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Of parenting & a class called ‘Wasting Time on the Internet’

One of the central stereotypes of (or maybe urban legends about) us, our tech and our time is people filling every free or empty moment doing something on a screen – texting, playing a game, posting a photo, listening to a tune, checking email, reading a book, etc., etc. It makes us feel guilty or critical because it’s typically associated with lack of self-discipline or situational awareness. Remember the phrase “continuous partial attention” and how much, when first used in the last decade, it worried us? We certainly worry about “too much screen time” on our children’s part, because everybody from pundits to pediatricians almost always refers to it negatively. We sometimes characterize this monolithic thing called screen time as an “addiction,” or at least a waste of time.

PennSo consider this: a University of Pennsylvania creative writing class entitled “Wasting Time on the Internet.” “Although we’ll all be in the same room, our communication will happen exclusively through chat rooms and listservs, or over social media,” writes its professor, Kenneth Goldsmith in The New Yorker. “Distraction and split attention will be mandatory. So will aimless drifting and intuitive surfing. The students will be encouraged to get lost on the Web, disappearing for three hours in a Situationist-inspired dérive, drowsily emerging from the digital haze only when class is over. We will enter a collective dreamspace [the Surrealists’ ideal state for making art, he writes earlier in the essay] an experience out of which the students will be expected to render works of literature. To bolster their practice, they’ll explore the long history of the recuperation of boredom and time-wasting, through critical texts by thinkers such as Guy Debord, Mary Kelly, Erving Goffman, Raymond Williams, and John Cage.” Read more

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Takeaways from premier US anti-bullying conference

This Thanksgiving week in the US, I’m thankful to have heard the following from two outstanding researchers and a well-known author in the bullying prevention field speaking at the just-ended International Bullying Prevention Association’s (IBPA’s) annual conference in San Diego:

IBPA“We don’t talk enough about the ecosystem around kids,” said educational psychology professor Dorothy Espelage at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, a leading US scholar on bullying. “Everybody’s coming to the table – schools, parents, pastors, coaches. That’s great. We have to take a socio-ecological approach.” That’s the climate of a whole-school “ecosystem” referred to in the title of this year’s IBPA, “Building Supportive Relationships to Create a Positive School Climate.”

SEL will ‘move the needle’

“Bullying is extremely intergenerational. It’s very complex,” Dr. Espelage said. “We’re still struggling to move this needle, and social-emotional learning is one way to move it. The programs that promote social competence and acceptance of others are the ones that work.”

As for that acceptance, in another session, Stan Davis, co-creator of the Youth Voice Project (which surveyed more than 13,000 students in 31 schools nationwide), spoke of lower rates of suicidal ideation among gay as well as straight students in schools where people feel they can be themselves – another outcome of positive school climates and SEL. Read more

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Do surveys about parents’ concerns increase digital-parenting confidence?

FOSIPredictably, the media coverage of a new survey of parents on digital-age parenting focused mainly on their concerns about tech and the Net. We need to question that – question the value of repeatedly reporting about concerns if, as a society, we want parents to feel confident in helping their children navigate today’s media. Here are some questions we might ask, for example:

1. UK psychologist Simon Moore raised one very good one on a panel following the unveiling of the study at last week’s annual FOSI Conference: “We spend half our time in the real world and half in the digital world, sometimes more. Are we more at risk in one than the other? Are parents concerned about their children’s behavior in the real world? That needs to be looked at.” But surveys about digital parenting not only don’t “look at that,” they don’t reflect that blended digital/physical reality or help parents understand the importance of working with the whole child and his/her experience as a whole, because they’re living their lives in both spaces. Asking people about their concerns about something pulls it out of context and reinforces the belief that it’s the thing in an of itself to be concerned about. Read more

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The next version of ‘Internet safety': A look under the hood

“Under the bonnet,” colleagues across the Atlantic and Down Under would probably say. I put it that way because this post is a bit more e-safety geeky than usual. Parents and caregivers who don’t geek out on this topic might find this mildly interesting, though, because we’re talking about kids’ wellbeing in media and so much more. Going forward, the value of “Internet safety” – if the concept doesn’t eventually just melt into online/offline risk prevention and instruction in media, digital and social literacy, as I suggested last year – will be measured by how much it increases children’s literacy, competency and success, as well as safety, in this networked world.

