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Friday, February 19, 2010

How much teens text: Latest data

US 13-to-17-year-olds send or receive "an average of 3,146 texts a month each" – an average of 10 text messages an hour for every hour they're not either sleeping or in school, reports, citing the latest Nielsen figures. For 9-to-12-year-olds, the average is 1,146 texts a month or four an hour. The teen figure was for third quarter 2009, the tween one for the fourth quarter. Compare those youth numbers to the average number of monthly texts for all mobile users: 500. As for methodology, in its blog post about these findings, Nielsen reports that it "analyzes more than 40,000 mobile bills every month to determine what consumers actually are spending their money on."

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Clicks, cliques & cyberbullying, Part 2: Whole-school response is key

Cyberbullying is a serious problem that, according to research, is the most common online risk for young people, affecting about a third of US 13-to-17-year-olds, and has led to some tragic student suicides. Schools and courts are struggling to figure out how to deal with student behavior that occurs off school grounds but can have such a disruptive, sometimes destructive, effect on school.

All the discussion about the legal and First Amendment issues seems to be missing a key factor that points to how to handle cyberbullying: the media environment with which all these incidents are directly associated. The Internet, especially to youth, is now a) collegial or social/behavioral in nature and b) mirrors "real world" life and conditions – it's not something in addition to student or school life. Bullying online is not a whole new problem for schools and courts to deal with. It's a reflection of student relationships, and the bullying's context is largely the life of the school community, not the Internet (or cellphones or any other devices).

Cyberbullying prevention/intervention take a village too

"Because a bully's success depends heavily on context" – write Yale psychology professor Alan Yazdin and his co-author Carlo Rotella at Boston College in "Bullies: They can be stopped, but it takes a village" at – "attempts to prevent bullying should concentrate primarily on changing the context rather than directly addressing the victim's or the bully's behavior." That, they add, involves "the entire school, including administration, teachers, and peers."

Author and educator Rosalind Wiseman agrees. In a 55-min. podcast interview she gave fellow educator and author Annie Fox, Wiseman recently said that dealing with cyberbullying "really speaks to a school's culture of dignity....

"Don't do a 45-minute assembly on cyberbullying," Wiseman said. "It's a waste of time. Have a faculty meeting, and then have a parent meeting, and tell the students this is what you're doing – not just a bullying assembly. Tell them 'we understand that this is about the whole culture of the school, and as part of that culture, you have to participate in this as well.'" Slightly tongue in cheek, Wiseman adds that this will increase "the chance of students believing you're not completely full of it."

Quick fixes don't exist

Schools will probably get plenty of eye-rolling and "whatever's" from the more socially aggressive students, but gradually things can turn around – particularly if there's disciplinary backup. [Note the word "backup": discipline is not the goal, but rather restoration of order – more on this below.] For example, when talking with a student suspected of having been the bully in an incident, the end of the conversation could go something like:

"I know we're on the same page, here: You're a person of honor, so I'm taking you on your word that this won't happen again. But you need to be clear that, if you walk out of here and, as a result of this meeting, the life of the target in any way becomes more difficult, then we are in a whole different situation – a whole different level of the problem. You need to be clear that, if that happens, you're taking a very big chance."

That conversation could also include the following. "I hope and expect that you'll be talking with your parents about this, because I'm going to be calling them within 24 hours." Wiseman tells teachers and administrators that of course the kids will talk to their parents, offering their own spin on the situation. "So it's very important to say to the parent, 'I wanted to include you from the beginning, that is why I talked with your child. I fully expected [him or her] to speak to you immediately and now I'm following up so we can work together and have this be a learning opportunity – a teachable moment – for your child."

Turning incidents into 'teachable moments'

Those words are crucial: "learning opportunity," "teachable moment." They are stepping stones on the way to building the school's "culture of dignity," as Wiseman put. Because it's merely logical that a one-time, sage-on-the-stage assembly will accomplish very little. It's also logical that involving all players and skill sets – students, parents, teachers, administrators, and counselors – creates the conditions for changing the school's culture (see this). The school is, in fact, creating a new social norm – as Elizabeth Englander, director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center and an adviser to state legislators working on bullying-education legislation, told Emily Bazelon at – where the whole school community looks down on dissing, flaming, mean gossiping, and other social cruelty, hopefully including students' parents. The Slate piece links to some great resources for school strategizing. For example, here's a sexting investigation protocol from the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use offering the spectrum of sexting causes and intentions enabling school staff to ask students intelligent questions.

