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Friday, April 25, 2008

Why schools, parents need to fight cyberbullying together

Maybe it's obvious, but for anyone who's not sure the line between school grounds and what happens at home should be crossed, here's the view of a UK researcher who has been following the rise of cyberbullying closely:

"We know from research that bullying puts the emotional wellbeing and educational achievement of pupils at risk and has a significant and lasting negative impact upon children’s lives. In addition, it impacts on truancy, exclusions, participation in further or higher education and the incidence of self-harm and suicide," writes Dr. Denise Carter at the University of Hull in

Why a home-school joint effort? Because this problem is not about technology or even behavior and discipline alone. One of Dr. Carter's findings in a survey she conducted was young people's "lack of life experience to deal with these issues on an emotional, psychological and social level." Young people gain life experience wherever they are - at home, at school, and everywhere in between - and adults in these learning environments know that there is no cookie-cutter way all children develop their street smarts or life literacy.

We know, too, that removing risk is not the solution to cyberbullying. It's teaching youth to "anticipate, recognize, and deal with risks as and when they arise," Carter writes. She also refers to their need to develop emotional resilience, as in helping them internalize that "this is not the end of the world," "I won't let this get to me," "I don't need to react," "there is more to me and my life than these people and what they're doing." These very basic concepts I'm tossing out as suggestions are mine, not Dr. Carter's - she may not agree - but they do illustrate her point that because life literacy is the solution, both problem and solution obliterate any boundary between home and school and deeply affect academic learning and success.

I'd add one more essential element: teaching citizenship, or social behavior. Our consumers or students of anti-cyberbullying education are not just potential victims or potential bullies (one can turn into the other in a matter of seconds on the Net); they're participants. In effect, they're stakeholders in their own well-being and education as well as their peers'; aggressive behavior hurts them as well as others because it can come right back at them and then create a downward spiral within the peer group and beyond (see also this article in the Archive of Pediatrics). So the cyberbullying curriculum necessarily includes life literacy and citizenship. For a lighter but thoughtful take on cybercitizenship ed, see Vanessa Van Petten's "13 holy cybercitizen laws." [Thanks to California tech educator Anne Bubnic for pointing Dr. Carter's article out.]

Related links

  • "Another Teen Beating Videotape, This One in Indiana"
  • "Police think Indiana teen beating inspired by Lakeland [Fla.] case"
  • Tennessee fight video: "Two Southwind Middle School girls were suspended Monday after their locker room fight was posted on the Internet," reports the Commercial Appeal in the Memphis area.
  • "Video Beating Stokes Debate Over Fame, Violence" in

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  • Thursday, April 24, 2008

    Second Life at school?

    Some high school teachers see virtual worlds more as virtual classrooms. "Second Life pioneer Peggy Sheehy, a New York teacher whose school district owns six islands on a private estate in Second Life, said virtual worlds should be seen as part of the repertoire of tools that can be used to engage this new generation of students," the Houston Chronicle reports. "Over the past two years, Sheehy's students have used Second Life avatars to examine body image issues, build amusement parks and re-enact Civil War battles." Using virtual worlds, students participate more freely because they do so as avatars they create. Students can "speak" (in little bubbles of text) more freely under that veil of anonymity and no one's more popular than anyone else. Of course, like the Internet, virtual worlds for everybody can have "places" inappropriate for students, so to win over a large number of teachers, schools, and districts, there may need to be online "worlds" designed specifically for school. Meanwhile, some researchers see virtual worlds as a way to learn more about how the real world works, as places where social scientists can do a bit of modeling, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

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    Do you Twitter?

    Given that lots of kids are converting parents from talking to texting, Twitter may be around the corner for you. If you've heard people at your house use the word "twitter" in association with technology and think it's yet another frivolous temptation for chronic multitaskers (as I did when a friend said she was swamped by tweets at a conference), there's a mind-changing story in the San Jose Mercury News for you. In it the mere twittering (or "texting") of the word "Arrested" on his cellphone to "a wide circle of friends in the United States and to the mostly leftist, anti-government bloggers in Egypt who are the subject of his graduate journalism project" got a University of California, Berkeley, student out of an Egyptian jail within 24 hours. But there are more mundane reasons to use this technology that's like group texting on the fly or push micro-moblogging (broadcasting mini blog posts on your phone to your contact list): keeping in touch with your family during the odd free moment on a business trip, spontaneously sharing your reaction to (and getting fast feedback on) a comment in a conference, sending a link or new contact info to a bunch of friends all at once, etc., etc. It'd be interesting to get a bunch of teenagers in a room and ask them if they use it in addition to IM-ing and social networking. Here's "How Twitter Works" at and another Twitter primer that I was tipped off to by my friends at the California Technology Assistance Project. Meanwhile, here's a slightly snide view of Twitter in a Wired blog, and - this just in! - Twitter's popularity seems to have caused some service disruption, and CNET looks into it in "Can't live without Twitter? Don't believe the hype."

