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Friday, March 05, 2010

Fresh debate on effects of violence in videogames

The long debate over whether violent videogames increase violent thinking and behavior in players has heated up as the result of a study published in this month's issue of Psychological Bulletin. A Washington Post blog does a great job of presenting both sides of this latest iteration, represented by the study's authors, led by psychologist Craig Anderson at Iowa State University, and the researchers who are the main objects of the study's criticism: Christopher Ferguson and John Kilburn of the department of behavioral applied science and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University. Anderson's study analyzed previous studies of 130,000 male and female players of various ages in the US, Europe, and Japan. In an accompanying commentary in Psychological Bulletin, Ferguson and Kilburn write that the study shows a bias in the studies it selected for review and "found only a weak connection between violent video gaming and violent thoughts and deeds." Check out the article for some other important views on the subject, including that of Cheryl K. Olson and Lawrence Kutner, co-founders and directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media, who "studied real children and families in real situations" and published their results in the 2008 study "Grand Theft Childhood," which I blogged about here. [See also "Play, Part 2: Violence in videogames" last July and "Videogames & aggression: New study" about an early stage of Anderson's research.]

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Kids experiencing less bullying, sexual assault: Study

Schools, keep up the good work! A new national study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center found that bullying, sexual assault, and other violence against US children ages 2-17 "declined substantially" between 2003 and 2008, the University of New Hampshire's CACRC reports. The study's lead author, David Finkelhor, credits schools' and other prevention efforts to reduce bullying and sexual assault as part of the explanation for the declines, though adding that "children's victimization is still shockingly high." In the past year, physical bullying decreased from 22% of youth to 15%, and sexual assault from 3.3% to 2%, the CACRC study found. Certainly we all have more work to do – and not just schools: The authors "did not find declines in physical abuse and neglect by caregivers, but [they] did find a decline in psychological abuse. Thefts of children’s property also declined, but robbery was one of the few offenses to show an increase." This page at the UNH site has a link to the full study, "Trends in Childhood Violence and Abuse Exposure," in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Here's coverage today in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; thanks to Cobb County School District risk-prevention specialist Patti Agatston in the Atlanta area for pointing the Journal-Constitution article out. Later added: the Wall Street Journal's coverage.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Students on bullying: Important study

Having someone, especially a peer, really listen and be there for them seems to help bullying victims more than anything, according to students themselves. A new study of nearly 12,000 US students in grades 5-12 offers 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. The students, surveyed by the Youth Voice Project, represent 25 schools in 12 states across the US.

The Project's authors, Stan Davis and Charisse Nixon, PhD, write that about a fifth of respondents (22%) reported regular victimization (two or more times a month), and that victimization was broken down this way: Of those 22%, 46% characterized the harassment as mild ("bothered me only a little"); 36% moderate ("bothered me quite a bit"); 11% severe ("I had or have trouble eating, sleeping, or enjoying myself because of what happened to me"); and 7% very severe ("I felt or feel unsafe and threatened because of what happened to me"). So the study extrapolated that 13% of the US's student population, or about 7 million students, are experiencing moderate-to-very-severe mistreatment by peers.

Who's being victimized: Middle school needs particular attention, since "the majority of traumatized students are in grades 6-8." Other characteristics: 54% are female, 42% male; about 6% of "traumatized students" (being moderately-to-very-severely mistreated) reported receiving special education assistance, and 10% "reported having some form of a physical disability." Ethnicity: The majority of "traumatized students" (moderate-to-very severe) described themselves as White, followed by Hispanic American and then Multi-Racial; 32% reported eligibility for free or reduced lunch; 9% of them had immigrated to the US within the past two years.

What bullies focus on: Look at what the results say about the importance of teaching tolerance, empathy, perspective-taking: "Looks" was the focus of 55% of moderate-to-very-severe mistreatment and "Body Shape" of 37%. The next highest focus was "Race," at 16%; "Sexual Orientation" and "Family Income" came next at 14% and 13%, respectively.

Make it safe to report: A higher percentage than I usually see (42%) say they report their moderate-to-very-severe mistreatment to an adult at school, but that's still less than half. So the authors write that it's "important to identify safe ways for students to communicate with adults at school about their negative peer interactions."

