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Friday, April 02, 2010

Lots of underage social networkers

Thirteen is the minimum age of the world's most popular social network sites, including in the UK, and a quarter of British 8-to-12-year-olds who use the Net at home have profiles on social-network sites, according to study by UK regulator Ofcom. Given similarly high levels of Internet use on both sides of the Pond, I doubt US figures for underage social networkers would be much different (I'm aware of no parallel study done in the US). Ofcom also found that 37% of 5-to-7-year-old home Net users had visited Facebook (but didn't necessarily have a profile). The good news is that 83% of 8-to-12-year-olds with profiles have them set so that only social-site friends can see them, and 4% have profiles that can't be seen at all. "Nine in ten parents of these children who are aware that their child visits social networking sites (93%) also say they check what their child is doing on these types of sites." Here's another important takeaway, pointing to a growing need for solid new-media-literacy training in school: According to The Telegraph's coverage: Among kids 10 and under, "70% of those using blogs or information sites such as Wikipedia believed all, or most, of what they read."

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Thursday, April 01, 2010 Substantive help site for teens

"We Can Help Us" is the welcoming (and welcome) message of a just-launched suicide-prevention campaign created by the US government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Inspire USA Foundation, and the Ad Council. It's great that there are press releases and radio and TV spots will hit the wires and airwaves, but even better is, a welcoming comprehensive Web site with video and text stories from teens and young adults about difficulties that sparked their suicidal thoughts and how they made their way to support and solutions. The site provides tools and channels for helping oneself (with a direct link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and solid information about suicide, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, and much more), helping a friend get help (by understanding the warning signs and knowing who to contact), and helping others (by submitting one's own story). Suicide is preventable, SAMHSA points out. That's why is such an important step toward moving suicide prevention into social media. With teens sending or receiving more than 1,300 text messages a month, on average, and the vast majority of teens (82%) using social network sites, very often it's peers who are first to see warning signs (see this bit of social-Web history). According to SAMHSA, "suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year-olds, following unintended injuries and homicide. While suicides account for approximately 1.4% of all deaths in the US annually, they comprise 12% of deaths among this age group. In 2006, 4,189 people between ages 15 and 24 died by suicide. For every youth who died by suicide, it is estimated that 100-200 attempts are made." It's outstanding that SAMHSA and Inspire USA are getting at underlying causes in this way.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Students leery of school cyberbullying actions: What to do

In light of some egregious cases in the news, we're naturally seeing more and more calls for schools to take action against cyberbullying. Not surprisingly, students are wary of school interventions. "The effectiveness of adult interventions depends a lot 'on context, school culture, climate, as well as the way in which each intervention is carried out,'" we hear from students who've been bullied, according to the Youth Voice Project. And in this week's newsletter feature, students told Dr. Patricia Agatston in the Atlanta area that they felt school intervention "doesn’t really help" and cited a situation where the cyberbullying of a student "got worse" and "more secretive" when administrators intervened. Clearly, if we want students to trust administrative action and help out their peers by reporting cruel behavior, we're going to have to get this right. We need to read past headlines like the Washington Post's "Make strong anti-bullying programs mandatory in schools" to the well-reported content of the article: "Unfortunately, most schools don’t have programs, and many don’t have the ones known to be most effective. Researchers say that the only kind of anti-bullying program with any hope of reducing such behavior involves the entire school community" (I recommend the whole article). There's a reason why students are concerned and a reason why we need to take their concerns seriously: in order to have their necessary involvement in resolving problems and implementing effective solutions. [For more experts on the how-to for schools, see "Clicks, cliques & cyberbullying: Whole school response is key," "Social norming: *So* key to online safety," and "Major obstacle to universal broadband & what can help."]

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Student leaders' views on cyberbullying

The other day, Patricia Agatston – school risk-prevention specialist and co-author of Cyber Bullying Prevention Curriculum for Grades 6-12 and Grades 3-5 – met with 30 student leaders at a high school in the state of Georgia. She asked them for their thoughts on cyberbullying.

"I found this discussion fascinating," she later wrote some colleagues. "I was there to discuss bullying, and we did a role-playing exercise that went pretty well, but when I moved the discussion to cyberbullying, the room just lit up. I was kind of shocked it was such a hot topic. I talk to kids about this fairly often – but something is really happening out there. I would venture to say that, while face-to-face bullying is a big topic in elementary and middle school, the issue of cyberbullying is huge with high schoolers because they have become so much more connected and, Anne, I think what you have written about, this idea of constant access [see bullet #2 in "Related links" below], is what is feeding the flame."