It has been just over five years since we ConnectSafely folk published “Online Safety 3.0: Empowering and Protecting Youth,” but clearly we’re not the only ones who feel it’s time for Internet safety to get an “upgrade” now. The Family Online Safety Institute’s annual conference is this week and has the title “Redefining Online Safety.” How do we do that while “the Internet” keeps changing, with mobile’s predominance even in the US, making media ever more personal, customizable, accessible 24/7 and – in some cases – ephemeral? [Internet safety messaging used to include cautions against the “permanent searchable archive” that the Internet had become; well, disappearing media solves that and other problems we’ve noted but now raises new concerns.]

So what does “Internet safety” look like going forward? Here are what I see to be the key elements under the hood of this “concept car” we might call Online Safety 4.0:

  • Youth participation: In a user-driven media environment, safety doesn’t happen without the full participation of whoever we want to keep safe. Does that not seem intuitive? And yet this condition has been conspicuously absent from Internet safety discussion all over the world. What we’re slowly moving away from is the opposite insidious premise that youth are only potential victims, perpetrators (in the case of cyberbullying) or at best passive beneficiaries of adults’ campaigns, policies, protections, etc. Participation is as much a right as protection is. Youth participation goes beyond youth having a voice in the matter.

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Perfect digital parenting doesn’t exist

I’m stating the obvious – that perfect digital-age parenting doesn’t exist – but let me explain why it doesn’t. Writer Heather Havrilesky got me thinking about this with her commentary “The ‘Mommy’ Problem” in the New York Times this weekend. She focuses on mothers (since our culture does so much) and on offline parenting. I’ll add the digital part. She writes that “the current culture demands that every mother be all in, all the time…. We are outclassed at every turn. We are outspent and out-helicoptered and outnumbered.”

momAnd we see that too much where digital parenting’s concerned too. For as long as I can remember in my 15+ years of following tech parenting, the online wellbeing/risk/safety/whatever discourse has been suggesting that if we only just filter, monitor more, have our kids sign mobile contracts, pass laws and generally exert “parental control,” tech or otherwise, our kids will be safe online. But that messaging is entirely aimed at engaged parents, and…

“There’s too much pressure, on parents in general and mothers in particular, to keep our kids away from corn syrup and bullies and industrially farmed beef while introducing them to chapter books and charcoal drawings and parasailing,” as Havrilesky writes. “I am not interested in hearing theories on what gave your 5-year-old such a premature grasp of quadratic equations, or about the countless benefits of living in Berlin for your now-German-speaking, bicycle-riding, train-hopping spawn.” Read more

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Less parental control, more support of kids’ self-regulation: Study

It isn’t the first time research has found that “parental control” is not the best way to keep children safe online and on phones. “Rather than restricting or monitoring internet use, parents should let their children discover the net, both good and bad, themselves,” the BBC cites a new survey as saying.

oxfordinstituteIt’s encouraging to see news stories like this; they’ve been rare over the past decade+, so it feels like we may be reaching a tipping point where the public discourse about youth online safety is becoming balanced and research–based.

This survey, of more than 2,000 14-to-17-year-olds in the UK and published by the Oxford Internet Institute and The Parent Zone, reminds me of several earlier ones, especially…

  • A 2010 report by Britain’s education watchdog Ofsted that looked at 37 schools, finding that highly controlled school environments did less to keep students safe in the long run than giving them opportunities to take responsibility for their own online safety
  • EU Kids Online’s finding that risk-taking and resilience development go hand-in-hand (as do risk and opportunity) online – see this on the latter in their 2011 report and this on their groundbreaking January 2013 report on resilience.
  • The US’s 2008 national task force at Harvard’s Berkman Center finding that a child’s psychosocial makeup and (home and school) environments are better predictors of online risk or safety than any technology the child uses.

Survey’s conclusions Read more

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Online harassment, bullying far from ‘kid stuff': Fresh data

 

Age categories for this Pew study: 18-29, 30-49 and 50+

Age categories for this Pew study: 18-29, 30-49 and 50+

A new study from the Pew Internet Project confirms yet again that no particular demographic has a monopoly on online harassment and bullying, certainly not kids and teens. “Fully 73% of adult Internet users have seen someone being harassed in some way online and 40% have personally experienced it,” Pew reports – and, astoundingly, 70% of the youngest adults (18-24-year-olds)!

Compare just that 40% of all adults who’d experienced digital harassment to the percentage of youth who have. “On average, about 25% of the students who have been a part of our last 8 studies have said they have been the victim of cyberbullying at some point in their lifetime,” reports the Cyberbullying Research Center.

According to the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Controls, 14.8% of teens surveyed said they’d been cyberbullied in the past 12 months.

Where does anti-social behavior come from?

