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Friday, November 14, 2008

Teaching students to help stop cyberbullying

A conference on cyberbullying last week in Montpelier drew some 300 middle and high school students from all over Vermont, the Rutland Herald reported. Judging by the reporting, it was very effective - a research-based approach that encouraged empathy and gave young people information they could act on (along those lines, see our new "Tips to Help Stop Cyberbullying" at

The keynote was given by John Halligan, father of Ryan Halligan, who was 13 when he killed himself after being bullied online. Telling Ryan's story "made the students think twice about online communications," according to the Herald. Halligan told the students that he believed it's up to them, not adults, to stop cyberbullying. [Here's an interview PBS's "Frontline" producers did with Mr. Halligan for its "Growing Up Online" documentary, which you and your kids can watch in full by clicking in the upper-right-hand corner of its home page.]

Phil Fogelman, an education director at the Anti-Defamation League, which sponsored the conference, also spoke. He explained that the social and emotional impact of cyberbullying on people can be "devastating." "The students gathered in small groups for two hours of workshops, identifying the most common forms of cyberbullying, which include sharing secret or embarrassing information about someone, sending cruel messages, spreading rumors online and posing as someone else," according to the Burlington Free Press.

Speakers taught students how to recognize and address cyberbullying when it happens. The Herald reported that "most of the students said that when they encountered cyberbullying they tried to remain uninvolved. Instructors said it was important not to participate, but also said being a bystander is not enough. Students were urged to report cases of cyberbullying to an adult."

Related links

  • Further info for everybody: Cyberbullying & Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social Aggression, Threats, and Distress, by Nancy Willard, and Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying, by Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin

  • For teens: Letters to a Bullied Girl: Messages of Healing and Hope, by teen authors Olivia Gardner, Emily Buder, and Sarah Buder

  • For schools: Cyber Bullying: A Prevention Curriculum for Grades 3-5 and Cyber Bullying: A prevention Curriculum for Grades 6-12, by Susan Limber, Robin Kowalski, and Patricia Agatston

  • "Cyberbullying better defined" in NetFamilyNews, 9/19/08

  • "Online harassment: Not telling parents" in NetFamilyNews, 10/6/08

  • "Tips to Help Stop Cyberbullying" from NFN's sister site,

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  • Sesame Street on video-sharing sites

    Believe it or not, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie are 39 years old this year, and now there's a Sesame Street not only in 140 countries but also on the Web. It'll soon launch its YouTube channel with 100 video clips from the TV show, Reuters reports. Like YouTube, Hulu will also Hulu, an online video venture between News Corp and General Electric Co's NBC, will host 100 segments, and in addition "30 other segments featuring celebrity actor guests such as Julia Roberts and Laurence Fishburne." Reuters adds that full episodes of the show can be downloaded and purchased from iTunes "from season 35 and onward for $1.99." The first 10 seasons of Sesame Street are available only on disk.

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    MTV's multitasking viewers

    Actually they're far from being mere viewers or consumers, and they're not just MTV's. But MTV came up with some fascinating data that certainly confirms no teen is just viewing even when the TV's on, YPulse reports. Certainly don't forget the tiny screen. Nearly half - 47% of 9-to-17-year-olds surveyed by MTV - said their social lives would end without texting. A full half (50%) use mobile texting and the same percentage "consider their mobile as an entertainment platform," YPulse adds. The latter figure is not surprising, because it seems to me that socializing is just as entertaining as any entertainment content on a given device. As far as multitasking goes, here are a few more numbers: 31% of teens' "home Internet activity occurs while watching TV"; 45% IM or text friends while watching TV shows at the same time in their respective homes; and 35% have participated in or played games that they were informed about while watching TV shows."

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    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    Real competition for Teen Second Life?

    There are some great virtual worlds out there for kids' entertainment, but nothing quite holds a candle to Teen Second Life for its collective-creativity tools. Until Lego Universe arrives on the scene, says Barry Joseph, director of Global Kids' Online Leadership Program, in his blog. In the organization's blog he refers to it as "a bright light in the distance," he wrote in the organization's blog, point to Lego Universe, expected to debut sometime next year. Apparently it'll be virtual world and massively multiplayer game combined. The reason why it could offer TSL serious competition is Lego's track record for collective creativity online and the fact that it has a tangible, well-known Real Life connection: those little plastic bricks (you may be interested in my interview way back in 1998 with Robbie Berg, whose work at the MIT Media Lab contributed to the development of Lego MindStorms). Joseph's post includes a video preview of what Lego Universe will look like, including one that depicts "one avatar building a car followed by a second avatar collaborating on its construction." With this game/world, parents probably will quickly find the same kind of comfort level they found with Lego Star Wars. In that case, little Lego people running around with light sabers just can't seem very violent; in the case of a virtual world, this environment's more like ClubPenguin than Teen Second Life. Building and leveraging RL Lego fans will have to make up the difference for teens. [See also "Top 8 workarounds of kid virtual-world users."]

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    Social (networking) scene in Canada

    Canadians have definitely taken to social networking. "Some 17 million have a Facebook profile, 4.5 million are on MySpace, 14.5 million visit YouTube every month, and 3.6 million upload photos to the sharing site," the Toronto Globe & Mail reports. It doesn't even mention home-grown Nexopia, based in Edmonton, with about 1.4 million users. The Globe & Mail article (and accompanying Q&A with readers) is about privacy concerns regardless of users' ages ("social networkers shape their identity with these sites, essentially broadcasting their public image around the world"), pointing to a problem social sites are dealing with wherever their users are: "Many social-networking sites have privacy systems in place, but many users ignore them, only to find out - too late - that they shouldn't have left their photos, blog postings and personal information available for anyone to discover." Here are Part 2, "When a widget attacks your profile," and Part 3, "Underage kids flock to social networks." South of the border, an article in the Kansas City Star suggests this "public explosion in self-documentation" is a generational thing. Is it?

