Cyberbullying Research Center https://cyberbullying.org Resources and strategies to help combat bullying and cyberbullying. Mon, 25 May 2020 15:07:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 Pandetiquette: Countering Misinformation in the Information Age through Media Literacy https://cyberbullying.org/pandetiquette-countering-misinformation-through-media-literacy https://cyberbullying.org/pandetiquette-countering-misinformation-through-media-literacy#respond Thu, 14 May 2020 15:07:20 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=28574 In Part 2 of this series I call “Pandetiquette,” where I offer my thoughts on how to put the social back in social media (Part 1 here), I want to address the issue of misinformation. When I first thought to write about encouraging civility online several weeks ago, I had a short section on misinformation.…

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In Part 2 of this series I call “Pandetiquette,” where I offer my thoughts on how to put the social back in social media (Part 1 here), I want to address the issue of misinformation. When I first thought to write about encouraging civility online several weeks ago, I had a short section on misinformation. Bickering about what is true or not has certainly contributed to bad behavior online. Then my Facebook feed blew up with people sharing a viral video featuring a former researcher who made some shocking claims about the current COVID-19 pandemic. As I watched the video, I wasn’t immediately alarmed, but quickly realized there was more to the story than what was being shared. It was indeed a compelling and well-produced video. It has since been removed from both YouTube and Facebook (for copyright violations and blatant misinformation), but I am sure it is still widely available if you know where to look.

This isn’t the first time a conspiracy-laden video has received widespread attention. But this video was just so influential in such a short amount of time that it was scary. I saw many typically sensible friends sharing it online, wondering aloud if others thought it could be true. I grew increasingly frustrated and felt compelled to respond. Then I found this Forbes article by Tara Haelle which addressed all of my specific concerns about the video in a concise and thoughtful way. So while I no longer feel the need to address the falsities in that particular video, I thought it would be useful to provide general guidance for how to assess the legitimacy of sources on social media more broadly.

There is a fire hose of information online aimed right at our foreheads and without critical evaluation tools we could easily become overwhelmed or deceived.

The ideas discussed below center on the concept of media literacy, which is our ability to assess the accuracy and validity of the media we consume. Media literacy skills are important now more than ever before. There is a fire hose of information online aimed right at our foreheads and without critical evaluation tools we could easily become overwhelmed or deceived. Anyone can post nearly anything online at any time. There are very few restrictions or quality control checks applied to what appears online. To make matters worse, “deepfake” media (photos, videos, and audio recordings that have been manipulated) is becoming more sophisticated and less easily discernible. It is imperative as responsible citizens that we use our critical thinking and analytical skills to evaluate the authenticity of content we consume, especially if we intend to share it with others.

Separate Fact from Fiction

Most people are aware of Snopes, the website made famous for evaluating urban legends and online hoaxes. The site has been around for more than 25 years, and in many ways has become the name-brand-verb of fact-checking sources: “Have you Snopes’d that yet?” Snopes isn’t necessarily infallible. But you can start there because they are often quick to update information about emerging online claims.

Recently I’ve been confronted by a couple of people who refuse to believe Snopes. I’m not precisely sure why, but their protestations usually include some variation of “You know who owns them, right?” It is important to know how a source is funded, but I am more interested in their track record of accuracy and whether they sufficiently cite primary sources (more on this later). Snopes does a good job of “showing their work” and they aren’t often proven wrong. If you still have a concern about that particular site, no problem, there are a number of other fact-checking websites that review assertions made online. Consulting one of these can be a quick and easy way to determine if an online story is true, or at the very least it can let you know if there are any obvious discrepancies.

Do Your Own Research

If questions remain about what you are seeing on fact-checking websites, do your own research. Focus on primary sources. An example of a primary source is a researcher who collects data and publishes the results in an academic journal. If the journal is peer-reviewed, then other researchers have scrutinized the work and deemed it acceptable. The higher the “impact factor” of a scholarly journal, the better it is, generally speaking.

Another example of a primary source might be a person who has experienced something for themselves. This could be an emergency room doctor who works on a particular type of case every day. We often put too much stock in secondary sources, that is, someone reporting the experiences of others or posting the results of research someone else did. They might accurately convey those experiences and results, but they also might not. And the greater distance between the primary and secondary source, the greater the likelihood of misinterpretation. Remember the childhood game “telephone” where you whispered something into someone’s ear, and that person whispered it into another person’s ear, and within a few people the original statement was completely lost? Be skeptical of people who say they “have a friend who knows X” or “a cousin who experienced Y.” When evaluating a particular piece of information, first try to identify the primary source.

Sometimes you’ll find primary sources that disagree with each other. Certainly one doctor’s experience in an emergency room isn’t going to be exactly the same as all others. This is why a sample of a wide range of experiences is necessary to obtain a better picture of what is really happening. In other words, research! Even still there can be studies that return competing findings. In these situations you need to evaluate the quality of the study. In formal science research that might entail looking at the sample size, how the sample was recruited (randomly or by convenience), and how key variables were measured. When it comes to evaluating online sources, find the primary source of the information (a study, a statistic, or a personal anecdote) and ask yourself if you are comfortable with its credibility. Is it consistent with your personal experiences? Does the person have a particular expertise that makes him or her an authority on the topic being discussed? Are the majority of scientists in agreement about the issue? Ask yourself some simple questions about the nature of the source and whether it deserves to be believed.

When it comes to evaluating online sources, find the primary source of the information (a study, a statistic, or a personal anecdote) and ask yourself if you are comfortable with its credibility.

It is also important to distinguish between reporting and editorializing. “Reporting” involves stating the facts as they are known, without additional commentary. “Editorializing,” on the other hand, introduces analysis and opinion into the presentation of facts. There is nothing wrong with this – it can help us better understand context and complicated information. We just need to know it when we see it. A report might state something like: “as of May 13, 2020, more than 82,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States” (a good report would provide a citation to the primary source of the data – perhaps the CDC). One editorial might suggest that number is overinflated because hospitals get reimbursed more from the federal government for COVID-19 cases, while another might say that it is underestimated because we aren’t testing enough. Examine the information and the authority of the person that is editorializing and decide what is more believable. What is the history of the accuracy of that person? Has evidence proven they were wrong in the past? If so, how did they respond? What does the person/source have to lose or gain by saying what they are saying?

Sometimes facts change, particularly now when there is a race to be the first to break a story. Long gone are the measured efforts of newsroom editors triple checking information and sources. These days many outlets often post first and ask questions later. The question is how the outlet handles the mistake. Do they publicly acknowledge the error and offer a clear explanation for how it was made and rectified?

Many researchers are now working to quantify the reliability of—and political bias within—certain media sources. This example, created by Ad Fontes Media, is one of my favorites. It provides a very detailed description of the methodology used to categorize articles. If you have a question about a certain source that you don’t know much about, see where it stands on their chart.

Be Mindful of Mind Tricks

Understand that we are all subject to strong, often hidden inclinations to believe certain things over others. These are known as cognitive biases. Psychological research demonstrates, for example, that people are predisposed to believe the first piece of information they see on a particular topic (this is called “anchoring” or “focalism”). This makes it more difficult to change our minds when confronted with new information. We also tend to place more value in sources that align with or reaffirm our pre-existing beliefs. This is known as confirmation (or confirmatory) bias. The consequence is that we often stop searching for evidence once we’ve found what we believe—no, what we know—to be true. Part of a thorough research process is to look not just for evidence that supports your view, but to be aware of contrary evidence. In that way you can be prepared to challenge it based on logical or methodological grounds.

Even a well-meaning social media citizen who actively seeks out additional information on a topic of concern may ultimately succumb to another common cognitive bias: information overload. Our brains can only process so much data, and overwhelming it can result in the effect opposite of what we desired. Namely, we have trouble sifting through it all to settle on a side. If you spend too much time reading Amazon reviews of TVs, for example, you might never click the “Buy Now” button. I have heard thoughtful people default to the old adage “I don’t know what to believe anymore.” And where does that leave us? Take a break and come back to it with a clear head later.

100% Certainty Isn’t the Goal

Could there be a big cover-up or conspiracy? Sure. Maybe Snopes is in on it! That is possible, though not likely. The point is that holding fast to a conspiratorial perspective could result in some serious mental health consequences. “You can’t trust anyone!” At some point we need to take a stand on who and what we believe, based on all available information. What does the preponderance of the evidence show in a particular case? We have to use our judgement and make an informed determination.

When it comes to making a choice about our health, we have to remember that every medication and medical procedure has risks. It is important to evaluate the benefits against the dangers, along with possible complications and consequences of different decisions when it comes to our well-being. When my appendix burst a few years ago, I had to get it surgically removed. Was there a risk associated with this operation? Of course. But the potential for harm was much greater had I not undergone surgery.

At some point we need to take a stand on who and what we believe, based on all available information.

