Bullying and Cyberbullying Pledges in the School and Community


I’ve been seeing a lot of “cyberbullying pledges” surfacing in recent months. Obviously, the intention is good – to enlist and rally the support of youth who belong to a school or another organization to end (or at least reduce) the problem of peer harassment. I think that it is important for us to think through the way that we tackle this initiative. Setting up a pledge campaign is fairly uncreative and cost-efficient, which is probably why so many adults think that it is a good idea to demonstrate that “something” is being done in the way of cyberbullying prevention. But what about its utility? We should never implement programming because it is easy to do and we want to check-off an item on our list of efforts made to combat a problem.

Research on “virginity” pledges based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health in the mid-1990s and on drug/alcohol abstinence in high schools (such as in the DARE program) has shown that those who truly believe in what they are pledging for/against do definitely hold fast to that commitment as time goes on. However, it has also been shown that pledges are useful ONLY in contexts where there are some – but not too many – individuals who pledge. Pledges lose their meaning if everyone is doing it because it ceases to be non-normative. You can’t try to get everyone in a school to pledge to do something, because everyone will generally do so in name only – just to fit in.

Pledging to do something provides adherence to a group identity – and let’s face it, we all want to belong to a group in cultural or counter-cultural ways. To be sure, this notion is exponentially greater for most adolescents in the throes of identity development and exploration. It seems, then, that a teen making a meaningful choice to refrain from engaging in an attractive but wrongful behavior (such as cyberbullying) should do so outside of peer influence and group dynamics which may shape that choice.

My colleague Stan Davis (whose extensive work on bullying and bystanders I greatly respect) has a great idea which works extremely well. He believes that dialoguing about cyberbullying and its impact with students can really help them internalize the harm that is experienced and the negative outcomes that can result, and – more importantly – can help them envision and then realize their potential for the *positive* outcomes that can result. This involves reflecting on the good deeds they have done while interacting online, and the good deeds that others have done online towards them.

He also suggests that young people “write and sign a letter to themselves outlining their own plans for keeping themselves and others safe in the digital world.” The best way to go about this would be to divide it into two parts – “what I will NOT do, and why” and “what I WILL do, and why.” One of Stan’s friends also recommended that these letters should not be read by adults (and the young people should know that the letters will not be read) because “When it is known that adults will read the letters, young people are likely to write what they think adults want to hear rather than what they really plan to do.” Based on experience, this has been proven true. Stan then proposes that the sealed letters are returned to the teens in the near future to “reinforce the resolve they made.”

Let us know your thoughts about pledges and their value – and if you know of any other research on the topic. Also, let us know if you give Stan’s idea a try with the teens you supervise and care for.


  1. I find the paragraph that begins with "Setting up a pledge campaign is fairly uncreative and cost-efficient…" to be inflammatory. In the PBIS model, pledges have been effective in various behavior models, and our school district has added a bullying pledge recently to continue that successful approach to levels of discipline. The contract has its place within the context of everything else in both the administrative admonitions and the classroom education…and it’s not uncreative.

    I would agree that if you're only looking for a punishment model, and use a pledge as your ONLY discourse without the requisite instructional component, then it is cost-effective, but not very efficient. Only when included in a full program does the pledge make sense.

  2. I actually think this is a deeper issue.

    Within the context of the Positive Behavior Interventions and Support model, there is a focus on pledges or contracts. While these statements do set forth the positive behavior expectation, they are also vry adult directed. "You will sign this pledge that we have written." Further, as this pledge or contract is part of an overall program, I do not think you can ascertain the effectiveness of simply making a pledge. These are adult-generated pledges that are enforced within the school environment

    The research on the effectiveness – or rather the lack thereof – of the virginity pledges seems to me to be more applicable. These are adult-generated pledges related to behavior that is outside of the school – we presume. 😉 Whereas schools can enforce pledges related to school behavior, it is not likely that school officials are being invited into the bedrooms and cars of teens.

    What is the effectiveness of adult-generated pledges against bullying while at school? I would like to have some student feedback on this. I suspect these pledges may have a mild influence among elementary school students — although even that is likely questionable. I rather suspect that thy have no influence whatsoever once youth enter puberty.