Not children. Few are born with antisocial tendencies, according to behavioral geneticist David Lykken. Environmental conditions and trauma in early childhood have a lot to do with developing bullying behaviors. In other words, “those who hurt are hurting,” and that hurt comes first from witnessing or being hurt by the adults around a child. The 2005 book The Sociopath Next Door by Harvard Medical School psychologist Martha Stout shows that 4% of people inherit sociopathy, but few in that cohort come to exhibit violent behavior.

Child Development journal coverIn fact, young people may be more capable of changing their behavior than adults are, because they’re works in progress – learning on all cylinders. A 2013 study in the journal Child Development found that “an intervention designed to teach adolescents that people have the potential for change could take the edge off these experiences and lead to less aggressive retaliation and more prosocial behavior. Moreover, this occurred in an age group and in a context believed by some to be relatively impervious to reform—an urban, diverse public high school with substantial levels of conflict.” Read more

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Of young people’s (not just digital) citizenship

This being Digital Citizenship Week in the US, here’s a view of it that isn’t typically heard by parents and K-12 educators here. It’s the view from youth themselves, as captured by scholars in the new book Wired Citizenship: Youth Learning and Activism in the Middle East, edited by Linda Herrera at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Routledge 2014). I hope that – even though entire curricula have been written for digital citizenship instruction in K-12 schools – perspectives like this will help everyone exposed to them see that we are far from ready to define digital age citizenship, much less dictate to young citizens what it is.

Wired Citizenship book coverWe – all of us, worldwide – can’t yet be sure what citizenship, digital or otherwise, is becoming in this rapidly shrinking, networked world. “Compared to previous generations, youth coming of age in the digital era are learning and exercising citizenship in fundamentally different ways,” writes Linda Herrera in Harvard Educational Review.

She cites more than a dozen scholars who see in this generation “patterns of sociability, cognition, and values distinct from generations who came of age in a pre-digital era. Members of this cohort, born between the late 1970s and the early years of the millennium, function in ways that are more horizontal, interactive, participatory, open, collaborative, and mutually influential. Their tendency to be more collectivist oriented has led some to call them the ‘we’ generation.”

It’s not that national citizenship is going away, of course. But the ways people of all ages think about and act on it are changing as we connect across borders, cultures, jurisdictions and other traditional lines of division. For one thing, it’s much easier to find examples of what’s possible – what has been achieved, how it has and who can help – in a constantly updated global database of humanity’s collective knowledge and social action.

If we want to support the members of this very connected generation that we love as they find their identities, roles and contributions in a networked world, certainly we have to understand their media tools and environments and help them use them to their advantage as well as for the social good.

Growing sense of participation

So consider how using connected media itself – not being taught about it – sensitized, informed and otherwise educated three young Egyptians, three of many young people across the Middle East mentioned in Herrera’s paper: Read more

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About our strange way of understanding teen sexting (guest post)

By Nina Funnell

Based on her many thoughtful conversations with youth and adults about sexting over several years, Australian researcher and author Nina Funnell – who I met and heard speak at an Internet safety conference in Sydney last year – offers adults the rare opportunity to step outside the box of conditioned, fearful and often legalistic thinking about technology and sexuality. Here is her take on an in-depth report on teen sexting just released by The Atlantic for its November issue.

Earlier this week The Atlantic published a lengthy essay on young people and sexting titled “Why Kids Sext.” The article begins with a parent’s fearful reaction on learning that her teen daughter’s nude image had been posted online. The views of many sources – both beyond and on the scene in that particular school sexting case – are then woven in, to diagnose the problem and suggest various strategies. The police, in particular, are quoted at length.

Like so many other articles on the subject of teen sexting, adult voices are foregrounded, while young people are either excluded from the conversation all together or else strategically undercut by the journalist (“Kids, however, are known to exaggerate”).

This trend is not new. Through an extensive analysis of more than 2,000 media items on the subject of sexting (produced between 2002- 2013), Australian researchers have found that young people themselves rarely feature in such discussions. They are, in effect, locked out of the public debate about their own bodies and choices, while parents, teachers, academics, police and government officials are given broad scope to judge the issues and offer reasons as to why teens behave the way they do.

This tallies with other research presented in 2010 by Randy Lynn at the 105th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Atlanta, Georgia. Through an analysis of media reporting on the subject of teen sexting, Lynn found that 82% of articles cited adults rather than young people themselves.

Even more concerning is that, when journalists do attempt to include the voices of young people, they sometimes only do so in order to judge and mock those young people or to hold them up as objects of ridicule and derision for a cynical public.