Several years ago, I inquired with my optometrist about LASIK eye surgery. She discussed the benefits and carefully outlined the potential risks. “So the risks are rare,” I inquired? “They’re not rare, when you’re the one in the chair,” she replied poetically. Since this was an elective procedure and my contact lenses have served me well for more than two decades, I decided against LASIK (at least for now). It is unlikely that you have personally experienced a complication from a surgery, or a rare but serious reaction to a vaccine. But you might know someone who knows someone who has, and it may therefore appear on your social media feed, making it seem all that much more likely. If you’ve personally had a distressing experience with a medical procedure, you likely have a strong opinion. It is important that you share this, as a first-hand account of what could happen. That doesn’t mean these outcomes are likely. Lots of people die every day on America’s highways. You probably know someone who has. And yet most of us still use them without much worry.

When it comes to the current situation, one fact is certain: people are dying. As of this writing more than 82,000 Americans have died from complications related to COVID-19, with hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and well over a million positive or probable infections. Whether you feel these numbers are precisely accurate or not is irrelevant to the family who has experienced a loss. Calling this a manufactured pandemic or suggesting COVID-19 is somehow less serious than the common flu does not make you or your family members any safer. Please thoughtfully consider the comments you make, and the content you share, online. There is more at stake than your reputation.

Cover image: edenpictures (Flickr)

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Pandetiquette: Keeping the “Social” in Social Media During Times of Profound Polarization https://cyberbullying.org/pandetiquette-civility-amid-polarization https://cyberbullying.org/pandetiquette-civility-amid-polarization#respond Tue, 12 May 2020 13:03:04 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=28543 I’ve found myself unfriending, unfollowing, and muting more and more people on social media lately. Given the political situation in the United States (and in my home state of Wisconsin) over the last decade, the fact that animosity online has only increased as my patience dwindles says something about the current state of things on…

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I’ve found myself unfriending, unfollowing, and muting more and more people on social media lately. Given the political situation in the United States (and in my home state of Wisconsin) over the last decade, the fact that animosity online has only increased as my patience dwindles says something about the current state of things on “social” media.

For better and worse, I pride myself in curating a diverse representation of perspectives in my newsfeeds. I’m connected to diehards on both ends of the political spectrum. On any given day I see competing commentaries about certain elected officials or hot button contemporary issues. I am fine with disagreement. In fact, I appreciate a good debate, if it is argued respectfully and in good faith. I yearn to learn, and while bold-lettered bumper stickers and excessive exclamation points aren’t likely to change my mind, thoughtful evidence-based discourse just might have me considering an issue more comprehensively.

But is that even possible on social media?

Are minds these days even open to contemplation or analysis, let alone change?

Maybe not.

Bold-lettered bumper stickers and excessive exclamation points aren’t likely to change my mind, but thoughtful evidence-based discourse just might.

I don’t think that means we should give up. It’s a mistake to isolate ourselves from those who think differently than us. Pretending they don’t exist, or that their perspectives don’t matter, creates the kind of intractableness that leads to situations like what we currently find ourselves in. Communication and empathy are foundational pillars of understanding. Without both it’s easier to devolve into bellicosity.

This is the first of two posts where I discuss my thoughts on what I am sheepishly calling pandetiquette: the capacity to interact civilly when disagreeing with people online during this particularly divisive time (see Part 2, about misinformation, here). It isn’t easy managing disparate relationships while keeping sane on social media – especially now while everyone is understandably more anxious and irascible. I want to offer some perspective on how we can keep the social in social media at a time of seemingly insurmountable opposition.

When to Engage

The instinct for many of us when confronted with an unpopular viewpoint online is to keep scrolling. And honestly, in many cases, that is the best course of action. It might not be worth your time, energy, or mental health to get involved in a lengthy acrimonious debate. But when it comes to inaccuracies or misinformation, I think it’s ok–even necessary–to engage. I’ll go into the issue of misinformation in much more detail in Part 2 of this series, but for now, below are a couple of thoughts to keep in mind when deciding if you should respond.

First, consider the source.

What is the nature of your relationship with the person posting the information? Is this a close friend or family member, or a friend-of-a-friend whom you’ve only met one time? Is it someone you have never met who posted a comment to a public news article? Is this person generally reasonable and respectful to others online? Before getting involved, think about how that person might respond. The closer you are to the other person, the more appropriate it is to weigh in. Presumably, close friends and family members know you well and will appreciate your reasoned thoughts. At the very least, they will understand that you are not intentionally trying to be hurtful or irrational (assuming that you are not). When dealing with people you are close to, though, tread lightly, and interact as if you were speaking with them face to face . If you truly value your relationship with them (and they you), then you should be able to have a respectful conversation, even when discussing issues about which you vehemently disagree. How would you feel if the relationship were irreparably damaged as a result of something you said?

Do yourself a favor and resist entering the online octagon with a bunch of strangers. There might not be anyone in your corner to throw in the towel should things get really bad.

When it comes to complete strangers, it is almost always best to just walk away. Whenever I violate this rule, I invariably regret it. It is very difficult to change the mind of someone with whom you don’t have some kind of connection. It is just too easy to resort to personal attack. Most well-adjusted adults are able to control the most extreme of their emotions when conversing face-to-face with friends. When interacting with strangers from a distance, however, we are disinhibited, often behaving in ways we normally never would. We don’t have to look the person in the eye, or think about the next time we run into him at the family reunion. Emotions can easily overwhelm reason in these circumstances. Why do you think road rage is such a problem? Do yourself a favor and resist entering the online octagon with a bunch of strangers. There might not be anyone in your corner to throw in the towel should things get really bad.

Next, consider the issue.

Is the content posted patently false? Can it be easily debunked with a quick link to a reputable source? (More on this in my next post.) Is this something that could be harmful to others? Ignorance may be bliss, but it can also dangerous. Rage-fueled sophistry leads to situations like “pizza-gate,” where a 28-year-old man, armed with an AR-15 rifle and a handgun, opened fire in a pizza restaurant in Washington in 2016 because of online posts he had seen suggesting the place was trafficking children at the direction of then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. There was never any real evidence of criminal behavior at the pizzeria, just online conspiracies. Some of which remain to this day. Making outrageous claims about misconduct cold inspire vigilantism, and provocateurs need to be quelled (and their behavior could be illegal).

Also consider whether you have a particular expertise in the issue being discussed. Do you have knowledge, training, or experience that makes you an authority on that very thing? The more specific, the better. I have a doctorate in criminal justice, but that doesn’t mean I am an expert on all aspects of the criminal justice system. In fact, my areas of study—cyberbullying, sexting, and other online issues that affect adolescents—often fall outside of traditional criminal justice. I couldn’t tell you the effect of body-worn cameras on police officer use of force, but I can evaluate social science research methods and know enough about basic criminal justice concepts and the law that I can point out blatant inaccuracies (I’ve taught university students for almost 20 years). My education and experience gives me the ability to discuss certain issues from the perspective of an expert. Will everyone accept that expertise and defer to me? Sadly, no. Can I still be wrong sometimes? Absolutely. But expertise can give a person more leverage in a disagreement. At least when the combatants are being reasonable.

And while your personal experiences necessarily color your opinion about a particular issue, it doesn’t mean everyone in that same situation had (or will have) the same result. One person’s experience is data—or more accurately datum, because it is a sample size of 1. Would you put much stock in a study with a sample size of 1? It shouldn’t be ignored, of course, but it also shouldn’t dominate public policy discourse (especially when referring to a relatively rare event). I may have won the lottery, but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea to follow any advice I give to invest your retirement savings in scratch-off tickets.

In the End, Be Kind

It is possible to disagree with someone online without being disagreeable. While you should embrace thoughtful debate, you shouldn’t stoop to—or tolerate—name calling, threats, or cyberbullying. Usually this means you have lost the argument, or at least have given up the moral high ground. Believe me, it’s hard to be convincing while cursing incoherently. If someone does threaten you online, be sure to report the content to the site or app. Even though social media companies are predisposed to allow just about anything on their sites, most Terms of Service prohibit cyberbullying and content that implies a legitimate threat of physical harm.

Also remember that others–including our children–are watching how we interact with others in person and online. Can we show them how to disagree with someone, even passionately, without resorting to an assault on their character? When I find myself getting worked up when interacting with someone online, I just imagine I am conversing with a family member. They may be wrong in my mind, but I still care about them as a person and will therefore tend to be more patient and understanding.

When I find myself getting worked up when interacting with someone online, I just imagine I am conversing with a family member.

If I have engaged in an online debate with you, it is only because I respect and care about you. There are good people on my friend lists with whom I emphatically disagree about important topics. I’m not looking to sanitize my newsfeed to include only information that conforms to my ideas. But I am looking for an honest and respectful discussion when something you’ve posted is inconsistent with what I know. I pledge not to resort to ad hominem attacks against you personally should you question something I post, and all I ask is the same in return.

