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Cyberbullying and Digital Harassment Conflict, Consequences, Citizenship [11-12]

Lesson plan


  • Review how conflict escalates online
  • Examine consequences and legal implications of unsafe digital communication
  • Discuss safe and healthy digital communication practices and the importance of digital citizenship


Additional Information for Facilitators

This lesson should take approximately 75 minutes to complete.  Facilitators should review the answers and suggested responses for each activity so they can add additional information that may be specific to their school or community. Facilitators may want to consider what support resources are available in the area for youth that deal with cyberbullying.

By this age, students have heard a lot about cyberbullying, but what they may not be considering is digital harassment. More and more cases of digital harassment, particularly between dating partners, are surfacing.  It is important that youth align the messages they received about cyberbullying with digital harassment and consider the implications in their dating relationships.

The purpose of this lesson is to help youth understand the importance of thinking before they post and how what they do online can have a long life-span. As adults we must decrease vulnerability and help youth understand when to hit send, when to hit delete, and how to protect themselves when they use technology.

Just as youth understand the importance of being respectful, appropriate citizens in their day-to-day lives, we want them to know that it is also important to practice respectful, appropriate digital citizenship.

Teaching/Learning Strategies

Introduction: Lesson Outline (2 minutes)

  • Start the lesson by saying that by this point in high school, most students have directly or indirectly encountered a bully, particularly someone who uses cybers to bully others. Students know what it means to cyber bully someone, so the goal of the lesson is to explore what is appropriate versus inappropriate when communicating using technology, plus looking at the social and legal implications for engaging in activities that are inappropriate.
  • In the class, students will review how conflicts can escalate online, discuss consequences and legal implications of unsafe digital communication, and examine safe and healthy cyber communication and digital citizenship.

Activity #1: What’s the Context (5 minutes)

  • Provide each student with a copy of the handout, What’s the Context (11-12.1 Handout). This activity is to be completed individually. Tell students to read the text at the top of the page and record their answers to the questions below.  When students are finished, ask for volunteers to share their thoughts about the meaning of the text and the context behind why it was written and sent.

  • Conclude this activity by reminding students that it is difficult to interpret tones and meanings when messages are sent using technology. Everyone has their own outlooks, experiences, and perceptions about life, so those are intertwined with how messages are received and understood. It is important to think about this when we post or message someone using technology.

Activity #2: it’s there forever (30 minutes)