For example, in a commentary published in Australia’s flagship newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald, in 2012, journalist Wendy Squires shares an anecdote about the daughter of a family friend who sent a nude image of herself as a 13-year-old and later tried to overdose when it was shared. When the daughter was 17, Squires caught up with her and wrote about the encounter:

I saw a happy, attractive and popular young woman. Asking her what she thinks about that sexted photo today, I expected her to be full of regret. And she was. Only it was for a whole different reason.

“Oh, I hate that photo,” the girl said, screwing her face into something resembling a cat’s bum. “I look so fat.”

After spitting my wine across the table and picking my jaw up off the floor, I managed to ask her if she was serious.

“Oh yeah,” she replied. “I mean, I hadn’t even waxed. Gross.”

“So,” I continued reluctantly, “would you send a nude photo of yourself again?”

“Sure,” she replied. “I do all the time. Everyone does. It’s fun. I just make sure I always look hot though now.”

Today, the word “cheap” is not just appropriate for how many young women like to dress. It also appears to reflect their sense of self-worth.

No matter where you stand on the issue of teen sexting, on the issue of respectful journalism we can hopefully all agree that the image of a powerful adult journalist spitting both wine and insults (like “cheap”) at a teen girl does exactly nothing to foster understanding, compassion or empathy between a reading public and an already disenfranchised and marginalized youth population.

As a journalist myself, I see so many missed opportunities in these sorts of reports. I wish more journalists and editors would at least attempt to approach young people with a level of honest curiosity and genuine interest, rather than with snark and a set of foregone conclusions about young people’s motivations, actions and attitudes.

There is so much we could have learned from that 17-year-old, after all – about both self-harm and resilience as well as evolving social norms connected with nudity, identity, performativity, gender and power.

And it is only once journalists and editors start listening to young people that we might actually gain useful insights into the incredibly complex social worlds they inhabit. And if we genuinely want to understand “why kids sext,” as The Atlantic headline promised, adults will need to suspend their judgment and stop assuming the right to speak on behalf of young people. To do this, we will also have to move beyond various limiting stereotypes and common myths about young people, and be willing to hear with an openness and compassion what young people themselves have to say.

Nina Funnell is an author, journalist and social commentator with a particular interest in youth, gender, social justice and technology. Nina sits on the board of the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre board in Australia and is an advocate for the rights of young people. Nina is the co-author of Loveability: An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships, which is available here.

Sidebar: Insights from The Atlantic piece

Here are some insights into adults’ perceptions and actions around teen sexting – and the consequences thereof – that leaped out at me from Hanna Rosin’s article in The Atlantic:

  • Laws: Some 20 states have passed laws decriminalizing or easing penalties for sexting by minors, which can keep teens with no criminal intentions from facing life-damaging criminal prosecution, but it also codifies into law what typically amounts to flirting or sexual interplay between consenting partners. “As it stands now, in most states it is perfectly legal for two 16-year-olds to have sex. But if they take pictures, it’s a matter for the police,” Rosin writes.
  • Sexting not causative. Possibly helpful for adults to consider: “Sexting is a form of sexual activity,” not a gateway to it, reports Rosin, citing the view of Amy Hasinoff, author of the forthcoming book Sexting Panic: Rethinking Criminalization, Privacy, and Consent.
  • Adults, not just teens, need to consider consequences. To avoid re-victimization or victimization through the investigation process, adults need to know how traumatizing an investigation can be: “Whether a sext qualifies as relatively safe sexual experimentation or a disaster often depends on who finds out about it.” Rosin cites the experience of Marsha Levick of the nonprofit Juvenile Law Center with “many cases where the police investigation does much more harm than the incident itself.” There is the humiliation for kids of having their photos seen by police officers, judges and probation officers.
  • For family conversations: “Sexts don’t create sexual dynamics; they reveal them. Parents should use the opportunity to find out what those dynamics are, lest they accidentally make things worse,” Rosin wrote.

