Susan Coleman is a wife, mother of two children, the assistant superintendent at a large school district in Lake County, Illinois, and a two-time published author about cyberbullying and school suspension alternatives. Today, she also runs training for schools throughout the country about classroom management and internet policies for students. Susan says, “We have given students access to technology with unfettered screen time, but we haven’t done our due diligence in educating our kids about cyberspace.” In our conversation, Susan shares best practices for keeping our children safe on the internet, as well as how MOMentum inspired her to take action in the Jewish community, too.
What inspired you to travel to Israel with the JWRP?
I had heard about MOMentum from women in my community, and it sounded like an amazing and restorative experience. I have a high-pressure job, and I was looking to reconnect with myself spiritually and to gain some balance in my life. Also, my sons will soon be going to college, and I wanted to strengthen them as Jewish men before they leave our home. I know that the next stage of my life is coming and I was excited for the opportunity to reflect on my purpose.
How did MOMentum impact you?
In my work with children and their families, I’ve always been focused on pursuing the greater good. But MOMentum made me think about how I could take better care of myself and expand my efforts to the Jewish community. Since returning from MOMentum, I have moderated community discussions about gun control. Now, I’m also working with Hadassah, the Partner Organization that hosted my MOMentum Trip, to moderate a discussion about anti-Semitism. I’m so glad that I’ve found ways to incorporate Judaism into my life and to share Jewish values with others. My MOMentum cohort is still very close. Our WhatsApp group is active every day and we meet often both to continue our MOMentum Year-Long Journey and to spend time with one another. I never expected, at this point in my life, to forge such deep, trusting, and supportive friendships with like-minded women. It’s so nice to feel that camaraderie and connection. MOMentum has had a positive impact on my marriage, my mothering, and my relationships with those around me.
How does cyberbullying impact children?
Today, young people are so connected via social media and it’s one of their main modes of communication. For example, if a teenager is asked to homecoming, the first thing they’ll do is take a photo and share their news on social media. Often, social media becomes a medium for negative comments and sexual harassment. While using either fake names or real identities, people will write things they’d never say to someone’s face. Those comments can go haywire, with no one defending the injured party and the issue perpetuating itself. Young people often feel like they have nowhere to turn. They may feel humiliated, develop trust and relationship issues, and lose their sense of self. Young people’s brains aren’t fully developed so they don’t have the same coping strategies as adults, and they don’t realize that today’s social media comments will soon be yesterday’s news. As a result, I’ve seen students engage in self-harm or switch to new schools because they’re desperate for a fresh start.
In my district, we’ve done a lot of work to educate administrators, teachers, and students about what to put on the internet and what not to put on the internet. We’ve also invested in extra security to prevent students from messaging each other using school devices. Some school administrators create fake social media accounts to monitor their students’ activities. We begin teaching digital citizenship in the second grade. Preventing and combating cyberbullying is an ongoing process that requires support from both educators and parents.
What are some ways that we can keep our kids safe on the Internet?
One best practice is simply to practice open communication with our kids about what they might find on the internet and how they might respond to it. You may also want to check your kids’ phones every so often and follow them on social media. This will help you see what’s going on in their social media lives, prevent bad things from happening, and know when they need help. Sometimes parents will tell me that they did silly things when they were younger and still turned out fine. While that may be true, the world is very different today. Kids share everything they do on social media. Our internet history never goes away and employers Google every potential hire. It’s important that we speak with our kids about these realities, talk to them about their struggles on social media, and check on their mental health.
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