In light of several current news stories about tragic cyberbullying cases, I thought you'd appreciate, as I did, the insights these students offer. Here, published with her permission, are Dr. Agatston's notes from the session (I inserted ellipses between students' responses to keep this post to a manageable length):

Question: How bad is cyberbullying at your school?

"It’s bad ["group consensus," Dr. Agatston wrote].... People can be meaner so much easier now.... It is way more powerful than regular bullying.... There are apps like Formspring[.me] that are easy to access (Facebook is blocked by the school district but Formspring is not), and people use it to anonymously say awful things about one another [Note from Agatston: "This started a heated debate about how some people are just asking for trouble if they participate in Formspring – so, the students said, why would you do that if you knew people could leave hurtful comments about you?" Note from me: Formspring use is a trend; it turned up in a tragic suicide story on Long Island, N.Y., this week. Back to the students:]

Problems with evidence gathering: "People are figuring out how to keep things more private so it is harder to have evidence of the bullying too. People don’t post things as publicly anymore.... You can’t just copy and paste IMs into a document because the administration will say that you could have altered it, or the other parent can say that, so now that cyberbullying is taking place through less visible ways, i.e. texting and IM Chat on Facebook, it is harder to prove." Agatston: "Some debate around ways that you could still have evidence. But the point, I think, is that kids don’t always think to save the chat on Facebook right away, and it is deleted after 24 hours, so evidence is lost, versus comments posted on a wall."

Do you see cyberbullying incidents as just happening all of a sudden, or are they reactions to things that happen in ongoing relationships and between peer groups?

"It's both.... Some start spontaneously online, and some are reactions from relationships among peers at school." [Agatston: "But the consensus of the group was that more of the cyberbullying incidents happened in reaction to things that were happening at school."]

Is there any single best way to deal with a cyberbullying incident from your perspective? What advice for teachers and school administrators on how to handle one? Or is each case pretty different? [Agatston: "These questions led to very lively discussion/debate."]

"It depends on the situation.... Schools should not get involved.... You should try to resolve it yourself.... If that doesn’t work you talk to your parents.... Schools should be the third/last option...." [Agatston: "Much agreement to this statement." Me: This tracks with Project Tomorrow's Speak Up Survey of US students and findings of the Youth Voice Project study I wrote about here.]

Responding to bullies (or not): "You have to act like it doesn’t bother you even though it does.... [Agatston: "One student shared how talking to his parents helped him."]... You have to tell your friends not to respond. It really does make things worse. And then you have now put yourself in a position where you look bad, too, because you said things back. That’s why a lot of kids don’t tell – because they have said bad things back, and so they can’t prove they didn’t do anything wrong, that it was one-sided.... It is harder to deal with cyberbullying than face-to-face bullying. You can stand up to someone face-to-face, and they will back off. If you stand up to someone online, it just escalates things.... You can respond if you think through a thoughtful response, but most kids just react, and that makes it worse."

Could you give examples of how you’ve helped peers work out cyberbullying-related problems?

"Told them to talk to their parents.... Told them not to respond and stay calm...."

Do you think the school should intervene with off-campus cyber-bullying that disrupts school?

"No. [Agatston: "A lot of agreement, here."] It doesn’t really help. Our administrators did a mediation with some girls who were cyberbullying another student. It just got worse. They became more secretive.... [See Rosalind Wiseman's advice to administrators in dealing with socially aggressive students here.] There is not a lot they can do unless you have a copy/clear evidence.... Going to a counselor is better than going to an administrator."

Do you share with adults the negative things you see or experience online?

"No.... Only parents. [Agatston: "Why not?"] If you have responded, it escalates things and you can get blamed. That’s why people don’t tell...."

Do you have any suggestions for prevention of cyberbullying?

"We got these books that went home [they're referring to the Federal Trade Commission's Net Cetera booklet that schools can order for free] – that was a joke; most of the kids flipped through them and threw them in the trash.... Actually, I think some of the students learned something from them – but they didn’t take them home to their parents, which is what they were supposed to do.... Yeah, because their parents would learn some things they were up to and they wouldn’t want them to know. [Agatston: "FYI, this was very funny to me because I was the one who worked with the FTC to get the Net Cetera books sent home with every parent in our district. We knew it was risky sending them home with high school kids, so obviously they never made it home to the parents, but I was intrigued to learn that some kids were reading the information for themselves! Elementary copies made it home and middle school mostly handed out during parent-teacher conference week."]... Assemblies are not effective. [Agatston: "Some debate on this – it depends on the speaker; small group discussions are better than big assemblies, where everyone tunes out – don’t want to be lectured."]... Students need to hear from real people and how it affected them.... It is easier to be a positive defender through technology than it is [to defend peers] face-to-face. "

If you lose access to technology how do you feel?

"Depressed.... Sad.... Angry.... Disconnected.... Isolated.... Lonely.... Lost."