  • Tell students that you will start by discussing how using technology can escalate conflict. Provide students with a copy of Conflicts + Technology = Bigger Problems (11-12.2a Handout). Read the following scenario (also on the top of their handout) to the class:
    • In Grade 8, Cassie and her friends would spend time on random chat sites, meeting strangers and doing what at the time they thought was hilarious with no consequences.  When Cassie went into Grade 9, she ended up going to a school without many of her friends, so she quickly found a new group of friends to hang out with. After a couple weeks, one of her new friends, Adrian, pulled her aside and asked about the picture of her topless on the internet. Cassie was shocked. For fun in Grade 8, she agreed to show her breasts to a random stranger in a chat room, thinking nothing of it because it was someone she didn’t know. Adrian said that one of the girls in their group of friends had found it and was inboxing it and texting it to people at their school. Cassie was mortified. To make matters worse, all her new friends stopped hanging out with her and older students started making fun of her and calling her a slut. Cassie switched schools for Grade 10, but the picture, taunting, and bullying continued. Someone created a website with information about Cassie and used the image as the main graphic on the page.  It seemed like everyone in the city knew of or had seen the picture. One day at school, Cassie was called to the office and when she arrived, the police, her parents and the principal were all there. They explained that the picture had been forwarded to her parents by another family at the school who wanted to press charges against Cassie for producing child pornography.
  • When you are finished, ask the students to consider the ways that the conflict escalated because of technology. Students should individually complete their handout. Have students volunteer their responses.  Be sure to add any additional ways that the students may have missed or not considered.
    • Answers will vary, but some suggestions are: talking to strangers; exposing herself online; saving the image; forwarding the image; telling Cassie about the image being forwarded but not reporting it to an adult; creating the website; no one reporting the image or the website to anyone, etc.
  • Students will work in small groups for the next part of this activity. The facilitator can create their own groups or allow students to choose. Provide groups with the handout Conflicts + Technology = Bigger Problems (11-12.2b Handout), plus a piece of chart paper with a marker.  Tell students that in their small groups, they are to follow the instructions on the handout and come up with a scenario similar to the one you just read. Then students will list all the ways that the conflict escalated because of technology. If necessary, provide students with scrap paper for the brainstorming process.
  • Once they have a completed scenario, it should be written at the top of their piece of chart paper. Students will underline words or sections of the scenario that show where the use of technology escalated the conflict. On the back of their handout, students should also record how their scenario could have turned out if the conflict was resolved without using technology. This should be kept ready to be used in a later activity.
  • When students are finished writing, have each group present their scenario, highlighting the ways that the conflict escalated due to the use of technology. The completed scenarios should be hung at the front of the classroom. These will be used again in a later activity.
  • Conclude this activity by talking to students about how all choices and decisions carve our future path. Everything posted or sent using technology can be accessible for a long time and can’t be easily deleted. Once we post something, we lose control over that content. It is important that youth understand that their actions online can have serious, long-term consequences.
  • Remind students that sometimes in bullying situations, the peer pressure or “power” can make us caught up in the moment and we often forget to stop and think about the longer-term consequences and how bullying makes everyone else feel. It is important to remember that there are lasting consequences when we post or send information using technology. Real life goes on, but there is always a trace left behind online. Remind students that in the scenario with Damien, Jasmine and David, it is clear how easily things like this can happen online and how quickly situations can turn into bullying.
    • Facilitator should consider linking to recent stories in the news about youth who experienced negative consequences as a result of cyberbullying (e.g., charged, death, etc.)

Activity #2: Dealing with Inappropriate, Harassing Cyber Communications (10 minutes)

  • Have students return to their desks, as the next activity will be completed as a class.  Tell students that it is important to consider not only how conflict can escalate when technology is involved, but also how to deal with those inappropriate, unsafe, or harassing messages if they are received or students witness them being sent to someone else.
  • Tell students that this applies to cyberbullying, but should also be taken into consideration with digital harassment, an issue that is becoming more prevalent in dating and romantic relationships.
  • Tell students that you want to generate a list of all the ways to handle negative cyber communications. Give students 30 seconds to think to themselves and then ask for volunteers to share their thoughts. A list should be compiled on chart paper to be hung in the classroom for future reference. As answers are given, the facilitator should prompt students to get a complete list.  Prompts include having students think about how they can respond, what actions they can take, who they can seek support from, who will help them resolve the situation, etc.
    • Answers will vary, but some suggestions are: intervene; report the conduct; flag a video or image; seek assistance; talk to the person who was sending or posting inappropriate messages; delete the forwarded image; consult adults (such as facilitators, teachers, guidance counsellors, principal, police, parents, older siblings, Elders, relatives); call a help line; report a post; block a user; save the messages; record the date/time of a chat; take a screen shot; adjust privacy settings; click ignore the conversation; report to moderators or service operators; record passport IDs  or nicknames; save the URL to report a profile, etc.
  • Conclude the activity by summarizing that the right way to handle inappropriate, unsafe, or harassing cyber communication is using one or more of the strategies identified. Whatever happens, there are always people and supports to deal with the situation before it escalates. At these times, it is important that we do the right thing.  When someone stands up against bullying, we call them an “upstander”. Some students at this age might feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help, but remind students that everyone needs support at many points in their lives and no one expects them to have all the answers. They should always tell someone if they are experiencing cyberbullying or digital harassment, if someone is sending disturbing, inappropriate, sexual, or threatening content or messages, or if they are just uncomfortable with what they see going on.