I’m not going to unfriend you for disagreeing with me. I will, however, sever our social media tie if I believe you are being unreasonable or illogical, or if you are stubbornly holding fast to a particular perspective in the face of obviously reliable evidence to the contrary. I literally experience physical anxiety when I see people post ridiculously outrageous claims. This is a regrettable autonomic response that I simply cannot control. But I can control what I see over and over on social media and may need to remove it if it’s affecting my mental health. So instead of fighting with you and suffering emotionally and physically, I might need to step back. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped caring about you, it just means I know that if I keep banging my head against a brick wall, I will get a headache. And it’s hard to contemplate the thoughtful arguments of others with a throbbing head.

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What the Best Bullying and Cyberbullying Assembly Speakers Do https://cyberbullying.org/best-bullying-cyberbullying-assembly-speakers https://cyberbullying.org/best-bullying-cyberbullying-assembly-speakers#comments Sun, 03 May 2020 13:21:24 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=4564 I have recently shared the most important considerations for schools planning to host bullying assembly programs according to research. Now, I wanted to turn your attention to bullying and cyberbullying speakers themselves. As you may know from your own experiences, there are fantastic ones out there, but there are also many who leave a lot…

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I have recently shared the most important considerations for schools planning to host bullying assembly programs according to research. Now, I wanted to turn your attention to bullying and cyberbullying speakers themselves. As you may know from your own experiences, there are fantastic ones out there, but there are also many who leave a lot to be desired. Justin and I regularly do assemblies all across the United States (and abroad), and truly enjoy visiting and working with students, staff, and parents in this capacity. However, we simply cannot do them for everyone, as much as we would love to. As such, here are my thoughts on what the best bullying and cyberbullying assembly speakers do.

Speakers need to be relatable.
You may have heard that you win or lose your audience in the first few minutes of your talk. That is a short amount of time, and a lot of pressure to grab and hold their attention. Relatable speakers will deeply connect with the audience by demonstrating complete familiarity of, and appreciation with, the offline and online world of teens (but not in a way that seems contrived or fake). In addition, they must immediately engage students – not with scare tactics – but by clarifying at the onset why what they have to say matters to the students’ very lives. And how their message is different than all of the other anti-bullying messages the students have heard before. And that ultimately, the speaker is on their side. This is usually conveyed differently for elementary, middle, and high schoolers, and is a critically important skill to master. If the presentation somehow betrays that the speaker (and, by extension, the school) just doesn’t “get” kids and teens these days, and doesn’t really understand fully what is going on, its impact will be greatly stunted.

Speakers need to be uplifting.
The overall message, on its whole, should be hopeful and empowering. No one wants to be completely bummed out and depressed after listening to a speaker. That totally and completely drains away the audience’s desire and motivation to try and make a difference. Yes, kids need to understand the weight of pain, regret, and potential consequences that surround bullying and cyberbullying, but they cannot flourish and meaningfully contribute to a better peer and school environment under that burden. No one can. And no one will want to. Speakers must make sure the presentation is balanced, and leaves students feeling fired up and equipped to foster change.

Speakers need to focus on the positive.
Many adults are keen to focus on teen conflict, drama, harassment, and hate, and share those stories in an attempt to motivate youth to do the opposite instead. But we’ve found that those good intentions don’t lead to the desired effect. Instead, it can come across as condescending and preachy. Being subjected to those stories makes teens feel that adults expect the worst of them, and that they need to be managed and controlled instead of trusted and empowered. Justin and I strongly believe that speakers must point out all of the good that teens are doing as they embrace social media and electronic communications, instead of emphasizing all of the ways in which students have screwed up. Speakers should try to inspire them by showing them examples of teens just like them who are making a difference by standing up for what’s right. There are an increasing number of sites sharing meaningful stories of teens (and adults) doing kind things! Check out our Words Wound movement, Huffington Post’s Good News, Upworthy, One Good Thing, or A Platform for Good for ideas. Ideally, seeds will be planted in some of the youth. Then, they hopefully will be motivated to replicate the ideas discussed, or come up with their own (specific to their skills and situations) and work to contribute to widespread change on their campus.

Speakers need to have great content.
The data, stories, and examples they share must align with and reflect what the students have been observing and experiencing on their own, or else their message will be discredited and dismissed as irrelevant. The presentation should be interactive, fun, solemn at times (I mean, we are ultimately discussing a pretty serious topic here!), memorable, smooth, and somehow unique. It should also be updated with the latest research (when appropriate, don’t bore them with bar charts!), trends, headlines, stories, and screenshots. Many speakers want to do this, but honestly never really get around to updating their presentations. This will not win over the audience, and keep them locked in to what is being shared. Speakers should remember that students have heard this message before, and their default reaction will be to tune out because of the way this topic has been browbeaten into them. This is why content is – and always will be – king.

Speakers should include solutions.
Students want to know who they can trust and confide in if they are being mistreated. They want to know how to really, truly get someone to stop being mean, and how to anonymously report problems, and how to block mean people on specific networks or apps. They want clear direction as to how to intervene so that it doesn’t backfire on them, and how best to help others in a way that is safe for them as well. They need clear, specific strategies that are age-appropriate and will actually work. At the same time, schools need to know that a good number of presentations are high on inciting emotional responses but low on solutions. Just make sure you identify your goals at the outset, so you are not left feeling like something was missing after the presentation(s).

Speakers should have a plan for follow-up.
They should have books, materials, activities, resources – something they can distribute to the school so that faculty and staff can debrief with the kids and thereby continue the conversation after the assembly (and, ideally, on a regular basis throughout the year). And the resources should clearly mirror the messages conveyed in the assembly, so that everything builds upon itself. If the speaker doesn’t have content to share, he or she should be able to recommend the best out there. This simply demonstrates that they know the proverbial lay of the land, and have taken the time to figure out what can help the school on a long-term basis with their bullying prevention goals.

Ultimately, a great speaker with great content makes for a great presentation. I know that sounds intuitive, which is why I wanted to drill down into the essential components to show individuals what matters the most. I hope the preceding helps those of you who are out there on the front lines, working hard to raise awareness on this incredibly important issue. If we are spending our lives (and the time, attention, and resources of schools) trying to communicate a truly transformative message, we must give it our best – and do it right.

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Bullying Assembly Programs – What Schools Need to Know https://cyberbullying.org/bullying-assembly-programs-schools-need-know https://cyberbullying.org/bullying-assembly-programs-schools-need-know#comments Sun, 03 May 2020 10:26:41 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=4541 For decades now, schools have been organizing assemblies to address bullying, substance abuse, and a variety of other student issues. Perhaps like me, you remember sitting through them during middle or high school school and – unfortunately – tuning out because you just didn’t feel like you could connect with the speaker. When it came…

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For decades now, schools have been organizing assemblies to address bullying, substance abuse, and a variety of other student issues. Perhaps like me, you remember sitting through them during middle or high school school and – unfortunately – tuning out because you just didn’t feel like you could connect with the speaker. When it came to the assemblies about bullying, I remember thinking to myself: “yes, we all realize that it’s wrong to be mean to others, but nothing really is going to change at my school, and so why even bother?” I admit that was quite a defeatist mentality, but I’ll blame it in large part on my disillusioned, angst-ridden adolescent self 🙂 Ahhh, adolescence!

Anyway, I do clearly remember a couple of more inspirational speakers who gave presentations at my schools – and while they weren’t at all about bullying, I did find them compelling, hopeful, motivating, and even instructive. And I didn’t feel like I was being preached or lectured to. That showed me I could be reached – it just really seemed to depend on the quality of the content, the tone of the message, the level at which I was spoken to, and the relatability of what was conveyed. The bottom line is that there is value in assembly programs, but their selection and implementation requires significant consideration and forethought.

The Assembly as a Bullying Solution

Since schools know that bullying and cyberbullying is a problem on their campus and want to do something about it, scheduling an assembly is often the very first idea that comes to their mind. It makes sense, because they seem to be an easy-to-implement solution. Typically, a school has a budget, they find a speaker (or just have one of their staff members do it), they schedule the day and time, and they bring that person in to do his/her thing in the auditorium, gymnasium, or cafeteria. This takes a lot less time and effort than all that is actually needed to make a true difference. But at least it is something.