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    Wednesday, April 23, 2008

    French legislation against pro-thin promotion

    A bill that has passed the French legislature's lower house and goes to the Senate soon is going after all media promoting eating disorders, including pro-anorexia Web sites, the Los Angeles Times reports. Forbes reports that "France has several laws in place to regulate modeling agencies, including requiring underage models to have regular health check-ups." Regulating the domestic fashion industry, advertising, and conventional media is one thing, but Web sites are more problematic, not just because they're based all over the world. Another significant problem is, it would be awfully hard for courts and law enforcement to know what to do about Web sites in which both anorexics and those trying to help them have blogs and profiles. . ">Adam Thierer of the TechLiberation blog has another interesting argument against the regulation of Web sites: "Wouldn't we better off engaging these pro-ana people and websites directly? That is, don’t ban them or drive them underground, but instead go directly to those sites ourselves and engage in a discussion about what most of us would regard as unhealthy lifestyles." See also "Eating disorders & the social Web" and "Online eating disorder communities."

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    Number of child porn sites down

    For the first time since it has been keeping count, the UK-based Internet Watch Foundation reports that "the number of Web sites hosting child pornography has fallen," Australian IT reports. The number has gone from 3,052 in 2006 to 2,755 last year, according to the latest figures available from IWF. Most of these child-abuse sites are based in Russia and the US, it added. The nonprofit organization says it hopes that this fact and "the analysis and intelligence behind the numbers" will result in further international cooperation in fighting this abuse. The most horrifying numbers from the IWF were: "about 10% of the victims photographed were less than two years old, with a third between three and six years old. Some 37% were aged between 7 and 10 years old, 18% were between 11 and 15 years old, with 2% between 16 and 17 years old."


    Tuesday, April 22, 2008

    New guide to videogame parental controls

    The videogame ratings board and Parent Teacher Association have teamed up to help parents get a better handle on videogame safety. They've published a free parents' guide to both the ratings system and the parental controls on game consoles, including step-by-step instructions for the controls' settings on PLAYSTATION 3, the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, and PSP, as well as the game controls in the Windows Vista operating system. You'll also find advice from "GamerDad" Andrew Bub about online gaming and a family discussion guide with talking points. "The booklets were distributed to all 26,000 PTAs, and are available in both English and Spanish on both the ESRB and PTA web sites," according to the organizations' press release (there's a link right to the guide from the presser).

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    Kids posing online as pedophiles

    This is an important heads-up if parents are worried about predators contacting their children online. The "predators" could be other kids playing pranks or being cyberbullies, because anybody can pose as just about anybody else online. Apparently that's happening in southwestern England, where police are saying "children as young as 10 may be posing as predatory paedophiles" on social-networking sites "to frighten boys and girls they have fallen out with," The Guardian reports. It adds that "as many as nine youngsters" were targeted in this way in Bebo and MSN. The police "initially believed a local man was trying to groom the children" (see "How to recognize grooming") but "a member of the public has come forward and told them that youngsters are trying to settle playground disputes by posing as a paedophile to frighten their rivals." For examples of more "conventional" cyberbullying, see this story in the Flint (Mich.) Journal.


    Monday, April 21, 2008

    'Running l8, luv, mom'

    Kids are seeing texts like that from their parents more and more, the Washington Post reports. "Parental text messaging is outstripping the growth rate among younger generations. In the past two years, use of texting among people 45-54 increased 130%, the Post added, citing M:Metrics research - compared to a mere 41% increase among people 13-17. Apparently, it starts with k2k (kid-to-kid), then it's k2p (k2parent), followed by p2p (not file-sharing but rather parents texting each other to coordinate kid drop-offs and pick-ups and possibly other errands). And now it's even s2p and s2k: "Schools have caught on. Fairfax County and Montgomery County send automatic text-message alerts for weather-related school closures and other emergencies." If you want to learn texting lingo fast (some phones offer a menu of phrases), check with your cellphone carriers; it's quite possible Sprint, Verizon, etc. has a guide for parents and others getting up to speed quickly. Web resources include and

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