    What is the effectiveness of adult-generated pledges against cyberbullying while outside of school or invisibly by texting at school? Likely not at all effective.

    The only positive aspect of these pledges that I can see is that thy provide the opportunity for some positive news coverage about young people – as compared to the drumbeat of negative press teens receive related to digital media.

    I like Stan's idea.

  3. PS. I just thought of something to add. The same concerns that you outlined are associated with so many of the parent-teen Internet safety "contracts" that can be found on so many sites. A total waste of time. In my book for parents, Cyber Safe Kids, Cyber Savvy Teens, I provide a recommended template for a "contract." I dictate the provisions for the parents: "I will not overreact if you tell me about an online concern." But for the teens, I have fill in the blank statements. "If someone sends me a hurtful message, I will … "

    But I actually suggest just discussing these issues. Not really writing a contract.

  4. According to the 2007 report “Teens and Cyberbullying” a large portion of the teens surveyed reported that their parents had no clue what they are doing online. By far most of the teen’s surveyed reported that Parents need to worry more about what teens are doing online and less about what they are watching on TV. Parents need to discuss the dangers of being online with their children and discuss how they are going to react to certain things they find on the net to include negative information about themselves. Together the child and the parent can create an online use agreement that will emphasize ethical behavior when using the computer. Parents not the school are the key to putting a stop to cyber-bullying. The school did not buy the cell phone or the computer that the children are using nor are they paying the bill. So they should not be held responsible for something they cannot control.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts, Eric. Your district (http://www.d300.org) stands apart as one of the most progressive I've found in the nation with regard to your comprehensive effort to prevent cyberbullying (with one of those efforts being "pledges"). I agree with you that pledges may have utility as part of a full program (and if they are used in the ways I've suggested) – and I am glad you are seeing improvements in student behavior based on the totality of initiatives you've implemented across your schools. I was largely indicting those schools and organizations that use pledges in a piecemeal, shortsighted, and uninformed way just to do "something" about the problem.

  6. I think that cyber-bullying is kind of really lame. I mean common, how does that settle things in the real world? when everyone is stuck on being top dog in the cyber world…that doesn't solve anything that is happening now and days. GET OUT OF BEING A CYBER BULLY! there is no point to being one. All it does do is cause drama, and drama leads to things not being true, and then that adds up to being one big mess…so in conclusion really…being a cyber bully means that you are truly only afraid of your self and that you don't approve of people being a jerk to you so you have to be one back, trust me that gets you no where in life honestly. So step up! and don't be a jerk to everyone live a little, be laid back. Life is hard, but don't make it harder then it seems.

  7. A pledge/contract can be seen as an agreement to a partnership. As in any partnership we need to begin with a relationship. I think about the strongest partnership I created as a Safe School Administrator for a school district in California and it was the one I built with Law Enforcement. Where most School Law Enforcement Partnerships begin with an MOU (contract), ours began with a conference together. After the conference came training and opportunities to sit down together and communicate over critical issues that impact the safety of our kids. They were able to walk in my shoes and I was able to walk in their shoes. Over time trust was established and an MOU was not needed. They had my number in their phone and I had their number in my phone. (Sounds like how I met my wife also???) My point, is that the contract is only as good as the relationships that exist peer to peer, youth to adults, and kids to their parents. If a school has strong programs that develop relations and a culture of communication on campus then layering a contract over the top of it can be successful. Don't start with the pledge, finish with it!

  8. It is true that parents are the ones that buy the phones and the computers. Bullying happens in schools and carries over to the internet and cell phones. Education is not limited to the 3 R'S-or at least it should not be in my opinion.I will soon be 51 and was bullied , harassed about being an American Indian.My children went through the same thing. I think it's great schools are having programs on cyberbullying,internet safety, and sexual assault! Here is a chance to stop it-I know one SA educator that is working with a school and if any student gets in trouble for any type of bullying then the students AND the Parents both will be required to come in and take a class with her.

    How wonderful I say!