To be sure, there are a ton of options available for schools in this space. Just do a Google search for “bullying assembly” or “cyberbullying assembly,” and you’ll find pages and pages of people, many of whom are self-described “experts” (perhaps they are, I have no idea). Many educators also receive unsolicited emails from speakers, encouraging them to check out their web sites and skillsets, and consider hiring them to talk to their students. The speakers’ web sites describe what makes their particular talks engaging, interactive, and motivating, and most provide testimonials highlighting the benefit the assemblies provided to the school and attendant students. All of this is good. Really good. There is definitely a need to reach kids with a gripping and powerful message that cultivates empathy, induces intentional kindness and respect towards one’s peers, and equips them to know exactly what to do if they – or someone they know – is being targeted. And there is definitely a need for many speakers to be out there doing their part to help. However, there are three points which we want to make to help inform your implementation:

1. Assemblies must be used as a single piece of a much broader effort.

While a bullying assembly does have some value, we cannot emphasize strongly enough that a “one and done” strategy will fall short and ring painfully hollow in time – even if it is the most heart-rending or entertaining or memorable or impressive or convicting talk your youth have ever heard in their entire lives. Students need more. Bullying prevention initiatives in schools can have assemblies as part of their programming, but according to the research need more substantive characteristics such as information sent home to parents, requests for parents to attend meetings (so as to get them on board to help educators with the message), instructive role-playing scenarios in the classroom, and efforts that lasted more than one day. Schools need more than a flash-in-the-pan event, even if it is really good. The speaker’s efforts can have great value as a launching pad from which other initiatives can take off. These can include a comprehensive anti-bullying curriculum, peer-to-peer programming, specifically training faculty/staff on how to teach digital civility and how to handle problems that arise, modules on socio-emotional learning, stress management, and conflict resolution, social norming, and building a positive school climate.

2. Consider the impact of the specific content

A school’s good intentions to impact, influence, and inspire their student body may backfire if the speaker or organization is not carefully vetted, and if the message is not carefully designed – with every word measured and every aspect planned and prepped for. For example, in just the last six months one school district has had significant reputational fallout in the community because they brought in a speaker whose interactive exercises may have contributed to excessive vulnerability (and even emotional and psychological pain) by students, and consequently further targeting by bullies, and at least one school district has been sued for indirectly contributing to a teen suicide by hiring a speaker who gave a presentation that may have planted ideas of self-harm as a viable option out of the pain one is experiencing.

3. Take the time to find a great speaker to optimize chances for success

Schools interested in bringing out speakers to conduct student assemblies must demonstrate due diligence and do their background research. This is one of the primary ways to find out if they actually are relatable and uplifting, and if they actually have great content that focuses on the positive, provides real solutions, and can lead to specific follow-up by the school. We suggest that educators reach out to colleagues at other schools for specific recommendations. Feel free to even cold call those you don’t know but who work at schools similar to your own. Feel free to review testimonials, but also know that a speaker’s testimonials may not paint a full picture. As such, we also recommend that you take the time to schedule a call with potential speakers so you can get to know their style, passion, convictions, content areas, and exactly how they will connect with your students.

My next blog will detail what the best bullying and cyberbullying assembly speakers do, in order to illuminate what makes a great quality presentation to youth. In addition, Justin and I would love to hear your own thoughts, observations, and experiences in this area, and so feel free to weigh in!

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Eight Fun Student Engagement Ideas During COVID-19 and Beyond https://cyberbullying.org/eight-fun-student-engagement-ideas-during-covid-19-beyond https://cyberbullying.org/eight-fun-student-engagement-ideas-during-covid-19-beyond#respond Thu, 30 Apr 2020 14:31:19 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=28383 The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected the way educators across the world instruct, support, encourage, and relate to their students. We know this will continue until at least the end of the school year, and plans are being discussed for online learning through the summer and start of the fall in many communities across the…

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The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected the way educators across the world instruct, support, encourage, and relate to their students. We know this will continue until at least the end of the school year, and plans are being discussed for online learning through the summer and start of the fall in many communities across the nation. Recently, I shared three major student issues that have arisen since the middle of March: the lack of access to counselor and mentoring, increased isolation, and a potential rise in cyberbullying. To follow that up, Justin detailed specific suggestions for how families can manage increased screen time during this unprecedented time.

Today, I want to share how some school communities across the United States have embraced social media to stay in touch with their members. In this way, the school/community climate is still being positively impacted, youth feel like they are being remembered and celebrated, and everyone can stay connected in meaningful ways with each other. Justin and I encourage educators to consider these ideas if you haven’t already. I think we can agree that it’s worth the investment since it will contribute to higher morale, belongingness, civility, kindness, and so many more of the other goals we strive to achieve.

#CoronaCant

I am loving the #CoronaCant campaign at Boca Raton Community High School in Boca Raton, Florida. Helmed by teacher Jordan Hernandez (who founded We Dine Together) and class of 2019 graduate Luke Lynch, both educators and students have been creating a lot of inspiring content that conveys how the coronavirus can’t keep them from doing the things that are important to them. “Corona can’t keep me from being happy!” “Corona can’t keep me from staying in shape!” “Corona can’t keep me from becoming the best person I can be!” Check out this great video, and search for #CoronaCant on any social media platform to see what I’m talking about.

Spirit Weeks

A number of schools and school districts have done weekly challenges where students participate in a themed activity, take a picture or video of it, and then upload and tag it with a specific hashtag so that the community can find, enjoy, and celebrate it with them. Here are a few examples.

From Valley Vista High School in Surprise, Arizona (by the way, they also did a Positivity Day Parade – which is another awesome idea!)
From Chester School District in Chester, New Jersey

Happy Birthday!

Kevin Carroll is the Principal at Waldwick High School in Waldwick, New Jersey, and he is awesome. I kid you not, he has been filming personalized “Happy Birthday” videos for each of his students who has had a birthday while schools have been closed and posting them on Instagram. FOR EACH STUDENT! What I love about this is 1) students feel like they are being remembered, which is a very big deal because of the social isolation and physical distance and camaraderie they are used to and 2) posting a personalized video on a popular account ( (over 1,300 followers!) renders it highly visible and then people leave follow-up comments of love and kindness and encouragement to the birthday boy or girl! It really facilitates the celebration of students which, frankly, we don’t do enough of (especially these days). Below is one example, and you can click on the account username and scroll down to see many more.

Prom

As another way to facilitate connection, we’ve seen a number of schools organize Virtual Proms on Zoom or another platform (TikTok also organized proms where many youth posted videos with the hashtag #tiktokprom – receiving almost a billion views so far!). The following screenshot involves a group of girls from Huntley High School in Huntley, Illinois.

Mental Health and Well-Being

In keeping with a renewed interest in promoting mental health and well-being among students (which I hope continues far beyond COVID-19), I appreciate the efforts of Corona-Norco Unified School District in Norco, California in compiling a number of quality resources into their Virtual Calming Room. As you can see below, categories to check out include Guided Meditations, Yoga, Mindfulness, Visual Relaxation, and Live Animal Cameras (my personal favorite – I have been known to watch cameras in Alaska of bears trying to catch and eat spawning salmon, which somehow helps me de-stress). Check out the videos and activities at each of the links in the Virtual Calming Room – I promise they are great!

Yearbook Signing

As another example of something neat and unique, Loara High School in Anaheim, California created virtual yearbook pages for their students. Basically, they could edit the multi-page downloadable PDF, add photos, memes, quotes, hashtags, notes for others, and signatures. Then, when they receive their hardcopy yearbook, they can insert these pages into it. We all can agree that the best part of a yearbook is getting your friends to sign and personalize it. Since that couldn’t happen this year because of the virus, this was the next best option.

Senior Banquet and Netflix Party

I also really like what Heritage High School in Brentwood, California is doing for their seniors. Specifically, they organized a livestream event via Instagram Stories involving video highlights from the last four years at school, speeches from staff and students and “Best of the Best” (superlatives) award winners. Afterwards, they organized a fun movie experience that everyone watched together. To do the latter, they used Netflix Party, which is a Google Chrome browser extension that creates a shareable link for everyone to access the movie via Netflix, which streams to everyone synchronously and provides a real-time chat feature for everyone to communicate with as the film goes on. Brilliant!

Photo Tributes

I’d like to end with a tribute video that teachers at Dinuba High School in Dinuba, California made for the class of 2020 that I thought was super creative. They found their own high school graduation photos and compiled them into an inspiring video with a Ken Burns effect (panning and zooming on each shot). It was then synchronized to recordings of personal, encouraging words from numerous teachers to the graduating seniors. This sort of thing takes time, but I think really can show students how much they are missed, loved, and believed in. And that is the sort of thing they will remember forever.

Climate, Connection, and Community!

I hope these examples can help inspire the student engagement efforts in your school community during this unprecedented time of COVID-19. And, honestly, I hope that you continue them as we move forward. Social media and related technologies are incredible tools to bring people together and foster connection when we are physically apart, and they should be regularly used to build, maintain, and grow a positive school climate. Based on what I’ve seen anecdotally, when educators seek to interact with students online (in appropriate and transparent ways, like public school-based Instagram and Twitter accounts), the environment created there is something really special. Students are using these platforms constantly to connect with their friends, and so why not continually enlist them to facilitate deeper and more meaningful connections with their school? You can start today!