When an interdisciplinary group of us were working on that protocol, authored by Nancy Willard, it occurred to me that, because it lays out the spectrum of sexting's causes, it'll help school officials see why it's essential that schools not just reflexively hand off investigations to law enforcement (whose involvement some state laws require).

The goal of any incident investigation

"The immediate goal of the investigation is not discipline [and certainly not expediency] but rather support for the targeted student(s) [who may be experiencing psychological harm], and restoration of order. The ultimate goal is to create a learning opportunity for all involved. The learning opportunity should be on-the-spot, as well as school and community-wide, and focus on the areas of critical thinking, mindful decision-making, perspective-taking, and citizenship." That's a statement a couple of us worked up because we feel it's so important for everybody to understand that, in the social-media age, we can only change behavior – in schools and online communities – together, as "a village."

Here's Part 1 of this 2-part series: "Clicks & cliques: Really meaty advice for parents on cyberbullying".

Related links

  • In another Massachusetts incident, last week Boston-area police charged three students with identity theft reportedly for creating a fake Facebook profile and posting mean comments about a peer. In an editorial last Saturday (2/13), the Boston Globe applauded the police "for taking aggressive action against cyberbullying when so many others have failed to do so." There's the sad reality: that too often the "authority figure" taking over is the police. Law enforcement is only one piece of the multidisciplinary team that should be in place in schools and ready to step in when something comes up. The other essential roles are principal and counselor/psychologist.
  • "Cyberbullying better defined" – with links to two national studies showing that about one-third of teens
  • Finding of the Harvard Berkman Center's 2008 Internet Safety & Technical Task Force: "Bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most frequent threats that minors face, both online and offline" (p. 4 of Executive Summary)
  • The Fox-Wiseman podcast
  •'s Tips to Help Stop Cyberbullying

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  • One family's tech policy

    One last gem from the Fox-Wiseman podcast that I blogged about last week in "Clicks & cliques" and that, if it isn't already, should be searchable on the Web as text. Toward the end of the interview, Fox asks Wiseman to share her own family technology policy (Wiseman's kids are 6 and 8). Here it is:

    "Technology can be really fun to use, and it gives us incredible access to the world, but it is a privilege not a right, and because it is a privilege, you have the responsibility to use it ethically. What using technology ethically looks like to me is that you never use it to humiliate, embarrass ... or misrepresent yourself or someone else, never use a password without the person's permission, never share embarrassing information or photos of others, put someone down, or compromise yourself by sending pictures of yourself naked, half-naked or in your underwear. Remember that it is so easy for things to get out of control. You know it, I know it. So I reserve the right to check your online life, from texting to your Facebook page, and if I see that you're violating the terms of our agreement, I'll take your technology away until you can earn my trust back. This is my unbreakable, unshakeable law."

    See also: "'Soft power' works better: Parenting social Web users."

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    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Kids' virtual world that plants real trees

    Arbopals is a children's virtual world with very real environmental impact. During its just-launched beta test phase, the Toronto-based virtual world's nonprofit partners in more than 20 countries will plant a tree for each of the first 1,000 users who sign up (so far, kids in 43 countries have) – because "the UN says that to compensate for the damage we have all done to the environment, we should be planting '14 billion trees every year for 10 consecutive years'," Arbopals says on its home page. [Disclosure: I'm a member of the virtual world's Advisory Council.] Aimed at children aged 5-10, the beta site and world (called Arboria) at this point have games, a store, and the Arbopedia, a searchable encyclopedia "designed to complement school curricula." Here, too, is the world's YouTube channel, featuring Arbopals characters Treesa and Forrest. The site is expected to launch right before Earth Day, April 22. [In other recent NFN coverage, see "Moderator wisdom" and "Virtual world news update."]