Related links

  • Young people, sex and relationships: The new norms,” a paper by policy researcher Imogen Parker published in August at British think tank IPPR, looked at 18-year-olds’ own views on said. The study’s three main conclusions were that “sex and relationship education should be taught in every school by specialists, and must be broader in scope … more information and support in every area of sex and relationship education”; “parents, educators and young people need a single point to access advice and support … useful, contemporary resources and guidance”; and “local authorities’ public sexual health responsibility for young people should be broadened: for example, to extend beyond targets for teenage pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections to cover the wider wellbeing aspects of healthy, positive intimate and social relationships.”
  • A 2013 three-part series I posted about Nina’s research in Australia: “‘Noodz,’ ‘self lies’ & ‘sexts,’ etc.”: A spectrum of motivations, Part 1, For better youth education, Part 2 and Bias in the news coverage, Part 3
  • My post about Elizabeth Englander’s study, which was cited in Rosin’s article: “Don’t hype sexting risks to teens”
  • About a horrifyingly handled recent teen sexting case in Virginia this year, Part 1 and Part 2 (the verdict)
  • And many other posts I’ve written on the subject through the years
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Zooming in on ‘screentime’ (this time with more precision)

Screentime infographic

By Heather Hopp-Bruce, Boston Globe

Don’t believe everything you read about “screentime.” It’s rarely helpful – especially if presented as an undifferentiated mass of digital activity that just needs to be limited. That blunt-instrument approach is not helpful to parents. This very visual commentary from graphic designer and blogger Heather Hopp-Bruce in the Boston Globe is a refreshing departure from most messages about children’s screentime. It includes this beautiful infographic (click on “Boston Globe” under my screenshot for the legible original) that illustrates three categories of screentime – passive, creative and interactive – with lots of examples of each.

All of these types of on-screen activity can be useful and good, often rich with learning. What determines value for our children, on-screen just as off-screen, is individual, situational (having to do with timing, from time of day to time of life) and contextual (home, school and digital environments).

The headline on Hopp-Bruce’s page is “How best to prepare kids for the digital world.” Certainly that doesn’t happen only on screens, I’m sure she’s saying too. But just as certainly some of it needs to now. Media Literacy 101 for us parents.

Related links

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Protecting student privacy calls for student participation

This era of big data and big exposure – of all aspects of life to peers, the public and even perpetrators – calls for big participation. Because every day people are exposing, sharing, uploading, creating and inputting things about themselves and others, whether in social situations or part of their jobs, as friends, relatives, students or professionals, everybody is a participant (and stakeholder) in protecting their own and one another’s privacy. Certainly that includes school, corporations and government entities too.

The word privacy & a pencil eraserJust in the area of student privacy, we’ve certainly seen unprecedented participation on parents’ part, first with the demise last spring of InBloom, which was a nonprofit student data management organization aimed at improving public education (the Wall Street Journal reported on this). Concerns about our kids socializing in a fishbowl are justifiably spreading to fear that they’ll have to learn in one too. Commenting in the New York Times, Olga Garcia-Kaplan, a parent and student privacy advocate who blogs for FERPAsherpa.org, summed it up beautifully with: “Don’t our students have the right to learn imperfectly, and with the privacy for trial and error?”

Since the InBloom implosion, state legislatures have passed more than 20 student privacy laws so far and introduced 110 bills, EdSurge reported last month, and federal legislation that would update FERPA (the Federal Educational Rights & Privacy Act) was introduced in July, Education Week reported. And ed tech companies seem to be stepping up, signing a pledge to protect student privacy (see Education Week).

Now students are stepping up

Art. VI on “Information and Privacy” of this student-developed Student Bill of Rights describes “the right to control and access one’s information” this way: “All students are protected from arbitrary interference or constraint of their privacy, regardless of circumstance, whether in person, online or within school. A school may not share student records without the prior written consent of the student or their legal guardian. The handling of student information must be a transparent process and the responsible institution must be accessible.” [The Student Bill of Rights, a growing crowd-sourced work in progress, is a project of Student Voice (think of the potential for school climate improvement of schools officially recognizing a student-sourced bill of students’ rights).] Read more

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So-called Snapchat hack & the question of where to place trust

It’s interesting to see headlines like “Snapchat photo leak shows users’ mistake was trusting each other.” That was the takeaway from a commentator in the Los Angeles Times. But the real takeaway should be: Don’t trust unauthorized third-party apps that claim to enhance or add convenience to your social media apps. At least, if you really want to use one, look into how it works and what it does with your data before using it.

 

Snapchat activity

Hard to read chart from Digiday.com says Snapchat’s at 400m snaps/day, with 50% of users 13-17, 31% 18-24. More than 1/2 in N.America.

That’s what happened with Snapchat over a period of years: “A third-party Snapchat client app has been collecting every single photo and video file sent through it for years, giving hackers access to a 13GB library of Snapchats that users thought had been deleted,” BusinessInsider.com reported.