Featured image source: https://n.pr/2y9MN2E (NPR.org)

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Bullying, Cyberbullying, and LGBTQ Students https://cyberbullying.org/bullying-cyberbullying-lgbtq https://cyberbullying.org/bullying-cyberbullying-lgbtq#respond Mon, 20 Apr 2020 15:26:13 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=28250 Bullying that specifically targets youth and young adults based on their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression has been a problem for decades. The increased utilization of technology among youth (and, well, just about everyone) has resulted in bullying behaviors moving online. As a result, cyberbullying perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth…

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Bullying that specifically targets youth and young adults based on their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression has been a problem for decades. The increased utilization of technology among youth (and, well, just about everyone) has resulted in bullying behaviors moving online. As a result, cyberbullying perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth has emerged. It is clear that more can be done to prevent these incidents of hate perpetrated online. This summary explores what the research says about the connection between bullying/cyberbullying and sexual orientation/identity, and discusses relevant strategies that youth-serving adults can implement.

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2020). Bullying, Cyberbullying, and LGBTQ Students. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from https://cyberbullying.org/bullying-cyberbullying-sexual-orientation-lgbtq.pdf

Download the Guide

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Boys Are More Likely To Experience Dating Abuse Online, Study Says – February 25, 2020 https://cyberbullying.org/digital-dating-abuse-wlrn-2020 https://cyberbullying.org/digital-dating-abuse-wlrn-2020#respond Tue, 14 Apr 2020 17:35:49 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=28170 A recent study from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) found that a quarter of teens nationwide have reported experiencing some form of online abuse, and that boys are most affected. Teen digital dating abuse happens in forms of communication such as social media and smartphones. FAU has been researching teen dating violence among middle and high…

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A recent study from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) found that a quarter of teens nationwide have reported experiencing some form of online abuse, and that boys are most affected. Teen digital dating abuse happens in forms of communication such as social media and smartphones. FAU has been researching teen dating violence among middle and high schoolers across the country.

Host: Alejandra Martinez
Guest: Sameer Hinduja

February 25, 2020 (15 minutes)

Listen here

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Helping Families Manage Increased Screen Time During a Global Pandemic https://cyberbullying.org/helping-families-manage-increased-screen-time https://cyberbullying.org/helping-families-manage-increased-screen-time#respond Mon, 06 Apr 2020 16:40:44 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=28068 The spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic has created plenty of anxieties for parents trying to balance work and family responsibilities amid ever-changing uncertainties. In this unprecedented time of hunkering down and holing up, parents are relying more than ever on technology to help carry the educational and recreational load. All across the world school…

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The spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic has created plenty of anxieties for parents trying to balance work and family responsibilities amid ever-changing uncertainties. In this unprecedented time of hunkering down and holing up, parents are relying more than ever on technology to help carry the educational and recreational load. All across the world school buildings have been shuttered and unnecessary travel is prohibited. As a result, the family home has become the school, the gym, the playground, and the office.

To carry on with instructional activities remotely, teachers are utilizing a variety of online platforms to connect with their students. We receive multiple emails each school day from our son’s teachers with activities, videos, and general check-ins. Google Classroom assignments and Zoom get-togethers are the new educational norm. While the debate about the benefits and risks of technology for education has ebbed and flowed over the last two decades, there is little doubt that screens are saving schools right now.

There is little doubt that screens are saving schools right now.

Parents, too, are relying on technology more than ever to get through the day. Many now work from home and need a way to distract their children so they can get through those emails or that important web conference. Last week I spent nearly 5 hours of one day in various virtual meetings! It was great to be able to continue collaborating with others without risking my health (or theirs). And now that many parents have become part-time teaching assistants, homeschooling responsibilities are more bearable when you can Google “Common Core Math,” or better yet, just send a quick message to your kid’s actual math teacher for real-time explanation.

In many ways, screens have allowed us to stay close to others, without having to violate six-foot separation regulations. Convening in virtual happy hours, FaceTiming loved-ones, or creating and sharing funny TikTok videos can help pass the time in this era of physical—though not social—isolation. I can’t be with my friends, but I can keep up with how they are managing via various social media accounts. I must be doing a good job of this because last week I was notified by my iPhone that my screen time had increased 103% from the week before! And between his schoolwork, Mario Kart, Messenger Kids, and YouTube videos about frogs, my kid has stared at a screen for more hours this past week than in the previous month altogether. The point is we and our kids are spending a lot of time in front of screens these days.

Don’t panic or feel guilty.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Last spring we surveyed 2,500 middle and high school students from around the United States about the amount and type of screen time they get each day. We asked them to estimate how many hours per day, on average, they participated in various activities. For example, youth spent about 2 ½ hours on both social media and texting. Not surprisingly, they spent more time in front of a screen when school wasn’t in session (except for going online for schoolwork). Students spent about an extra hour watching videos on YouTube and Netflix, and playing video games, on days they didn’t have school.

Students spent about an extra hour watching videos on YouTube and Netflix, and playing video games, on days they didn’t have school.

The good news is that they also reported that they averaged just shy of eight hours of sleep each night, getting about a half-hour more on non-school days. They also exercised close to two hours each day, whether school was in session or not. To be clear, these are self-reported estimates. It would be interesting to look at actual device data. And there is definitely some overlap in these activities. That is, a child could have been watching a Netflix show while texting or using social media.

Despite understandable concerns by parents, there isn’t any solid evidence anywhere that screen time in and of itself is detrimental to kids. Yes, hours of inactivity is not good. And yes, if screen time interrupts sleep, that could be a problem.

It is also certainly possible that online misbehaviors will increase with more time online. In our data, increased time online was positively correlated with cyberbullying and sexting. That said, arguing that screen time leads to cyberbullying is like saying school time leads to face-to-face bullying. Absent anything else, yes, there could be more problems when more kids are online for extended periods, just like there is more bullying at school during the academic term than during summer–because the kids are together. But all of this ignores other possible factors, such as the nature of the online activity and adult supervision/mentorship. Just like some schools are better than others when it comes to preventing bullying, some online environments and family circumstances are better than others when it comes to preventing cyberbullying and other online problems.

Arguing that screen time leads to cyberbullying is like saying school time leads to face-to-face bullying.

So how can you help your child navigate the next few months of increased screen time?

  • Spend time online with your kids. Explore what games they are playing, what sites they are visiting, and what videos they are watching. Find out who they are interacting with and remind them of basic internet safety principles (e.g., being careful when chatting with people they don’t know well, not sharing personal and identifiable information, not “taking the bait” when others are trying to troll them).
  • Have a conversation about cyberbullying or other problematic behaviors you are concerned about. Don’t assume they know everything already. Here are some great questions to get you started.
  • Ask your child if they would know what to do if someone was treating them or someone else badly online. Make sure they know how to report, block, and mute bad actors on all of the apps and sites they are using.
  • Use age-appropriate parental controls to help minimize the chance they will unintentionally encounter inappropriate content. Most important of all, ensure they know that you are always available to help them with whatever issues they confront online.
  • Encourage physical activity. Sitting still all day long isn’t good for anyone – and especially not for energetic children. Even though many schools have restricted or altogether removed physical education, your homeschool doesn’t have to. Get your kids moving—inside or outside—for at least 60 minutes each day (and preferably more). There are many ideas online for kids of all ages. Be creative!
  • Make sure they are getting enough sleep. This may mean enforcing limits to screens after a certain time at night.

Almost everyone will be spending more time online in the coming months, kids included. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Not all screen time is created equal, and as parents we need to balance the entertainment with the informational. Interactive educational activities can be a wonderful way for your child to continue learning, and I’m sure you’d prefer they spend most of their time in front of a screen growing in their academic and character-based abilities. But a reasonable amount of time doing something fun on their devices isn’t going to hurt them (and may help you get other work and household responsibilities completed).

After watching a bunch of frog videos the other day, my son spent the next four hours outside—looking for frogs. It’s a little too early for them to be out here in Wisconsin, but that didn’t stop him from exploring the far reaches of our yard. And he slept like a rock that night. As Mr. Miyagi said in The Karate Kid, “Balance is key.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish that last episode of Tiger King.

Thanks to Facebook Research for supporting the project that allowed the data discussed in this post to be collected.

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Coronavirus, Online Learning, Social Isolation, and Cyberbullying: How To Support Our Students https://cyberbullying.org/coronavirus-online-learning-social-isolation-cyberbullying https://cyberbullying.org/coronavirus-online-learning-social-isolation-cyberbullying#respond Mon, 16 Mar 2020 19:30:27 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=27833 The coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken the world by storm and disrupted so many aspects of our lives. As an educator, I’m always thinking about how historical phenomenon might affect (in positive and negative ways) the personal and professional success of our students and this disease has me concerned on a number of levels. Obviously, the…

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken the world by storm and disrupted so many aspects of our lives. As an educator, I’m always thinking about how historical phenomenon might affect (in positive and negative ways) the personal and professional success of our students and this disease has me concerned on a number of levels. Obviously, the safety of our children and their families is our first priority. My university was quick to mandate that professors move all instruction and interaction online, and we know by now that most universities across America have done the same. School districts as well have followed en masse. This is absolutely the right thing to do. But I was just talking with my colleague Randy Ross over at the National School Climate Center about how there will likely be some unintended consequences here which merit our attention and response.

