See accompanying website:

This book is a second for this author in this area, designed to encourage educators, mental health professionals & law enforcement (USA) to work together to become content teachers on safety and civility for “today’s digital youth”.

The Cyber Savvy instructional approach is grounded in the understanding that the vast majority of young people want to make good choices, do not want to be harmed, and do not want to see their friends or other harmed. This instructional approach focuses on positive social norms, effective practices, and the positive engagement of witnesses.

The Dangers of Scare Tactics 

The data for this project was gathered through online surveys of students, to encourage educators to find ways to embed this within other elements of the curriculum in the long term (constructivist education). The core focus of this book is that messages about “new” technologies should not be grounded in fear – and this is not just about the internet – everyday today is digital/mobile. With my PhD, fear was often used in wartime propaganda, but risk-prevention professionals know that ‘scare tactics’ are ineffective – and that it’s better to focus on positive social norms and youth skill building.

Use of the Net

By the age of 13 most children want to use “adult” (in the non-porn sense) sites, so these kind of lessons need to be in place before then. The core analogy that is used is that of a “swimming pool”, and there’s a particular emphasis upon peer-learning.

P4: NAS Report Youth, Pornography and the Internet (2002):

Swimming pools can be dangerous for children. To protect them, one can install locks, put up fences, and deploy pool alarms. All of these measures are helpful, but by far the most important thing that one can do for one’s children is to teach them to swim.

The author uses the notion of digital natives/immigrants, saying that as with people who move country, the children often adapt more quickly than the parents.

“There is a change in the paradigm. In the old paradigm, adults understood the risks and the environment. Adults were generally in a position where they could detect risky behavior and intervene. Adults were the voice of authority.”

No longer… The author calls particularly for collaborative problem-solving with peers. Teachers as ‘guides on the side’ need to have enough insight to be effective guides. A range of academic research studies have shown that ‘online risk does not necessarily equal harm’. There are risks and benefits on the internet – as with learning to ride a bike – we need to ensure young people understand the risks so they can keep themselves safe.

Overall Message

The outstanding message from the book is that those at the greatest risk online tends to be those who are already at risk generally. Digital risk behaviour is not new behaviour, but is being manifested in new ways – most with accompanying benefits. , including wider dissemination/permanency, greater invisibility (both in giving/receiving), slow to see harmful consequences, increasing number of friends. The other core message is the danger (particularly from the media – who tend not to base their posts upon academic research) of “norming” the idea that e.g. cyberbullying is an uncontrollable epidemic:

We need to engage/empower youth as will often be without adult supervision:

  1. Reinforce positive social norms and practices
  2. Foster effective problem solving and the use of effective strategies
  3. Empower and engage witnesses to be helpful allies
  4. College local data to guide instruction and support ongoing evaluation.

Encouraging Positive Choices Online

The book focuses particularly on encouraging children to write their own agreements for use with technology for their parents (rather than pre-written), and to undertake regular surveys in order to distribute statements such as “90% of x school students have set their social networking profile to ‘friends only’.”

Disinhibition: sometimes, when people use digital technologies they do things they wouldn’t do “in the real world” – if we understand factors involved, we can recognize when going in a negative direction & move towards positive behavior. Bandura’s theory on moral disengagement (1991) – create rationalisations/justifications for why not necessarily to abide by moral standards in a particular situation.

Age Appropriate? 

Children don’t have sufficient brain development to make good choices, so parents need to set up ‘a safe playground’, and only use sites their parents have approved, and then learn simple safety guidelines for using those spaces.

Teenagers are still undergoing development – especially if emotions are involved. Effective problem solving is difficult online as send quickly, and posting/sending material when upset can be damaging. Biologically compelled to make own decisions, they don’t want to report negative incidents – want to resolve themselves. As all should think, we should avoid posting material when upset.

Key Quotes

“Encourage them to act in accord with internalized values, regardless of whether they can be identified.” (p24)

“Do unto others as you’d have done unto yourself” – a great underlying rule for behaviour. (p25)

“Encourage them to think of the norms they want to encourage within their digital communities. Help them to be able to challenge digital social norms that support irresponsible behaviour by focusing on the predictable harmful consequences of following such norms.” (p26)

“Because I can, it must be OK” – e.g. illegally downloading music must be OK because you can. Detection also unlikely makes this easier to think can get away with. (p27)

The Dangers of Techno-Panic
“Techno-panic is a heightened level of concern about use of contemporary technologies by young people that is disproportionate to the empirical data or the actual degree of risk.” (p29)

“The width of the chasm is directly controlled by the degree of perceived risk associated with the use of digital technologies. Given that pragmatists seek to manage the risks, the misperception that these risks are significant contributes to greater reluctance to change.” [So, media is causing huge problems with continuous negative coverage – which we need to address with more examples/demonstrate the norms]. (p33)

Understanding the Risks

Are a minority who face serious risks, and this is a concern, but to address those concerns need a balanced understanding… (p31-32)

Providing Parent Guidance

Schools could consider a survey amongst parents, and distribute similar statements (90% of parents at x school do x)

Dr Baumrind identified 4 basic parenting styles:

  1. Authoritative – actively involved in a positive manner
  2. Authoritarian – actively involved but in a negative manner
  3. Indulgent – positively involved but not active
  4. Neglectful – negatively involved and not active.

The book seeks to steer parents towards the authoritative way of parenting, offering rules/limits, but in discussion with the child (which build a relationship of trust/sharing). Such children seem to be more careful users online, and more prepared to deal with challenges.

The author recognises that parental workshops are unlikely to be attended by those who really need the advice, but hope that the parents who do come will share with their children, and those children will be peer leaders, and the information will circulate. There’s a real concern for civil duty here, and ensuring those who may be at the wrong side of the digital “divide” are catered for.

In every interaction with your child in relation to digital technologies, ensure there is at least one positive statement about your child’s activities. Known as ‘operant conditioning’ – the child is more likely to want to share aspects of their digital life with parents.

The book continues to provide information about how to cope in a range of circumstances.

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