#DigitalParenting: Cyber Kids, Cyber Bullying, Cyber Balance Barbara C Trolley, Constance Hanel (2010, Corwin)

Cyber Kids, Cyber Bullying, Cyber BalanceThis book was a little confusing, and took me some time to work through – the authors (psychologists/counsellors)  kept saying that they are pro the positives of the internet, but the focus seems to be more on the negative side (despite giving Nancy Willard a big thumbs up), and quite often stats given to support findings are from quite old research that has since been debunked – or at least challenged. However, there’s some interesting information too, but the book assumes that you will have picked it up because you’ve been “touched… by technology in a negative way.”

The pair started working on cyberbullying 5 years ago, offering workshops – at a time when few understood what the term entailed. Things have improved, but they argue that there’s still much to do as it’s still hugely problematic. We need to ensure that children understand the behaviours that are required in the ‘cyber world’, and that there is more required than standard ‘school policies’.

The Technical World

To understand cyber bullying and what it means to be a cyber kid, it is important to understand how technology has blossomed into our daily lives, infusing its growth at all levels.

In 2005 it was noted that 79% of Americans were spending average of 13.3 hours a week online, when in 2000 it was established that Americans under 60 used computer/enthusiastic about it, with children more comfortable/enthusiastic.

With this great expansion of our world comes some responsibility and self-reflection to ensure that we, as a community raising children, practice what we preach, as well as teach respect for technology.

Identifying a Range of Problems 

Typical scare stories (not taking into account the human factors), in which adults are unable to keep pace with children:

  • Abbreviated language chips away at youth’s communication skills, inc ability to have f2f conversation.
  • Cyber bullies can remain anonymous & reach many at the click of a button
  • Breakup revenges lead to ‘sexting’
  • Children are too ‘plugged in’ to spend time with others, and are constantly interrupted by text messages.

I do agree with their point however, that misbehaviour hasn’t really changed, but that the way that it is carried out has, bringing with it some differences – and if we can understand those we can start to deal with them… but blames some parents for using technology as a ‘babysitter’.

Some interesting projects were noted: Youth for Technology Foundation (Nigeria)  and The AMIGOS Digital Cultural Project (Latin America), and some differences – e.g. in Saudi Arabia – camera phones were banned until 2004 in case pictures of women were taken. It was noted that in the US, many impoverished families made sacrifices to ensure that their children had ‘essential’ technology.

A bit I agree with – much of the advice ‘for children’ applies to all of us.

Whilst demographic differences among various groups exist, one main point should be taken from all this research: it is clear that few groups are immune to the tentacles of technology. The very fact that so many different groups and countries are devoting time, money, and other resources to researching these issues suggests that we do need to sit up and take notice of how technology is impacting our world. By embracing the positive aspects, as well as acknowledging the potential pitfalls, we can better arm our youth as they navigate this superhighway in cyberspace. We all have the potential to become ‘lost in cyberspace’.

Many of the positives focused on tasks, rather than social change, although some interesting ideas about being able to save messages, keeping in touch as people move away, changing face-to-face meetings, offers output for those lonely/depressed, and removes pressure of social skills for those on the autistic spectrum.

Back to the Challenges

Another huge range re: finances, battery use, learning curve required, work productivity, school inattention, hardware not accompanied by training, inactivity/obesity, carpal tunnel syndrome, accessing ‘poor’ health information, ‘podestrians’ (walk/text), text-drivers, losing comms skills, becoming isolated, exposing confidential information, and blogs that promote criminal behaviours.

Defining Cyber-Bullying

…the use of information and communication technologies such as e-mail, cell phones and pager text messages, instant messaging, defamatory Web sites, and online personal polling Web sites, to support deliberate, repeated and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.

The authors asked questions about when does online behaviour cross the line into bullying. People have spent time documenting the differences, but these authors believe that “cyber bullying is basically schoolyard bullying on steroids.” Most research into cyber-bullying seems to indicate that around 7th grade (12-13) is where really becomes problematic – an age of peer conflict/cliques, rapid hormones & increased academic responsibility.

The kinds of things covered by bullying includes flaming, harassment, cyber stalking, denigration, impersonating, outing, trickery and exclusion, which I’d also agree with, but then indicates that cyber-bullying is such a big problem… “just pick up any newspaper for evidence” [sigh] – although again I would agree that cyberbullies need help rather than banishment, and that needs to come from parents, schools and the community – in particular parents need to keep on top of knowledge about computer use/terminology. Encourage open trust/communication between parent/child, communicate responsibilities/dangers [and what can be done], and consequences.

Children need to understand their access is a privilege, so comes with responsibility.

Teach youth to respect technology. Help them to understand the powers at hand when they are using technologically supported products. One you type it, picture it, text it and send it, the information becomes a permanent record to be shared, repeated and manipulated, and it potentially can be used against you. Teach empathy and the concept that just because you cannot see the reactions of others, you shouldn’t behave differently: remember, if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online or thought a text.

By Digital Fingerprint

Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture  in the third sector (especially faith). Author of 'Raising Children in a Digital Age', regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.

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