Here are three important considerations, followed by my suggestions. I welcome your own ideas; we’re all in this together and our foresight and preventive efforts may do a world of good in safeguarding not just the physical health of the students under our care, but also their emotional and psychological health.

Lack of access to counseling and mentoring by educators

With everyone now receiving instruction online, students can’t readily stop by the guidance counselor’s office, or chat with a teacher after class, or let their coach know about what’s troubling them and affecting their sports play (since youth sports are shut down too). This is a big deal. I’m reminded of the quote by educator Nicholas Ferroni, who wrote “Students who are loved come to school to learn, and students who aren’t, come to school to be loved.” I care deeply about my college students and my professional interactions with them have led to many of them inviting me to their weddings, stopping by at my office after 5-10 years to let me know how they are doing, and keeping in touch for years and years. You care deeply about your students, and you know the impact you’ve made in their lives not only by what you taught them, but by how you invested in them and showed them how much you care about them.

SUGGESTIONS: This will largely go missing over the next month or two (perhaps the rest of the school year) unless we are very intentional about it. If there is a way for you to keep in touch with the students you’ve poured into, please do it. I want you to keep in touch with all of your students somehow – at least on a semi-regular basis, even though you’ll be caught up with your own family and their needs. Remind them that you are there for them if they need anything, and to not hesitate to ask for help or advice. More importantly, please keep in touch with those few you know need that connection, those encouraging words, that accountability, that check-in. Carbon-copy (CC) or blind-carbon-copy (BCC) your administrator so that these communications are transparent if you feel uncomfortable about it. (Also, I trust you’re aware of your school’s formal policies regarding electronic communications with students – which have hopefully been updated over the last week or two. Make sure you follow those rules and seek clarity for what you’re unsure about!)

This is all about you being there for them – available and still involved even though instruction has moved online. Perhaps you can divvy up with your colleagues the list of students in each grade level and reach out via phone (ideally) or email/text to check in with each one individually. Many of you have advisory groups; figure out a creative way to keep in touch with and continue to support that group. Also keep a list of dates and times you made those contacts, and take a few notes so you can remember what’s going on with each student. Yes, it takes some time and effort, but this is how we care meaningfully about our students, and positively impact their lives!

Increased student isolation

I’m an introvert, and so I do great alone most of the time. But I still need human connection and interaction with people outside of my immediate family members. I needed even more when I was a kid, even though I was introverted back then as well. Now imagine if I was an extrovert! Regardless of where they lie on that continuum, our students are going to struggle with feelings of isolation because they are not able to go to school and connect and interact with their peers in person, even if they might be interacting with them via their iPad cameras or discussion boards. And think of those students without the devices and Internet access they might need! This deeply troubles me. We already know that mental health problems (mood disorders, suicide-related outcomes, etc.) among US adolescents have increased over the last decade or so. Social ties also affect brain development and behavioral choices, and an increased risk for mental illness can occur if there is inadequate or problematic interplay between the two – particularly during the critical and tenuous developmental stage of adolescence.

SUGGESTIONS: I absolutely understand the importance of social distancing during this unprecedented, wacky, scary time. Honestly, we are trapped right now in our homes. But we need to be creative to make sure our kids don’t suffer from extremes of isolation. First off, be patient with  them if they start to get irritable and frustrated. They are trying to reconcile this new reality – just like you are. And, they’re probably not going to be as good at hiding their emotions or redirecting them as you may be. Again, be patient. Second, I encourage parents to allow and support them Skyping and FaceTiming their friends, as well as livestreaming on their favorite apps. This is probably going to annoy you at times, but please remember socializing and connecting with their friends is essential for continued healthy development in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty all around us. Hey, now would also be a good time to reach out to friends and family we barely or rarely talk to! Let’s intentionally counter isolation in any and every way we can, despite the limitations placed on us. Finally, encourage physical activity without doing so in a group setting. We know that physical activity is necessary (at all ages!) for calming the mind and supporting cognitive growth.

Cyberbullying will likely increase

When smartphones and social media became ubiquitous for students, cyberbullying rates went up. This makes sense, of course. But apart from all of the popular app usage by students to meet their social and relational needs, those same students will be using apps even more than they already do. Screentime is going to go way up as students are now forced to use online platforms for learning, regardless of their comfort level or proficiency. Teachers are delivering education not just on Canvas, Blackboard, and Moodle, but even on Roblox, Twitch, and YouTube (and others!).

Some students – perhaps due to #1 and #2 above, and perhaps for other reasons (e.g., everyone is on edge, people often misunderstand each other during crises, self-protection runs deep) – are going to be hurtful towards other students in posts and comments and pictures and videos. Some of it will be mild, and some of it will be severe. Some of it will be what they’re used to and won’t bother them, and some of it will be brand new – and a jarring, wounding experience. This may be especially true for those not used to learning and interacting in this way (and we are seeing how socio-economic inequities are being magnified because of the coronavirus).

It’s also very possible that xenophobic/racist cyberbullying may go up. Some continue to call COVID-19 a “foreign virus” and parents have complained to the media that their kids are being accused as carriers just because they are Asian. I’m Asian and have dealt with my share of bullying based on race/ethnicity, and so I am particularly sensitive to this and simply do not want to see it spiral out of control. Let’s make sure we convey facts and truths, and take the time to correct ignorant misconceptions and misstatements instead of letting them slide. Plus, remember that many cyberbullying victims will hesitate to get help from their parents. When it happens, they may just suffer silently since won’t be any visual cues for educators to see and inquire about as the student isn’t walking our hallways or sitting in our classroom.

SUGGESTIONS: Educators, set expectations immediately for respectful behavior among your students online. Don’t wait a single day. Make your standards very clear, and convey that there will still be disciplinary consequences for cruelty towards others – whether in grading (since it will be tied to their online education) or in administrative actions when school resumes. Let them know that you totally get that their worlds have been turned upside down, but that we need to be kind to each other even more so because of the situation we find ourselves in. Also, keep close tabs on all online interactions over which you have purview. Encourage students to send you screenshots or video recordings of any abusive or harmful behavior towards others. Show them how to take screenshots on your online learning platform (“if you don’t know how, find out – or reach out and I’ll show you!”). Point them to our “Report Cyberbullying” page (or use it yourself) to report problematic content to any social media or tech company that may be involved (we provide contact information for each of them there). And do all you can every single teaching day to promote positive peer interactions in all venues where online connections take place.

As I wrap this up, let me direct a few suggestions towards social media companies. This is such a critical time and a fantastic opportunity for you guys! We’ve helped many of you create content related to cyberbullying (and other topics), and you’ve built online safety portals and developed cool tip sheets and helpful videos for parents and educators and kids. They’ve always been available on your site but – let’s be honest – everyone’s really busy and many haven’t taken advantage of them. Now is your time! Everyone’s stuck at home! Everyone is on their devices all the time!  Push that content to their news and activity feeds! “Promote” and “sponsor” and elevate those safety tips! Create and share fresh messaging strategies that encourage parents to chat with their kids about their device and social media use! They are home together, and so they have more time to do so! Reacquaint educators with the online resources you have made available to help them in their work – they are online more now that they are working from home! And use this unique moment to re-set everyone’s perspective of your app or site in terms of safety, security, privacy, and well-being.

I hope my exploration of the three points above help you to appreciate the complex challenges that this gigantic move to online learning is going to pose for our students. There is more to say, but let’s talk about it together! Please, please know and remember that we here at the Cyberbullying Research Center have so many resources available for educators, parents, and teens and continue to add more great stuff every week to help you during this time (and beyond). Reach out if you need absolutely anything – we are here and committed to help you, your students, your school, your district, and your state. Just let us know what you need!

Image Sources:

At the Heart of Home: https://bit.ly/2waut8J
Counseling Programs: https://bit.ly/2TTaZOQ
Fears at Boarding School: https://bit.ly/2TUBq6T
Cyberbullying in Fortnite: https://bit.ly/2xAMQ71

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A Teen’s View of Social Media in 2020 https://cyberbullying.org/a-teens-view-of-social-media-in-2020 https://cyberbullying.org/a-teens-view-of-social-media-in-2020#respond Wed, 26 Feb 2020 13:37:41 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=27641 I recently met a high schooler named Eve, and appreciated our conversations about all things related to social media, identity, loneliness, affirmation, and purpose. I thought she would be an ideal person to share “A Teen’s Perspective on Social Media in 2020” and she happily obliged. Below are her thoughts; we both hope they give…

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I recently met a high schooler named Eve, and appreciated our conversations about all things related to social media, identity, loneliness, affirmation, and purpose. I thought she would be an ideal person to share “A Teen’s Perspective on Social Media in 2020” and she happily obliged. Below are her thoughts; we both hope they give you a better sense of what a typical older adolescent is using and enjoying these days. If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll pass them on for Eve to address in the Comments!