Agatston's conclusions

"The students who participated in this discussion were clearly concerned about online bullying as well as the escalation of conflict through the use of technology. Undoubtedly, some bullying behavior erupts spontaneously online, but the majority of what youth are dealing with is a continuation and escalation of bullying and conflict that occurs when they're connected by social media and the mobile Web all the time. It is discouraging to see that this group of youth leaders does not see adults at school as helpful resources when online bullying and conflict occur. But most do seem willing to go to their parents if they're unable to resolve issues on their own, and a few are willing to approach a school counselor.

"It was helpful to hear their suggestion that prevention activities involving discussions about real cyberbullying situations are a good method for addressing cyberbullying. It's clear students also need tips on 1) how to avoid escalation of conflict online and 2) how to disengage from the social drama of their peer group. While bullying prevention that addresses online behavior is critical, this discussion with some high school student leaders suggests a need to update conflict-resolution training to address online conflict."

Related links

  • A just-released study of nearly 12,000 US students in grades 5-12 at 25 schools in 12 states across the country: the Youth Voice Project (summarized and linked to here) – offering important insights into bullying victims' own views on what causes bullying, how it affects them, and what does and doesn't work in dealing with it.
  • "'Recombinant art' & life?: Parenting & the digital drama overload"
  • "Cyberbullying & bullying-related suicides: 1 way to help our digital-age kids"
  • "Clicks & cliques: *Really* meaty advice for parents on cyberbullying"
  • "Clicks, cliques & cyberbullying, Part 2: Whole-school response is key"

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  • Tuesday, March 30, 2010

    9 charged in MA school bullying case

    The felony charges against nine students at South Hadley High School – including stalking, criminal harassment, violating civil rights causing bodily harm, disturbing a school assembly, and statutory rape – follow the suicide of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince in January, the Boston Globe reports. Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said that the bullying was known to most of the student body and that "certain faculty, staff and administrators of the high school also were alerted to the harassment of Phoebe Prince before her death," according to the Boston Herald. She added that, in reviewing the investigation, her office did consider whether school actions or failure to act amounted to criminal behavior but concluded they did not. "A lack of understanding of harassment associated with teen dating relationships seems to have been prevalent at South Hadley High School. That, in turn, brought an inconsistent interpretation in enforcement in the school’s code of conduct when incidents were observed and reported." The DA said Phoebe's mother spoke to "at least two school staff members" about the harassment her daughter experienced. In an editorial, the Boston Globe said the charges "mark a new seriousness about bullying," and the state legislature has been working hard on a new anti-bullying bill that would provide school administrators with clear direction on how to handle (see my post last week). The New York Times reports that "41 other states have anti-bullying laws of varying strength." [See also "Suicide in South Hadley" at Slate.]

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    Monday, March 29, 2010

    Supremely useful tool for parents:

    Parental-control technology – filtering, monitoring, screen-time controls, etc. – isn't for all families all the time, but it's a valuable part of the parenting toolbox, along with values, regular discussion, rules, rewards, repercussions, etc. There is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution in that mix and, since '97, when I started writing about youth tech, media, and safety, I've heard from a lot of parents who so wish there was – at least in the tech-tools area. It would be nice for parents, but not so nice for kids, who are all about change and individuality even in a single family. But, if not the ultimate parental-control product, how about the ultimate guide to such products? Check out's 2010 Product Guide.

    What you get is a tremendous service: at-a-glance comparison-shopping organized in a number of ways: e.g., by kids' ages (up to 7, 8-10, etc.); by type (filtering, monitoring, etc.); by location (at the operating-system, router, or ISP level); by activity (Web browsing, email, IM, search engines, video-sharing, virtual worlds, social networking, etc.); and by device (cellphone, game console, media player, etc.). All cleanly presented with a librarian's appreciation for "accurate, unbiased information." It's the brainchild of David Burt, a former librarian who in 1997 founded the nonprofit Filtering Facts (cited in a US Supreme Court decision in 2003) and now works for Microsoft. Get Parental Controls is the new face of In an email interview, Burt told me, "I’ve wanted to get back into online-safety activism, and I wanted to find something that would have an impact but wouldn’t be duplicating what others were doing. What set the direction for me was when in June of 2009 I read the PointSmartClickSafe Task Force Recommendations for best practices for child online safety, one of the recommendations really struck me: "The following is a sample of the limitations connected with the purchase, installation, and use of filters: No standardization or benchmark exists to differentiate an excellent from a merely good or mediocre product." [See also this review of NetNanny's monitoring software for cellphones in the Wall Street Journal blog, with insights into the challenge even a trusted brand has offering working controls for teen mobile phone use.]

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