  9. Children will be children and students will be students. An opportunity to bully another child can come in many forms, and the internet is simply another stream in which an insecure child can make another child feel horrible. It is unfortunate that in this day an age, bullying can have "published" feel to it when someone leaves an offensive message on one's facebook page. However, the principle of "standing up for yourself" still remains the same. It is our job as teachers and parents to instill self-esteem and confidence in children to the point that bullying, in whichever form, is not tolerated by the victim. (link defunct)

  10. I recently read an article about a program called “Teenangels” which was created in 1999 by Parry Aftab the founder of WiredSafety which provides internet safety classes. The article states that the “Teenangels program trains middle and high school students on Internet safety, privacy, and security, and counsels them on how to deal with and prevent cyberbullying” and also has the members give speeches to teachers and students about the issue. I think all schools should have some form of this type of program available for their students because like the article states it makes kids become part of something important than having rules and policies pushed on them. Maybe this program could help youth mature in their understanding of how their actions affect others especially over the internet.

  11. When one thinks of cyberbullying, usually the first parties that come to mind are the cyberbully and the victim. However, the bystander is a forgotten party in cyberbullying. A bystander is one witness’s cyberbulluying and its fallout among both parties. When it comes to cyberbullying, there are two forms of bystanders. The first form, the harmful bystander, is one who encourages and or supports the bully or watches the bully from afar and does not intervene to help the victim. The second form, the helpful bystander, is one who seeks to stop the bullying, protest against it, provide support to the target, or tell an adult. Bystanders are often hesitant to get involved because of fear. It has been proved however, that bystanders can be impactful in ending cyberbullying.

  12. http://mashable.com/2011/02/16/bieber-mtv-bullyin
    This article is about the campaign called, A Thin Line, which is sponsored by MTV and Facebook. Justin Bieber is the spokesperson for this campaign in hopes to put a stop cyberbullying. I believe they chose the perfect person to represent this as Justin Bieber is quite the icon for middle school and high aged students. “The contest promises to raise awareness and encourage submissions to Draw Your Line, but it’s difficult to measure the actual outcome.” Justin Bieber is known to have been a victim of cyberbullying which makes it easy to relate to people who have been victimized and want to raise awareness of this type of bullying.

    The object of this contest is for people to post actions to “Draw Your Line” on MTV’s site in order to win prizes. The contest ends on March 31st and you are able to post as many times as you want. This gives students an incentive to research ways to stop cyberbullying or even look up videos about it so they are able to participate in this contest.

  13. Just like any adversity you face in life, cyber bullying incidents are a great way to help educate people of the problem. Whenever you have an incident that happens around you or in the community it captures your attention more than when you hear something happened across the country. I know when that story about the text messaging bullying led to the beating of a girl happened in Broward County, it caught my attention and I’m sure of many others around. It opened a lot of people’s eyes because a lot of people may text things they do not mean or do not take seriously and that incident showed be careful what you send and receive because it might not be a joke and someone can be hurt. If someone sends you a hateful text, you have to go to the police because you never know what can arise from the situation.
    (link defunct)
    This is the link about the text messaging bullying led to beating of girl.

