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Raising Awareness of Teen Cyberbullying

New Kaiser Permanente Southern California Educational Theatre “Don’t Forget to Like” production highlights the damaging effects of online bullying and strategies for using social media

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With the advent of social media, the way we share information has completely transformed. In an instant, we can send photos, videos, and messages to anyone in our social circle or across the globe. It is because of this immediate information sharing that bullying has also taken a new form. In the past, a bully was someone whose negative behavior typically was encountered in person. Now, a smartphone in the wrong hands can sometimes mean emotional trauma is only a click away. More than 20% of students 12 to 18 years old report being bullied. and over 35% have been the victims of cyberbullying, according to research. “Don’t Forget to Like” is Kaiser Permanente Southern California Educational Theatre’s newest production, and works to spark a discussion between teachers, parents, and students about the consequences of cyberbullying. 

The play is part of Kaiser Permanente’s adolescent bullying awareness program for grades 6 through 8. In it, we follow the story of 4 middle school students: Angel, Zoe, Kayla, and Carlos. When 1 student commits an impulsive act of cyberbullying, we see how it affects all their lives, especially the student being made fun of. Touching on topics of mental and emotional health, “Don’t Forget to Like” relates to students by using real-life examples of how a single, distributed message on social media can be extremely damaging. In the play, the actor-educators use the very social media apps popular among youth today: Instagram, Snapchat, and text messages.

“Young people get to see themselves and their peers in a live, theatrical setting. It makes them feel they are not alone, and their experiences are shared by others,” said Maximilian Mastrangelo, program supervisor and play director.

After the performance, the actor-educators make themselves available to the students for one-on-one discussions. “You would be surprised to see how many students have opened up to us about their struggles,” said Christine Buccelli, actor-educator. Students who disclose abuse, bullying, feelings of depression, or the intent to cause harm to themselves or others are bridged to the principal, counselor, or other school personnel for further follow-up. The adolescent bullying awareness program serves approximately 60,000 students annually and to date, this program has bridged over 1,000 at-risk youth to school personnel.

Students additionally are given a wallet card containing various resources including the 24-hour crisis hotline and the Teen Talk app.

Susan Parker, principal at James Madison Middle School in North Hollywood, California, whose students recently saw the production, commented on its positive impact. "Our students are provided with a laptop to use at school and home, so it is imperative that they understand and embrace the practices of good digital citizenship," Parker said. "We are grateful to partner with Kaiser Permanente and the Los Angeles Unified Digital Citizenship team to facilitate greater awareness and adoption of responsible student use. These collaborations, including Kaiser’s Permanente’s cyberbullying assembly, is leading to an increase in students creating positive digital learning environments and transferring those skills to their digital social lives."

“Don’t Forget to Like” highlights the need for limits on screen time and suggests strategies for using social media positively. The program illustrates the value of boundaries and how they translate to self-care. Through the story depicted on stage, students are encouraged and empowered to be compassionate, and to speak up when something is wrong. Most importantly, through art and performance, “Don’t Forget to Like” demonstrates to students that they are not alone, and that help is always available.

Educational Theatre is a free Kaiser Permanente Community Health program that helps K-12 students and their families in at-risk communities develop healthy, lifelong habits. Since 1986, Educational Theatre has served over 7.3 million students and adults in Southern California.

To learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s work in the community, please visit community.kp.org