What helps most: Being heard and acknowledged seems to help victims more than most responses by both adults and peers. Adults first: The top three responses (to victims) "likely to lead to things getting better for the student than to things getting worse" were "listened to me," "gave me advice," and "checked in with me afterwards to see if the behavior stopped." Coming in at a noticeably distant 4th, interestingly, was "kept up increased adult supervision for some time." As for responses from peers (including friends), the top three were "Spent time with me," "Talked to me," and "Helped me get away." The authors add that "positive peer actions were strikingly more likely to be rated more helpful than were positive self actions or positive adult actions."

There are so many more really substantive insights in this report (and future ones Davis and Nixon are planning) that I truly recommend that you read it. But here are three key takeaways:

1. What victims are often advised - e.g., "tell the person how you feel," "walk away," "tell the person to stop," "pretend it doesn't bother you" – "made things worse much more often than they made things better."
2. 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."
3. "Our students report that asking for and getting emotional support and a sense of connection has helped them the most among all the strategies we compared."

Related links

  • "Clicks & cliques: Really meaty advice for parents on cyberbullying"
  • "Clicks, cliques & cyberbullying, Part 2: Whole-school response is key"
  • "Cyberbullying & bullying-related suicides: 1 way to help our digital-age kids": What many bullying and cyberbullying cases seem to have in common is "the 24/7, non-stop nature of the harassment the teens faced – the tech-enabled constant drama of school life turning into 24/7 cruelty.... [They] indicate an urgent need for all of us to help our children come up for air, to maintain some perspective about the 'alternate reality' of school life, especially in the middle-school years."
  • "Social norming: So key to online safety"
  • "Bystanders can help when bullying happens"

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  • Tuesday, March 02, 2010

    How to teach Net safety, ethics, security? Blend them in!

    US K-12 students aren't getting adequate instruction in "cyberethics, cybersafety, and cybersecurity," according to a just-released study sponsored by the National Cybersecurity Alliance and Microsoft released today. The survey, of more than 1,000 teachers, 400 administrators, and 200 tech coordinators, found that – although over 90% of administrators, teachers, and tech coordinators support teaching these topics in school – only 35% of teachers and just over half of school administrators say the topics are required in their curriculum. A bit of pass-the-buck thinking turned up in the results too – 72% of teachers said parents bear most of the responsibility for teaching these topics (51% of administrators say teachers do). They're both partly right; it's everybody's responsibility, the experts say (see this). But the thing is, most teachers are already teaching online safety (which includes ethics) and may not even know it. More on that in a moment....

    The filtering hurdle

    The biggest hurdle to Net-safety instruction may actually be school filters! Note this statement in the study's press release: "The survey also found a high reliance on shielding students instead of teaching behaviors for safe and secure Internet use. More than 90% of schools have built up digital defenses, such as filtering and blocking social network sites...." Then note UK education watchdog Ofsted's finding just last month – that schools using extensive or "locked down" filtering "were less effective in helping [students] to learn how to use new technologies safely." If schools could just teach a lot of what they've always taught, folding digital media in with traditional media (aka books, pencils, etc.), the academic ethics and citizenship they've always "taught" (hopefully modeled and encouraged) will naturally include "cyberethics," for example.

    Citizenship is a verb!

    A classroom is a community, as is a blog, a team, or the group of people working together on a Google Doc. How do participants/"citizens" treat one another in those various communities as well as in the classroom one? You can't *be* a citizen without a chance to practice citizenship in the community where you're supposed to be a citizen. The same goes for the digital sort; today's social media give us a whole array of opportunities to practice citizenship in online communities.

    "Student leadership becomes an engine of citizenship," Sylvia Martinez of GenYes told me in a phone interview recently. I asked her what she meant by student leadership: "It's putting students in charge of something that matters [such as enlisting students to help integrate technology and digital media into the classroom, as GenYes programs do for schools] – giving them responsibility, then watching them, expecting them to do things that show they've accepted the responsibility, and then challenging them to do more," Martinez adds. "It's a cycle. Students are engaged [citizenship as civic engagement – or, in this case, classroom, task, or project engagement] because they're doing something important." So let students help with or run the incorporating of blogs, wikis, Google docs, and nings into class work!