I suspect 99% of Snapchat users know that screenshots can be taken of their snaps. They know disappearing photos and videos don’t necessarily disappear and, when people do grab screenshots of snaps, rarely is there any problem. This news story is not about friends; it’s about abuse of both the Snapchat service and its users. That exploit took the form of a database “as big as 200,000″ screenshots that the New York Times reported “appear to have come from the accounts of people using Snapsaved, a smartphone tool that its creators said would allow users to store photos from their Snapchat accounts that normally disappear after 10 seconds.” Read more

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Why defining ‘bullying’ is important for schools

There are all kinds of reasons why “bullying” and “cyberbullying” can’t be applied to just any kind of mean behavior that happens in physical or digital spaces. Professor and author Justin Patchin goes into a bunch of them in his latest blog post, but parents may want to know why lack of definition is a problem for schools as well as for students.

For example, Patchin writes, “recently-passed laws in some states require educators to take certain steps once a behavior is classified as bullying. Well-intentioned or not, these laws force schools into following specific and time-consuming procedures.” He describes why it’s a problem for schools and districts in New Jersey under a new law there, the upshot being that “it would take an army of administrators to follow through on all of these procedures if every rude, annoying, or even hurtful incident were classified as ‘bullying’.” That’s one really important reason why society needs to be clear about what it is, where it happens (see his post and this from the Crimes Against Children Research Center for that).

Another huge reason is that “schools are increasingly being judged by the number of bullying reports received each year.” But does a high number of reports represent a school climate conducive to bullying, one in which students are comfortable with reporting, or a school community without a clear definition of bullying so that every mean behavior is deemed “bullying”? In his post, Patchin asks, “If a school shows a high number of bullying reports/interventions, is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Because that’s not clear, how much can state laws requiring reporting help? Read more

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Does digital downtime fix FOMO?

Maureen O’Connor at New York Magazine calls it “the Band-Aid of Luddism.” Not that anybody who takes days off from digital media is a Luddite. Certainly not. It’s just that band-aids don’t fix problems; they make them less visible (yes, and help keep things clean, but stay with me for a minute, here).

"Device Free Tips"

Photo by Rusty Blazenhoff (cc licensed)

“We have a tendency to blame technology-mediated problems on the technology itself,” O’Connor thoughtfully writes, “as though Pinterest created homemaker insecurity or Instagram created FOMO [“fear of missing out”]. And though technology can exacerbate any number of woes — maybe you hate your needy boyfriend because he texts too much — few crises occur exclusively online. And so, when someone announces ‘I need to unplug,’ very often what they really mean is, ‘I need to escape a part of my life or psyche that is most visible to me when I see it online.’ Self-hate gets projected onto the screen; turn the screen off and the feeling goes away, right?”

So what about “FOMO”? Just as switching off doesn’t really fix what’s bothering us in Snapchat, Twitter or Instagram, staying tuned in all the time, due to “Fear of Missing Out” on what everybody’s saying about everything, doesn’t either. For our own and our children’s sakes, we need to get past fearing or vilifying technology that’s here to stay and go a teeny bit deeper.

We need to talk with our kids about FOMO more than we need to get them some time away from devices. It’s far from just a kid thing, but awareness of what it is and how it can trip us up will go much farther in keeping our kids safe and preparing them for life in a digital age than making them switch off their devices. This is a real, very prevalent “online safety” issue (the social-emotional kind) that will help them all their lives. So for the sake of healthy discussion for growing everybody’s digital, media and social literacy, I offer four kinds of FOMO (you and your kids may think of more and, if you do, by all means share them below in comments!):

Types of FOMO Read more

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Powerful lessons for preventing bullying & cyberbullying

It’s October already, so National Cyber Security Awareness Month (#NCSAM2014) and National Bullying Prevention Month have arrived – offering a good reminder that, in today’s increasingly user-driven digital environments, digital safety and security depend on all Net users of all ages. Care and respect for each other’s property, privacy, identity, emotional safety and digital security – just about every online representation of us and our lives – increases our own and those of our peers and communities. Today I’ll focus on the human side of security, marking the start of this high-awareness month with a sampler of all we’ve learned about bullying online and offline….

Crowded school hallway

Photo by Kate Ter Haar (CC Licensed)

So much wisdom and sound practice has emerged since social media reignited concerns about social cruelty – by making it more visible, not more common, than ever. [In fact, research released by the US Centers for Disease Control this past June shows a small decrease in cyberbullying between 2011 and 2013. Last year it was down to 14.8% of students having experienced “electronic bullying” in the 12 months prior to the survey, which means a huge majority – 85.2% – had not been cyberbullied during that year.]

We know so much more now, from the prevention to the intervention parts of the solution spectrum. First and foremost, we know that all solution development needs input from students themselves.