Hi!! My name is Eve and I am from Maryland. I am currently a senior in high school and I will be attending one of the “Public Ivies” in the fall, and am leaning towards Political Science as a major. I am writing this to share my personal perspective on the popular social media platforms, including Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, Snapchat, and VSCO. Each of these platforms offer their features to varying audiences, which leads to different atmospheres on each app. I’ll start with my favorite out of all of them.

Instagram

Instagram is by far my favorite. It is made up of all photos and videos, which is perfect for visual people like me. There is the home page that showcases the posts from people you follow, an explore tab which offers posts from accounts all over the world, and your own page, with a notification tab to show who likes and comments on your posts.

Instagram Home page
Instagarm Explore page

Instagram has some downsides though. It is known to make many people feel insecure or down about themselves because the platform showcases the highlights of everyone’s lives, while rarely showing the negatives. This can make one feel like their life is not going as well as others, contributing to the growing rates of anxiety or depression in many teens today.

I do not let these pressures influence my view of myself because I realize everyone has negative sides to their personal lives that they do not share. People are quick to show the good, but refuse to show the bad.

I do not let these pressures influence my view of myself because I realize everyone has negative sides to their personal lives that they do not share. People are quick to show the good, but refuse to show the bad.

I usually find myself idlelessly scrolling through Instagram when I am bored. It is an endless abyss of random photos. Many teens use Instagram to follow their friends, follow style posts from big celebrities, or the latest videos of sports games. I love Instagram because it gives me the ability to follow whoever I want. It connects public figures to their audiences. It gives an insight into one’s personal life through the sharing of photos.

There is an underlying desire for acceptance through the number of likes or followers one has. Instagram has recently hidden the number of likes posts receive in an attempt to improve the mental health of their users. I personally think this will not do anything because people will find loopholes to seek acceptance in other ways. This change may spread to other platforms in the near future.

Twitter

Next is Twitter. Twitter is the social media people instantly go to tweet their latest thoughts. They can post a status which can be liked and retweeted, and spread around the world in seconds. It is also known to be a battleground of disputes.

Twitter trending page

The latest news and tweets can trend within a short amount of time. It is also the go-to platform for politicians to give their thoughts on current events, which opens up endless fights based on political differences. It is the time efficiency of the app that makes it the platform to share the latest news with the world.

Example of political disagreements on Twitter

Since the platform is more about words than pictures and videos like Instagram, I believe this creates a breeding ground for more bullying. People tend to have no problem tweeting mean things toward others on social media, rather than saying it to their face in person. Twitter serves as a buffer between the bully and victim. It is not just made up of bullies; there are many kind people and groups on there as well. It is basically where you go to share your thoughts on any topic at any time. That alone opens doors to disagreements.

People tend to have no problem tweeting mean things toward others on social media, rather than saying it to their face in person.

I do not verbalize my own opinions on the app. I only use Twitter to follow others. I also have no desire to get into arguments with others about my political views or opinions in general, but I do find the app useful to follow politicians to see what they say on news events. I actively follow the news (not just through social media), so I like that it is the new norm for politicians to connect with voters on the latest issues. I also follow some friends that tweet entertaining memes.

TikTok

The latest craze with teens is TikTok. This is a newer social media that is made up of mostly teen audiences. The app consists of constant swiping to show new videos. The videos vary: many are funny/relatable, some are heartfelt, and some are nonsense. But the big picture is that the videos resonate with teen humor.

Some examples of TikToks

I often find myself getting lost in TikTok, spending lots of time swiping and laughing at the videos presented. You can send videos to your friends to share the laughs. It is interesting because I will sometimes find adult users that stick out in a crowd of teens (LOL). I find myself spending a lot of time in the app when I open it. My friends and I get sucked into the endless entertainment.

I will often see teens at my school making Tik Tok videos in the hallways, sharing their accounts with each other, and watching videos together.

I have never posted any videos because I am not one to put myself out there on social media. I will often see teens at my school making Tik Tok videos in the hallways, sharing their accounts with each other, and watching videos together.

Facebook

Facebook is the complete opposite of TikTok’s audience. It is made up of mostly older generations. I still know many teens, including myself, that do have Facebook despite this demographic. I have Facebook solely to keep in contact with family that lives far from me. Other teens usually have it for similar reasons.

Facebook can also be very political. I often hear my mom complaining about how many of her Facebook friends make political posts on the daily. I do not check the app as often, maybe a few times a week to see what my extended family has been doing.

You often will not find teens communicating or interacting with each other on Facebook because they resort to other platforms. It still occurs, but it is just not as common. I barely have any teen Facebook friends on my page; it is mostly older adults.

Snapchat

I would say most Snapchat users are teens. The app is a pretty simple concept. You simply send photos and videos back and forth to your friends on the daily. The pictures and videos you send disappear after a few seconds. You keep “streaks” with your friends by sending a picture to each other every day.

I personally do not care for Snapchat; I find it quite boring. I would rather have a conversation with a friend over text than taking the extra time to send pictures back and forth.

I personally do not care for Snapchat; I find it quite boring. I would rather have a conversation with a friend over text than taking the extra time to send pictures back and forth. Using Snapchat will often leave me forgetting what was sent because of the disappearing feature. Conversations flow so much easier through texting, which I why I do not use Snapchat as much as other teens do. There is also a convenience factor in my opinion. It takes more time to take a picture, type a text, and send while having to remember what you sent hours later.

(Chat page of Snapchat. Notice the little numbers next to the pineapple icons are the streak numbers I have with each person)
Discover page of Snapchat

On the Discover page you can view people’s stories: pictures and videos your friends have made public to their followers.

Snapchat News is showcased below the stories. I never look at these because advertisements pop up all the time and I do not have an interest in the “news” stories. You can tell it is targeted towards younger audiences because it is made up of celebrity news.

VSCO

The last social media I use is VSCO. Its audience is made up of mainly teen/young adult females that post artsy photos. These photos are sometimes of themselves, or of scenic photos they take. I rarely check this social media because I do not find it as entertaining as the others. But I wanted to cover this because it is a platform that is often not talked about.

(Some posts shared are inspirational or relatable quotes)
(VSCO also contains artsy photos)

VSCO is less about communication through words and more about expression through visuals. It varies from Instagram because it takes away the aspect of your personal life, and goes deeper into the beauty or emotional side of life. This is expressed through sharing artistic photos or quotes that resonate with people.

It is a platform I often forget about, but I will sometimes go into it and send pictures to my best friend that relates to how we feel about certain situations in our lives. It is very effective for bringing out emotions, finding inspiration, and connecting to quotes during the good and bad times of life.

VSCO is very effective for bringing out emotions, finding inspiration, and connecting to quotes during the good and bad times of life.

I find myself gravitating to a specific social media platform depending on what mood I am in or what I am looking for. When I think of my family and wonder how their week has been, I open Facebook. When I want to hear contrasting opinions on a specific current event, I check Twitter. When I am looking for a good laugh, I open TikTok. When I want to check on my friends, I will open Instagram.

No matter what social media it is, I have found teens seek acceptance through all of them. There is always the factors of followers, like counts, comments, looking your best, trying to impress people, etc. The list goes on and on because that is the bubble social media consists of: accessing a net of everyone’s thoughts without a filter. Creating a page of photos that represents you. People want to be thought of positively by others. The desire to be favorable in other’s eyes stems from this presentation of yourself on a platform like Instagram.

I count myself lucky. I do not feel this pressure as strongly as some others do. Yes, social media entertains me on the daily, but I am able to set aside the impulse to be perfect. I know everyone struggles with something behind closed doors, and no one wants to show that. If teens, and other people, put aside the facade they put up on social media, maybe they could be happier. I do not mean to show the bad side, but they should try to not overwhelm themselves by being overly critical. People are always more judgmental of themselves than anyone else. These disparaging thoughts ultimately stem from insecurity.

Social media entertains me on the daily, but I am able to set aside the impulse to be perfect. I know everyone struggles with something behind closed doors, and no one wants to show that. If teens, and other people, put aside the facade they put up on social media, maybe they could be happier.

I only hope that the effects of social media improve, and not just for teens. This generation of teens are the first to encounter the impact of multiple social media. I have heard many adults in my life say, “I cannot imagine how I would be if I had access to social media as a teen!” I think teens deserve more credit for how we handle it. We are simply trying our best! I will be looking forward to seeing how social media evolves and affects future generations.

Thank you for taking the time to read!

