on social media harming young people?' - see the results here

Written by Vicki Dan on June 04, 2015 10:19

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