Activity #3: Consequences of Behaving inappropriately using Technology (25 minutes)

  • Remind students that while there are many important moral and ethical reasons to address and intervene in cases of cyberbullying or potentially unsafe cyber communications, the potential legal risks associated with these behaviours and actions should be equally motivating.
  • Provide each student with a copy of the handout Consequences of Cyber Bullying & Digital Harassment (11-12.3 Handout).  Review the handout as a group. Students should pay particular attention to the legal consequences, but also the implications for their schooling and future careers. As a class, review the various consequences youth could face when behaving inappropriately when communicating with technology.  Point out that because technology changes faster than laws can be created, it can appear that cyberbullying and harassment are not punishable. While there is no specific legal definition for “cyberbullying”, most legal sanctions imposed for offensive materials also apply to content on the internet.
  • Clearly number each of the scenarios hanging at the front of the room. Have students return to their original small groups and bring their copy of Consequences of Cyber Bullying & Digital Harassment (11-12.3 Handout) with them to use for the next activity.
  • Provide each group with a copy of the handout Scenario Consequences (11-12.4 Handout). Tell students to complete the right column. There is a spectrum for the types of consequences for each scenario, so remind students to include a variety of examples in the right box.  Groups should choose a recorder to write down the responses generated by the group.
  • Once groups have completed their handout, take up the responses by re-reading a scenario, then choosing a group to share their list of consequences for the particular scenario. Once they have shared, ask if the other groups have anything to add. Repeat this process until all the scenarios have a list of possible consequences under each. 
  • Next, ask each group to share how their scenario could have been resolved without technology. Tell students that sometimes people fail to think beyond the moment to consider the consequences of certain behaviours, words, and actions. Remind students that what may seem like freedom to state an opinion or free choice might actually be considered libel or child pornography in a court of law. Having an understanding of these consequences, plus taking time to pause before pressing ‘send’, could be the difference between a legal battle or other challenges. 

Conclusion: Digital Citizenship (5 minutes)

  • To conclude, tell students that it is important that they know and understand the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate, joking or teasing and bullying or harassment, texting versus sexting, etc.  Remind students that people aren't anonymous online, and with the right info saved, anyone can be caught and reprimanded for their actions. Plus, anything posted, sent or saved online will be there can be impossible to undo. It cannot be erased. Have students consider what they want future friends, partners, teachers, facilitators, professors, employers, family, etc. to know about them.
  • Ask students to write down the name of one person who they would be most worried about hurting, upsetting, or embarrassing if they were ever caught in a cyberbullying or digital harassment case. Ask if any volunteers would like to share their answer.
  • To conclude the lesson and summarize the important points, each student should be provided with a copy of the handout, Cyber Safety Top Three Tips (11-12.5 Handout). A copy should be made into a poster and hung in the class. Be sure to review the handout with the class:
    • Tip #1: Rules for respectful relationships that apply offline also apply online. Remind students that it is important to know and remember that their real world rules also apply online. If they wouldn’t swear in real life, they shouldn’t do it online. If they wouldn’t say mean things to someone in person, they shouldn’t say it online. 
    • Tip #2: Stop and think before you post/send.  Remind students that they need to think before putting anything online or in a message/email, including pictures, messages, blogs, posts, information, links, etc.  Anything that is transmitted digitally or electronically potentially has a long life-span. Sometimes it is there forever. Really think before you hit send about the consequences, outcomes, and "life span" of the content.  Consider what information or image you want to have on the Internet long term.
    • Tip #3: Be fast to report and hit delete. Tell students that it is equally as important to be fast to hit delete. When you see or receive an inappropriate, disrespectful, hurtful, harmful piece of content about someone else, tell an adult and delete it. Don’t forward it on. Don’t keep it. Don’t share it.  If it is about you, print and save a copy.

Suggestions for Extension Activities

Students could…

  • Choose a website, chat room, forum, or social networking site and research how to report bullying, inappropriate behaviour, or harassment.
  •  Students can present this to the class or submit for assessment.
  • Create and present their role plays that show a fight with two outcomes – one when the fight moves to the online world, and one where the fight is dealt with in the real world.
  • Present messages to younger students about cyberbullying and why it is important to stand up against bullying and cyberbullying.

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