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    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    Virtual-word murder, real-life arrest

    It's the first known arrest for the murder of an avatar. Japanese police arrested a 43-year-old woman in southern Japan for murdering the avatar of a 33-year-old man in northern Japan, Fox News reports. Their avatars had been married in MapleStory, a virtual world that has seven Asian editions (Korean, Japanese, Thai, etc.) as well as editions for North America, Europe, and most recently Brazil . She was so angry upon hearing of the avatars' "sudden divorce" that she allegedly used his log-in info, obtained in happier times, to kill his avatar off. "The woman had not plotted any revenge in the real world," a Japanese official told Fox, but was arrested and "jailed [after being transported 620 miles north to Sapporo] on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data." If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $5,000. Teacher Vicki Davis in Atlanta uses this story as an example of how "online behavior has offline consequences" and how technology is not the issue (see "So many schools are punishing the portal, the website, the tool," she writes. "It is not the tool's fault that humans misbehave. That is human nature. Hold the humans accountable who do wrong things in these spaces." I think she's absolutely right but also hope people's take-away on the Japanese story is that the woman was arrested for hacking not murdering an avatar.


    Is anger rife online or... "real life," or both? CNN focuses on the Net, saying that "though there are any number of bloggers and commenters who attempt to keep their postings and responses on a civil level, all too often interactive Web sites descend into ad hominem attacks, insults and plain old name-calling. Indeed, there are even whole sites devoted to venting, such as ... and" It's exactly what digital-citizenship instruction needs to address, but remember too that disagreement can be respectful and anger ok if not hurtful. Civility, certainly, but also anger management, empathy, critical thinking, and thicker-skin development are all good topics for digital-citizenship discussion. Here's CNN's sidebar on anger in Second Life.

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    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    China's definition of Net addiction

    Sheer critical mass could be one reason why Chinese doctors had to come up with a definition of Internet addiction. Net users aged 18-30 make up half of China's estimated online population of some 250 million people, and 10% of that group of Netizens are addicted (about 70% of them male), China Daily reports. That's 12.5 million addicts. The announcement, by Dr. Tao Ran of Beijing's Military General Hospital, was one of two firsts for China: the first diagnostic definition of Internet addiction "amid efforts to address an increasing number of psychological problems that reportedly result from Internet overuse" and China's first Internet addiction clinic. "China could become the first country to classify Internet addiction as a clinical disorder and plans to lead the world by registering the condition with the World Health Organisation," the Times of London reports. Symptoms include "yearning to get back online, mental or physical distress, irritation and difficulty concentrating or sleeping." Dr. Tao "classifies as addicts those who spend at least six hours online a day and have shown at least one symptom in the past three months." He said 80% can be cured with treatment that "usually lasts about three months." The Times adds that "research by the internet media company InterActiveCorp showed that 42% of Chinese youngsters polled felt addicted to the internet, compared with 18% in the US."

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    Teens' nude photo-sharing in NH

    New Hampshire is the latest state where there have been reports of teens passing around via cellphones nude photos of peers. "Students at Salem High School were allegedly circulating graphic photos of fellow, underage female students among themselves via cell phone, prompting a police investigation," the New Hampshire Union Leader reports. Police said photos of at least two girls were disseminated by both boys and girls to a "significant number of students" but not throughout the entire student body of 2,300. The Caledonian Record later reported that "police, prosecutors and school officials ... are warning students that ... taking, possessing and distributing explicit pictures of children is a crime." The school held an assembly Monday night to inform students that the photos constituted "pornography," the Eagle-Tribune reported, leaving "at least one parent" upset that it did more to spread rumors than provide facts. For stories in other states about this trend, see "Naked photo-sharing trend" and "Nude photo-sharing: Q from a family that's been there."

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    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Brain scans & bullying

    It appears some bullies literally feel better when viewing others suffering. "Brain scans of teens with a history of aggressive bullying behavior suggest that they may actually get pleasure out of seeing someone else in pain," Reuters cites researchers at the University of Chicago as finding. Though unsurprising to victims of bullying, probably, the finding is not actually what the researchers expected. "The prevailing view" is that bullies are "cold and unemotional," while this indicates that they actually "care very much" about the impact of their behavior, they told Reuters. For the first time, the researchers used fMRI to watch the brain activity in eight 16-to-18-year-olds with aggressive conduct disorder while showing them "video clips of someone inflicting pain on another person." They did the same with a control group of eight teens with no aggression problems. "In the aggressive teens, areas of the brain linked with feeling rewarded - the amygdala and ventral striatum - became very active when they observed pain being inflicted on others. But they showed little activity in an area of the brain involved in self-regulation - the medial prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction - as was seen in the control group." What this indicates, as eScience News put it, is that "some aggressive youths' natural empathetic impulse may be disrupted in ways that increase aggression." The researchers told Reuters their study - entitled "Atypical Empathetic Responses in Adolescents with Aggressive Conduct Disorder: A functional MRI Investigation" and appearing in the journal Biological Psychology - wasn't conclusive; a larger one is needed. [This just in: a New York Times blog post about this study, with interesting reader comments following it.]

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