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    Virtual goods growth market

    Players of the social game Farmville sent 500 million Valentines over 48 hours this past weekend, the Gigaom blog reported. The valentines were free, but players pay for a lot of other virtual goods. Engage Digital Media recently released 2009 figures for "virtual goods-related investments," showing that "more than $1.38 billion was invested in 87 virtual goods-related companies," triple 2008's figure. In a more in-depth story, the BBC reported that most of the virtual economy's momentum is in social games, not so much social network sites (though some social games, such as Farmville, are found on social-network sites). "In Asia, sales are already around the $5 billion mark and rapidly growing." The BBC piece describes how this economy works.

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    Monday, February 15, 2010

    ChatRoulette: Heads up, parents!

    "If I were still an unpopular 12-year-old, my first ChatRoulette session might have crushed me for a year instead of just an hour," writes Sam Anderson in New York magazine in the mildest possible description of a site that Brad Stone of the New York Times just discovered was created by a 17-year-old in Moscow. It's a video site that "brings you face-to-face, via webcam, with an endless stream of random strangers all over the world," Anderson writes. Comments from email correspondents of mine confirm what he writes that about 10% of the videos that stream past are of naked males not just sitting in front of their Webcams. Stone writes, "Parents, keep your children far, far away." Anderson adds, "There's no way to manage the experience.... It’s the Wild West: a stupid, profound, thrilling, disgusting, totally lawless boom" with a powerful curiosity factor. And there are serious privacy issues, he adds. Because once you click "Play" on the home page, your computer's Webcam is activated, and you are among those streaming across other ChatRoulette players' screens, with any one of them able to grab a shot of your face and whatever else is within the frame of your Webcam.

    Another heads-up: ChatRoulette's not only going viral (300 users in December, 10,000 by end of January, now 20,000 any given night), it's a group thing (hopefully not the new "Truth or Dare" or "Spin the Bottle"). When a friend came over to experience it with him, Anderson reports "the experience was different ... easier to laugh off. We ended up staying on, talking and dancing, connecting and disconnecting, for four hours." As voyeuristic as it might've felt, it wasn't all "shock porn," he writes. "We chatted with Pratt students in Bed-Stuy, with a man inexplicably sitting on his toilet, with a kid waving a gun and a knife, and with a guy who went to my wife’s old high school in California. We saw Chinese kids in computer cafés and English kids drinking beer.... We talked for half an hour with a 28-year-old tech writer from San Francisco." And another email correspondent of mine just heard over the weekend that ChatRoulette is being played by "some of our middle schoolers in [the US state of] Georgia." There may shortly be a spike in Web-filtering sales!

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    School filters & students' workarounds

    Not surprisingly, students seem to agree with Ofsted – though perhaps sometimes for different reasons ;-) – that "locked down" filtering at school isn't the best (see this about Ofsted's report). "Many young people are using 'proxy servers' to get round their schools' internet security systems, " the BBC reports, adding that students' use of these free school-filtering workarounds is on the rise. "It sounds like an obscure, techy area of computing that only geeks would know about. But when we asked pupils in one secondary school classroom who had heard of proxy servers, every hand went up." School filters can block access to known proxy sites, but there are so many and new ones pop up so constantly that it's almost impossible for the school systems to keep up. What most students aren't aware of, the BBC reports, is the security risks associated with some of these proxy sites. Some of them send Trojan software that installs monitoring applications on the computer a student's using which captures passwords and other keystrokes. For a US version of this story, see a commentary in the Washington Post last summer. Of course, the ultimate workaround is a mobile phone or wi-fi-equipped handheld device like the iPod Touch with a Web browser, and – despite school bans – their numbers are growing probably proportionately to overall smart-phone market growth. Banning phones in school is about as effective as the Ofsted report found rigid or "locked down" filtering to be. Instead, schools should embrace and teach with these devices and technologies so students can learn and practice wise use (see "From digital disconnect to mobile learning"). That helps develop the 24/7 cognitive "filter" in their heads that improves with practice and is as flexible as their use of technology is (see this).

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