Dialogue Night is our annual evening of intergenerational communication jointly sponsored by the Peer Leader organization and the guidance team. This year’s topic, while directly addressing cyberbullying, was more about connecting with character in cyberspace. I thought the topic important enough and the program so well organized that it was worth sharing with all our parents. Over 300 people were in attendance.
The night began in the auditorium with a kick-off speech by Millburn Police Detective Edward de la Fuente. Detective Ed is well known by the Millburn schools not only for his partnering role as the Juvenile Detective for the township, but also for his proactive prevention initiatives and his timely talks with student groups, parents and community organizations. Now that we live in the “Digital Age,” Detective Ed has extended his work on anti-bullying to impart important messages about preventing cyberbullying.
In his opening address he shared important information for parents and students. There were two ideas that really resonated with me. The first is that allowing students to participate in online activities without proper parent supervision and controls in place is tantamount to allowing our children to be stoned by a mob in the center of town. He knows, as we do, that middle school students often lack filters, empathy, and judgment in their interaction with their peers. Add some conflict, and are we surprised by the end result? Students at this age should not be on Facebook or other social networking sites, and their online activities require time controls and supervision as well.
The other related message came from a personal experience with a bully. Many years after he graduated from high school, he learned that someone who bullied him was remorseful about his actions. Detective Ed realized that, while he had moved on and achieved his own goals, the bully was someone who held regretful memories for quite some time. What we can hope to do is acknowledge that bullies are also still kids who, like a patient in a doctor’s office, need a closer look and some prescriptive action to make some transformational changes and cultivate a better reputation in order to avoid a lifetime of regret.
After the assembly program students and their parents were assigned to different rooms for the dialogue activity. Our peer leaders led the activity and provided questions specifically for students and parents. These questions were developed to fit within the framework of the “Pillars of Character,” including responsibility, respect, and trustworthiness. Another category included was the theme of “disconnecting.”
At the end of the evening everyone reconvened in the auditorium where a brief video was shown. The images on the video, entitled “Disconnecting to Connect,” demonstrated how common it is to see people immersed in texting or other online activities and how the people they are supposed to be sharing their time with virtually disappeared due to a lack of engagement. The smiles return when people put away their electronic gadgets and spend time in the present with their children, friends, and significant others. The video can be found on YouTube.
We are fortunate in Millburn to have a supportive community, invaluable resources such as Detective Ed, an innovative guidance team, and a dedicated group of Peer Leader students and advisors who plan timely and meaningful community educational programs such as this one.