Solutions for Digital Safety

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Education and Awareness: Making a "Real World" Connection

Because being connected is such an integral part of teens’ lives, some youth may hesitate telling their parents about the harassment they encounter for fear that their online privileges will be taken away. The best way to combat cyber bullying or other forms of harassment is not to reign in or limit a teen’s use of technology, but to make sure adults keep the lines of communication open. In addition to keeping the computer in a public space, parents should also become more aware of what their children are doing online. They should consider the Internet as an opportunity to engage in conversation with their children about their interests, talents, and network of friends.

It is important to emphasize with youth that there is a distinct connection between what happens online and in the "real world." Adults should communicate to youth that their actions have implications in a real world setting. Regarding cyber bullying in particular, adults must also relay traditional techniques of combating bullying, among them being to report incidents, keep records, and not to engage the bully. “It’s not new bullying, it’s just a vehicle,” says Nancy Mullin-Rindler, director of the Project on Teasing and Bullying at Wellesley College (Paulson, 2003). In addition, because research has shown that the majority of cyber bullies have been victims of traditional bullying, this approach—-combating the behavior versus limiting the technology—-would ultimately help in preventing both cyber and conventional bullying.

Cyber bullying poses a stickier problem for schools that are finding themselves in the middle of First Amendment debates. Despite the fact that whatever happens online (no matter where the location) typically spreads to the school environment, inevitably impacting students’ learning, does a school principal have the right to punish someone for what they say outside of school parameters? Because of this legal quagmire, schools’ best bet might be educating parents and teens alike on both the potentially harmful uses of and also the many opportunities presented by digital media. In addition, schools should also provide peer groups - perhaps even online - where students can seek advice and compare experiences.

Curriculum

Access the Keeping It Real Curriculum on cyber bullying.

Additional tips for parents

Taken verbatim from an interview with Henry Jenkins and danah boyd:

1. Communication with your daughter or son is key. Build a trusting relationship through dialogue. It is important to talk with them about your concerns; it is even more important to listen to what they have to say about their online experiences and why these sites are such an important part of their interactions with their peers. You need to recognize that some unfamiliar experiences look scarier from the outside than they are. Take time to understand what you are seeing and what it means to participants.

2. Create an account to understand how the site works, but not to stalk your kids. They need room to explore, but if you are familiar with the media and technology that they consume, you can provide valuable guidance and suggestions. Surveillance, while possible, damages a trusting parent/child relationship.

3. Ask your kids how they choose to represent themselves and why. Use MySpace as a resource to start a conversation about contemporary fashion, ideals, and media images.

4. Talk about private/ public issues with your kids. Help them to understand the consequences of making certain information publicly accessible. Get them to think through all of the possible audiences who might come into contact with their online information. Teens often imagine MySpace as a youth-only world. It isn't and they need to consider what the consequences would be if their grandparents, their teachers, admissions officers or a future employer read what they said about themselves. Helping your children learn how to negotiate such public environments is a great educational opportunity.

5. Talk through what kids should do if they receive unwanted attention online or if they find themselves the victims of cyberbullying. A growing number of sites provide useful information about how to confront such problems, including Net Family News , NetSmartz and SafeTeens. The “Safety Tips” section of MySpace also provides information for both parents and teens, including MySpace policies.

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