Recent reports of teachers being targeted and mocked on social media by children and young people means it’s more important than ever to have positive conversations about positive behaviour online.
Our expert panel answers the question: In light of the growing issue of children using social media to mock teachers, what should parents’ response be to help children tackle this issue?
Children may think that imitating or mocking a teacher is humorous, but they need to understand the reality of such behaviour — online or offline.
Mocking a teacher is not a laughing matter and what started as a ‘joke’ can have unintended consequences. Mocking a teacher undermines a teacher’s authority; it may be harmful to a teachers reputation; it may be harmful to the child’s reputation; it may impact learning; it may disrupt the class environment, and it may have other effects on all those who witness the behaviour.
Mocking a teacher online can amplify these issues and start unwanted chatter and comments involving even more children. Children may not always understand the permanence of idle online chat or an inappropriate image, parody or other manner of teasing, but once they do, ask them for suggestions on how to handle the situation. Continue your relationship of trust to have open and transparent conversations on how to resolve online challenges.
As with any online issue, parents and carers can use conversation starters to understand their children’s online lives while providing learning moments in daily experiences. By understanding what children are doing on social media sites, parents can guide them on respectful behaviour, as well as support them if something goes awry.
There have been a number of media stories recently about pupils using social media platforms to “mock” their teachers. This is something that has always happened – as an ex-teacher, I’m sure that on occasions pupils will have grumbled about a lesson or something I’d said when they got outside of the classroom.
Prior to the internet, teachers would have been very unlikely to hear this, but we know that when things are shared or posted online, there is evidence. We also know that users tend to lose their inhibitions and say things that they wouldn’t dream of saying in a face to face situation. There is a huge difference between grumbling about teaching methods or too much homework and setting up a fake profile and accusing someone of being a paedophile; pupils need to recognise this and understand when a line has been crossed.
Teachers are understandably upset and concerned about the current situation, and it is important that children and young people understand that what they post online can have consequences. Ultimately this is about behaving in the right way and making the right choices. Everyone makes mistakes — we all have errors of judgment – but they need to realise that once something is shared online, they lose control of it to a certain extent and it may be seen by audiences that it was never intended for.
Parents should feel able to discuss the situation with their children and use some of the media coverage as an opportunity to talk about what is and is not appropriate to be sharing online. Context is lost once something is shared online and even those words that were not intended to cause distress can be misinterpreted.
Teachers have rights too!
There has been a spate of stories recently about school teachers being targeted online and being made the subject of horrible comments. Some of these are racist, some are homophobic or sexist, others are just plain inventions that portray the teacher in a very poor professional light.
It’s a form of bullying, it’s illegal and in the case of a school in the Midlands, it seems the police may even be getting involved.
Bullying teachers is no more acceptable than bullying anyone else. However, the problem is, in the days of the internet, the way in which it seems some teachers are being targeted online is having consequences far beyond anything the bullies could have imagined or intended.
If messages start appearing in which it is suggested a named or identifiable teacher is having sex with one of their 15-year-old pupils or they beat pupils when nobody is looking, a Head Teacher or the police cannot ignore it. There will have to be an enquiry, particularly if the messages are sustained over a period of time. The teacher may have to be suspended pending the outcome of the enquiry. A “no smoke without fire” rumour mill can get going that might be impossible to stop or put in reverse and that, in turn, could make it impossible for the teacher to carry on working at that school.
Teachers have been known to have nervous breakdowns as a result and ultimately had to quit the profession altogether, maybe jeopardising their ability to pay their mortgage or provide for their families and making them extremely unhappy.
TikTok seems to be being used for a lot of for this type of bullying and the company is getting energetically engaged in trying to stamp it out. Parents too have a role to play. It is incredibly important that children understand the potentially serious consequences of targeting teachers publicly in this way. If they have a concern about a particular teacher, there are other routes to address it, for example they could talk to you first! It will rarely if ever be right go online first.
This is a really tricky issue in that there is tremendous social pressure for children and young people to take part in Internet trends on platforms such as YouTube and TikTok. A couple of minutes of recording and editing followed by a hundred-or-so likes and a few comments can seem harmless to young people who imagine that the content is unlikely to be seen by the teachers that they have recorded or mocked and that the video is likely to be perceived as harmless fun.
It is vital then that parents and carers support their child to know and understand the real-life consequences of these behaviours: teachers and other school staff have the right to privacy and a personal life. As well as the professional and personal damage that can be inflicted, professionals have families, friends and colleagues who are also likely to be upset and angry. There are also potential serious ramifications such as school exclusions for breach of internet agreement policies and even police involvement if the content is slanderous.
Knowledge and understanding can be developed through open and respectful dialogue with the child being given the opportunity to explore these consequences through relaxed, informal discussion.
See more articles and resources to help children stay safe online.