It has been quoted before (including here), but I’ll quote it again: “We,” wrote the authors of the milestone Youth Voice Project that surveyed more than 13,000 US students in grades 5-12, “are concerned that too much work in this field has focused on adults telling youth what bullying is and what to do to address bullying behavior.

“In reality, youth are the primary experts on what is happening at school and on what works best to prevent peer maltreatment…. We see authentic youth involvement as key to success in bullying prevention.” This has been expressed in European and Australian research circles too.

Here’s just a sampler of other game-changing insights research has turned up since the advent of “cyberbullying”:

  • Bullying’s not normative, but social rivalry is. A study involving 3,722 8th-to-10th-graders in three North Carolina counties looked at the social pecking-order aspect of the power imbalance involved in bullying, introducing a shift in focus from individual to social context. For another perspective on this, see psychologist Carl Pickhardt’s piece in PsychologyToday.com.
  • One-time meanness more common than the repeated kind: For both offenders and targets, “experiencing one episode of bullying is more common than experiencing bullying repeatedly,” the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center reported, in the results of an important study of students in grades 3-5. One-time meanness could be many things we all experience, not just bullying: e.g., an expression of stress, anger or frustration, an outburst on one side an argument, a prank or act of misguided humor, etc. (and technically, it’s not even bullying). In a reference to resilience building, MARC added that, while “efforts to control bullying may often be successful, it is also possible that many children learn, from one episode, how to avoid future episodes.” And more on resilience…
  • No resilience without risk: ” “Risk and resilience go hand in hand, as resilience can only develop through exposure to risks or stressful events,” reported EU Kids Online. “Consequently, as children learn how to adequately cope with (online) adversities, they develop (online) resilience.” More thoughts on how to grow resilience in this about a TED Talk by game designer Jane McGonigal and this one by her sister, Stanford University health psychologist Kelly McGonigal.

Read more

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Mobile rules in the US now too

It’s now clear that, where Americans’ use of digital media is concerned, mobile rules. “The days of desktop dominance are over,” declares top digital market researcher comScore in its latest mobile app report. Smartphones and tablets represent 60% of Americans’ digital media time, and “the fuel driving mobile’s relentless growth is primarily app usage, which alone makes up a majority of total digital media engagement at 52%,” comScore adds. And the amount of time Americans spend in apps was up 21% last month over August 2013, TechCrunch reports, citing data from mobile researcher Localytics.

Apps in the categories of music (79%), health and fitness (51%), and socializing (49%) saw the biggest growth in time spent in them (part of music’s increase reflects a move away from iTunes to apps such as SoundCloud and iHeartRadio). TechCrunch also cites Nielsen data showing that, as of the last quarter of 2013, we’re spending “an average of 30 hours a month” in mobile apps and on average have 26.8 apps installed on our mobile devices.

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What are we really seeing in the social media fishbowl?

As a society, we’re getting closer to the heart of social media safety, which is largely, not entirely, a blend of emotional and social (psychosocial) safety. This thoughtful piece by Prof. Justin Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center – “Bullies or Best Friends? The Challenge of Interpreting Interpersonal Relationships” – raises some important questions for parents and school staff as well as researchers to consider, and I’d like to help get more discussion going. Here are some possible talking points:

  • Who’s the adult here? In an intriguing way, Justin illustrates an important point about how the behavior of a bunch of adults in a classic “real world” situation is really not that different from what goes on among teenaged friends hanging out in digital spaces. How much do we think about that when we observe teen group dynamics online?
  • “Best friends or worst enemies?” Whether it’s a group of adults or kids, offline or online, it’s often really hard to tell if the ribbing’s mean or just in fun – even when you’re a participant, much less someone on the outside looking in. Are observers honest with themselves about how little context they have? It’s hard to tell…
  • Where the line is drawn. “Most of the comments were accompanied by laughter by many in the group, including the one being roasted, which may have masked the maliciousness,” Justin writes, referring to that real-world experience. “We’ve learned through our conversations with teens who bully that a lot of bullying behaviors are done by young people who think they are just joking around.” Maybe by a lot of adults, too – some of whom, young or old, could be socially challenged or disabled. And young people, by definition, are figuring all that out as they go. Can we give them a chance to do that?
  • That definition problem again. Justin writes, “I don’t believe that bullying can be done unintentionally. Even though someone’s feelings can certainly be hurt without intent. Bullying by definition is deliberate.” Do parents and school staff think about that enough? Sometimes hurtful remarks, whether made online or offline, are mistakes, sometimes insensitivity, sometimes made in a fit of anger and of course sometimes meant as a joke. None of that is bullying or cyberbullying. That doesn’t mean that it’s ok, that it doesn’t call for an apology or shouldn’t be made right, but it’s not bullying and should be addressed with communication first, not punishment. (I’m not speaking for Justin, of course. This is my view.)
  • The social media fishbowl. Now that group dynamics play out so publicly in social media, they get more scrutiny and judgment than ever. But how much can we observers – those of us with no context on those dynamics, such as parents or school administrators watching from outside the fishbowl – know what the intention or impact of the behavior we see is? How much do we factor our lack of context into our investigations and conclusions when the dynamics seem negative or harmful?