    Citizenship is protective

    As for "cybersafety," that too is practiced naturally when people are thinking about citizenship (and ethics!) online and offline. How can I say that? Because the research shows that peer harassment and cyberbullying represent the most common risk to students, and aggressive behavior more than doubles the aggressor's risk of being victimized; so civility, respect for others, and citizenship represent the lion's share of safety online for students. [As for the predation risk, which is extremely low for students who are not already deemed "at risk youth," the research shows (see this), the don't-talk-to-strangers-online message and associated fears have gotten through to kids during several years of technopanic; a teacher in New Jersey recently told me that her middle school students are just as afraid of predators as their parents are.]

    Media literacy – critical thinking about behavior as well as information in a blog, wiki, Ning, or virtual world – supports citizenship and safety, as students learn to think critically about the motives behind and accuracy of info, comments, photos, text messages, etc. they download and upload, whether the source is a friend, advertiser, or stranger. This is not rocket science!

    Students involved in tech integration can also model and help teach good computer and network security practices – that third C in the study mentioned above, Cybersecurity. This, too, is an aspect of good citizenship: protecting our passwords, not being tricked by phishers and other manipulators, and knowing what's needed to protect our computers and networks. Critical thinking is key here, too, because social engineering, or manipulation, is a basic component of phishing and malicious hacking.

    Basic ingredients, with or without a recipe

    This kind of "online safety" education – learning to behave civilly and ethically online and offline and to respect one's own and others' passwords, identities, and intellectual and physical property at home and school – is not only protective, it's *relevant* to students because they enable all of us to function effectively in a 21st-century media environment.

    Martinez told me that half the schools GenYes works with say they don't want a cybercurriculum, and about half very definitely do. So, hey, if any schools do want formal curricula or lesson plans for "cybersafety, cybersecurity, and cybercitizenship," there is no better material than Cybersmart's. Just don't let those big words make you think that this is all about new technology, some sort of add-on to students' life or education, or anything that we haven't all been thinking about and working on together for a very long time!

    Related link

  • You only need one: educator Anne Bubnic's 2.5 pages of "digital citizenship" links, starting here.

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  • Monday, March 01, 2010

    Helping kids gain from adversity: Inspiration for parents, teachers

    I just listened to Aimee Mullins's just-posted TED Talk of last October and thought to myself anyone who loves teaching, young people, and the power of the human spirit would resonate with this. Aimee is an actor, athlete, and model (full bio here) who has not merely overcome and pushed through the adversity of being born without fibula, or shin bones, but used that adversity to find and bring out her in-born potential. She talks about not long ago bumping into the OB-GYN who delivered her in her home town in Pennsylvania and hearing about how, because of her career, he tells his medical students, "In my experience, unless repeatedly told otherwise and if given just a modicum of support, if left to their own devices, a child will achieve." She adds, "If we can change the current paradigm from one of achieving normalcy to achieving ability or potency, we can release the power of so many more children and invite them to engage their rare and valuable abilities with the community" – the abilities each child has. She later adds something I think my friend Lenore Skenazy over at, kindred spirit Tanya Byron in the UK, and a whole lot of other parents would appreciate: "Our responsibility is not simply shielding those we care for from adversity but preparing them to meet it well."

    Mullins says something important about technology and social networking too (which I feel would resonate with the authors of Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out). After reading the dictionary definition of "disability" to the audience, she said: "Our language hasn't allowed us to get caught up with the changes in our society, many of which have been brought about by technology." She lists some examples, among them "social-networking platforms [which] allow people to self-identify, to claim their own description of themselves so they can go align with global groups of their own choosing." Think about this in light of bullying and cyberbullying, where kids identified by others as "handicapped" in any way are often the targets. Social media can help remove or at least delay the labels bullies exploit, giving children some much-needed space and peace for identity exploration. Mullins puts it so eloquently: "Maybe technology is revealing more clearly to us now what has always been a truth: that everyone has something rare and powerful to offer our society and that the human ability to adapt is our greatest asset." Don't miss the talk, including the lines Mullins quotes from a 14th Persian poet at the end.

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