  14. Some people say that the only way to prevent this is keeping kids from going online which in my opinion i believe it is too extreme. Kids like, enjoy and even benefit from technology. Other idea is not leaving kids by themselves to explore Internet. I totally agree with this idea. Internet has many potentials dangers such as kidnappers, sexual predators, or other bad influence factors (language, pornography..etc). When a parents' child start walking, either the mom or dad are always in the back following the child making sure he/she does not step on things that make them trip. Parents are aware of the children's path. When they grow up and Internet becomes a part of the kid's life, this idea should perform as well. Leaving kids on their own online is a big mistaken because remember they are facing new things they need a guide to differ right from wrong. In addition to this, I also agree with the idea that to prevent this issue is necessary not only cooperation from parents but from people that surround the kids such as teachers, law enforcement and leaders. According to the book there are some steps people should perform in preventing cyberbullying. At school level, schools should be aware of the level of cyberbullying fro this anonymous survey among students and school stuff is a great idea. Educating students, stuff and parents also plays an important role. It is essential that schools provide this information since for some students or even adults this subject might be new or might even be involved but do not know it is wrong. Cyberbullying definitions, examples, consequences must be discussed in classrooms. It is also recommended to provide formal anticyberbullying programming such as modules with online aggression, proper online use and other things that help students gaining knowledge about this matter. In my personal opinion, i would suggest a required class in school about this subject. It does not only helps the students when they are young but when they become parents even though technology advances fast. This can provide them with a general idea about the wrong doing of this issue. Today we find a lot of computers in our community schools, and this is to enhance learning. Since students have access since a young age, rules regarding the use of computers play another important role. The book compares this with the different instructions that are given before engaging in a unfamiliar task such as driving. When some one is learning how to drive, people do not just give the student the car keys and let him go. There are many rules, protocols, instructions that students need to be familiar before performing the unfamiliar behavior. I had never seen the computer use in kids like this, but it sound very logical and I love this idea. Monitoring the students is very important too. Peer monitoring and filtering software are crucial. Peer monitoring to avoid students doing things that are not suppose to. In different occasions, kids do something but they do not do it in purpose. So a peer is a lot of help in these situations. Another help is filter software, which is blocking inappropriate content for kids. A safe and respectful school culture is very important because when people grow up in certain environment they learn that what they see is normal. Schools play an important role, as it was described; however parents also do it at home. Parents need to become more familiar with their children activities online. Parents should develop a great communication with their kids; so both parties feel comfortable discuss any matter about this subject. When kids go online, parents should fine the time to join their kids. Not only to see what kids do online but in my opinion it is a way to spend time with them and even learn from them. Another option is to filter and track the software at home. I am very neutral on that because i am not a parent yet and i do know if I would do it. The students themselves can play an important role as well. They need to protect their own personal information and passwords. They need to understand that Internet is not 100% saved so personal things could be published by others even emails. Law enforcement should also be involved in these prevention plans. They could be invited to schools so they can talk and show proof of different scenarios that ended up with bad consequences. They can also provide information about how investigations are done so students realize that no matter what they do they are going to get caught. It is very difficult to prevent this issue 100%, but I do believe that if we all stick together as the community we are these cyberbullying victimization rates can decrease. We all need to understand that each one has an important role. Parents cannot benefit if schools, the students themselves are not helping or vice versa.

  15. Pledges can be useful, but as the blog said, they can't be compusory.There's a lot of talk about what parents can do to stop cyberbullying or protect their kids from the effects of the phenomenon on the discussion boards, various websites and popular media, however I think there needs to be a grassroots movement within the adolescent community. I have a hard time grasping the level of interdependence and fusion of teens' cyber life and real life, and I'm only 24! My generation and certainly my parents' generation use the internet as a tool to enhance daily life, to quickly find information or increase convenience but, for me at least, the internet is not a major part of my social interaction. Parents and educators need to teach teens that by forwarding that nasty e-mail they receive or laughing with their friends about a ranking site another kid created they also become bullies. Helping a malicious rumor "go viral" may not weigh heavily upon the conscious of an average teen, but if they experienced the same mistreatment it's very hurtful. According to Christy Matte, About.com Guide, a social networking site called myYearbook is encouraging teens to take the Megan Pledge, named after Megan Meier who committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied on the internet. The pledge "asks kids to think before hurting others online and to report cyberbullies." This commitment has to be sincere and thoughtful to be effective.

  16. I think it’s a good idea that all schools include in their handbook definitions of the types of bullying as well as the consequences and/ or disciplinary actions, and pledges that can be taken towards bullying. Then perhaps kids should be quizzed on this or as suggested have to write out their own pledges in their own words at the beginning of every school year. Call me an airhead but I never read the school’s student handbook until my family moved to Florida my junior year of high school. I remember I got in trouble the first day of school because I clearly did not read the dress code part of the student handbook. My old school handed out agendas and handbooks at the beginning of the school year but no one ever read them. Those things would just get stuffed at the bottom of our lockers. If all schools enforced something as simple as reading the student handbook and made sure students understand what they're reading or pledging to then I think they would be a step closer to educating kids that they can get help if they’re being bullied.

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