It’s time for the public discussion about online social dynamics to get less reactive and more thoughtful. It would be very helpful, to observers as well as participants, to take what we see in social media with a grain of salt. Snap judgments from context-challenged observers are not only not helpful, they can create problems and increase harm. Respectful, open-minded communication is needed in our responses, seeking participants’ perspectives on what was going on before any conclusions are reached or actions taken.

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Spoiler alert: Kid loves teaching Twitter to Dad

I never do movie reviews. But Chef is totally on-topic for NetFamilyNews, and not because some families have foodies in them. It’s because there’s a scene that illustrates better than anything I’ve seen on film how sweetly and respectfully social media can be folded into parenting. Sure, as in this scene, it can be a little bumpy and awkward at times (like parenting, like being a kid), but when done with honesty and love, we can’t really go wrong, and we need to remember that.

Photo from the film Chef

A less than meaningful father-son moment for Percy: Chef teaching kid about the merits of fruit (photo from the film Chef)

The scene is about 30 min. into the film. And the story leading up to it is about Carl Casper, a divorced, devoted dad and master chef whose parenting is distracted and career threatened by a risk-averse restaurant owner. One night, a foodie blogger’s brutal review of his food, his menu and him goes viral on Twitter. Chef Carl – played by Jon Favreau, who is also the film’s writer and director – doesn’t understand what happened or what going “viral” means, so he turns to his 10-year-old son Percy the social media expert for help in what’s portrayed as the first undistracted, meaningful exchange Percy’s had with his dad since Dad “left home.”

The text can’t possibly do justice to the actors’ treatment of father and son (Emjay Anthony) roles, but here it is anyway, a perfect example of the sweetness that can come from turning the tables and letting our kids school us in the social media apps and services they love:

Dad: You know about Twitter?
Kid: Yeah, I have an account.
Dad: How does it work?
Kid: It’s cool.
Dad: It’s cool? That’s how it works, ‘it’s cool’?
Kid: You tweet on it.
Dad: Is that like texting?
Kids: Nah. Read more

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At the IGF: Youth participation = greater youth e-safety

One of the best things about participating in the Internet Governance Forum is seeing the growing youth participation in sessions about their online protection. And one of the best things I’ve heard so far, after just 1.5 days of the IGF here in Istanbul this week came from Danish 15-year-old Olivia in a session about “Child Online Protection” where there was much discussion about technical, legal and parental control of children’s Internet experiences:

Olivia

IGF 2014 participants Olivia (left) and Silke taking a media break (their sponsoring organization is Save the Children Denmark)

“This is our world, the Internet we’re talking about here. You have to be with us in the world. You can’t keep us away from it. You have to talk with us about it…. You have to help your children instead of trying to control them [emphasis hers].”

Safety takes practice

This was in response to the moderator asking for a teen participant’s perspective on the discussion up to that point. Olivia later told us of a friend whose 3rd-grade teacher – someone who was “qualified,” i.e., literate in the technology and media popular with her students at that time – led a discussion with her students about how they felt people should treat each other online. Her friend told her “there haven’t been any [cyberbullying] problems since” that discussion. Her point was, young people need and want thoughtful, caring guidance from informed adults, and that, not restriction, is what keeps youth safe – that as well as their own growing resilience and literacy, of course (see below for more on the literacy part). There hasn’t been enough discussion, much less acknowledgment, in online-safety circles about young people’s own skills in keeping themselves and peers safe in connected media.

“Safe” is what’s felt in a community of guided practice, whether it’s a family or a school (if children aren’t fortunate enough to have this at home, it needs to happen at school and in digital environments). This is sound, child-centered safety education: when students receive respectful guidance through facilitated discussion and opportunities to practice what they learn (in digital environments, where digital safety’s concerned), knowing that caring adults are there when backup’s needed. We need more communities of guided practice online too – that’s what children’s virtual worlds and online games need to be. Read more

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