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Digital Dating Abuse Among Teens: Our Research, and What We Must Do https://cyberbullying.org/digital-dating-abuse-research-findings https://cyberbullying.org/digital-dating-abuse-research-findings#respond Wed, 12 Feb 2020 13:18:38 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=27421 February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and we’re doing our part to help equip and empower young people to make wise decisions in their romantic relationships. Most recently, we published a new research paper entitled “Digital Dating Abuse Among a National Sample of U.S. Youth” in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence to illuminate how…

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February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and we’re doing our part to help equip and empower young people to make wise decisions in their romantic relationships. Most recently, we published a new research paper entitled “Digital Dating Abuse Among a National Sample of U.S. Youth” in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence to illuminate how dating violence is manifesting online.  “Digital dating abuse” involves using technology to repetitively harass a romantic partner with the intent to control, coerce, intimidate, annoy or threaten them. Given that youth in relationships today are constantly in touch with each other via texting, social media, and video chat, more opportunities for digital dating abuse can arise. Our study is the first to examine these behaviors with a large, nationally representative sample of 2,218 US middle and high school students (12 to 17 years old) who have been in a romantic relationship. Before delving into our study’s results, let’s first clarify what we mean in practice.

What Does Digital Dating Abuse Look Like?

There are multiple ways in which teens can exploit online communications devices to cause harm to a current or former romantic partner. Teens may be excessively mean-spirited and hurtful to their significant other when interacting with them online for the same reasons that those who cyberbully or troll others do (such as anger or a felt need to exert power).1,2 In addition, privacy violations can occur as youth incessantly check up on, keep track of, and even stalk their partners via their device(s) and certain apps like Life360 or Hoverwatch. Teens can also hack into or otherwise obtain unauthorized access into their partner’s personal social media or email accounts. In addition, some aggressors have improperly obtained and used private pictures or videos to blackmail, extort, or otherwise manipulate their romantic partner into saying or doing something against their will. We’ve even heard of situations where one person pays for the other’s cell phone (and/or monthly bill), and then feels entitled to constantly check and monitor who their partner is communicating with (calls or messages). It can look like other forms of harm and victimization online, but it occurs within a context that involved flirting or romance and thereby reflects a unique violation of trust and care towards another.

Results from Our Digital Dating Abuse Research

You can download the full PDF of our new academic paper here (if you don’t have access, just message us!) which shares that over one quarter (28.1%) of teens who had been in a romantic relationship at some point in the previous year said they had been the victim of at least one form of digital dating abuse. These included whether their significant other:
looked through the contents of your device without permission
kept you from using their device; threatened you via text
posted something publicly online to make fun of, threaten, or embarrass you; or,
posted or shared a private picture of you without permission

Over one quarter (28.1%) of teens who had been in a romantic relationship at some point in the previous year said they had been the victim of at least one form of digital dating abuse.

Digital Dating Abuse by Gender

It has been argued that youth of a certain sex may use behaviors more typical of the opposite sex when dealing with conflict in relationships. For instance, girls may use more violence on their boyfriends to try to solve their relational problems, while boys may try to keep in control of their aggressive impulses when trying to negotiate conflict with their girlfriends.3 That is exactly what we found. Males were significantly more likely to have experienced digital dating abuse compared to females (32.3% vs. 23.6% when it comes to victimization, and 21.6% vs. 14.2% when it comes to offending), and more likely to experience all types of online and offline dating abuse, including physical aggression.

Males were significantly more likely to have experienced digital dating abuse (32.3%) compared to females (23.6%), and more likely to experience all types of digital dating abuse, and were even more likely to experience physical aggression

The Link Between Offline and Online Dating Abuse

We also found a significant connection between digital and traditional forms of dating abuse: the vast majority of students who had been abused online had also been abused offline. Specifically, 81% of the students who had been the target of digital dating abuse had also been the target of traditional dating abuse (i.e., they were: pushed, grabbed or shoved; hit or threatened to be hit; called names or criticized, or prevented from doing something they wanted to do). Students victimized offline were approximately 18 times more likely to have also experienced online abuse compared to those who were not victimized offline. Similarly, most of the students who had been the victim of offline dating violence also had been the victim of online dating violence, though the proportion (63%) was lower.

Four out of five (81%) middle and high school students who had been the target of digital dating abuse had also been the target of traditional (offline) dating abuse.

Risk Factors Associated with Digital Dating Abuse

I also want to bring your attention to other risk factors associated with digital dating abuse. Students who reported depressive symptoms were about four times as likely to have experienced digital dating abuse. Those who reported that they had sexual intercourse were 2.5 times as likely to have experienced digital dating abuse. Most notably, those students who had sent a “sext” to another person were nearly five times as likely to be the target of digital dating abuse as compared to those who had not sent a sext. Finally, those who had been the target of cyberbullying also were likely to have been the target of digital dating abuse.

Students who reported depressive symptoms were about four times as likely to have experienced digital dating abuse, while those who had sexual intercourse were 2.5 times as likely and those who had sent a “sext” to another person were about five times as likely.

digital-dating-abuse-boy

What Must Be Done to Combat Digital Dating Abuse?

As we observe Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, there appears to be a general lack of knowledge associated with what exactly can be done about digital dating abuse apart from more conversations with youth about healthy romantic relationships and the positive use of social media, and general Internet safety practices.4-7 We applaud youth-serving adults who are bringing up cyberbullying and sexting when discussing inappropriate online choices, but we remind them to also discuss how power, control, passive-aggressiveness, and abuse can occur via devices between romantic partners. Our youth often want to be in dating relationships and need to be aware of how things can go sideways – and what to do when that happens.

Educational programs can help change belief systems around dating violence by reducing rape myth and gender violence acceptance, emboldening bystanders to provide support to friends, and teaching youth how to stay safe in romantic relationships.

Additionally, research has found that certain educational programs can help change belief systems around dating violence by reducing rape myth and gender violence acceptance,8 emboldening bystanders to provide support to friends,9 and teaching youth how to stay safe in romantic relationships.10 However, we still are not sure what programming can be implemented across large swaths of schools to meaningfully reduce offending or victimization.11 It is one thing to affect attitudes and beliefs, but if those attitudes and beliefs do not translate to changes in behavior among youth, we must work harder to resolve the disconnect. Finally, more of us need to model and educate youth on what constitutes a healthy, stable relationship – and what betrays a dysfunctional, problematic one. Justin and I hope that our efforts here will provide more information on the context, contributing factors, and consequences of these behaviors, and can help develop the policies and programs we need to develop to address all forms of dating abuse.

(Outside of the academic article referenced above, we also have created a new PDF resource for you to download entitled “Digital Dating Abuse: A Brief Guide for Educators and Parents” – check it out and feel free to circulate it!)

Image sources:
https://bit.ly/2uqUIqJ
https://bit.ly/2vkYaDo

References

1.         Leisring PA, Giumetti GW. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but abusive text messages also hurt: Development and validation of the Cyber Psychological Abuse scale. Partner Abuse. 2014;5(3):323-341.

2.         Rosenbaum A, Leisring PA. Beyond power and control: Towards an understanding of partner abusive men. Journal of Comparative Family Studies. 2003;34:7-22.

3.         Wincentak K, Connolly J, Card N. Teen dating violence: A meta-analytic review of prevalence rates. Psychology of Violence. 2017;7(2):224.

4.         Van Ouytsel J, Walrave M, Ponnet K, Temple JR. Digital forms of dating violence: what school nurses need to know. NASN school nurse. 2016;31(6):348-353.

5.         Miller E, Jones KA, McCauley HL. Updates on adolescent dating and sexual violence prevention and intervention. Current opinion in pediatrics. 2018;30(4):466-471.

6.         Stonard KE, Bowen E, Walker K, Price SA. “They’ll always find a way to get to you”: Technology use in adolescent romantic relationships and its role in dating violence and abuse. Journal of interpersonal violence. 2017;32(14):2083-2117.

7.         Peskin MF, Markham CM, Shegog R, et al. Prevalence and correlates of the perpetration of cyber dating abuse among early adolescents. Journal of youth and adolescence. 2017;46(2):358-375.

8.         Peterson K, Sharps P, Banyard V, et al. An evaluation of two dating violence prevention programs on a college campus. Journal of interpersonal violence. 2018;33(23):3630-3655.

9.         Wong JY-H, Tang NR, Yau JH-Y, Choi AW-M, Fong DY-T. Dating CAFE Ambassador Programme: Chinese college students to help peers in dating violence. Health Education & Behavior. 2019;46(6):981-990.

10.       Levesque DA, Johnson JL, Welch CA, Prochaska JM, Paiva AL. Teen dating violence prevention: Cluster-randomized trial of Teen Choices, an online, stage-based program for healthy, nonviolent relationships. Psychology of violence. 2016;6(3):421.

11.       De La Rue L, Polanin JR, Espelage DL, Pigott TD. A meta-analysis of school-based interventions aimed to prevent or reduce violence in teen dating relationships. Review of Educational Research. 2017;87(1):7-34.

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What Should Your School’s Bullying Policy Look Like? https://cyberbullying.org/school-bullying-policy https://cyberbullying.org/school-bullying-policy#respond Fri, 31 Jan 2020 19:21:16 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=27276 We are regularly contacted by school administrators, board members, parents and others with questions about school bullying policies. In fact, a few months ago the principal at my son’s elementary school asked me to review their bullying policy. I am always happy to help, with the preemptive caveat that I am not a lawyer and…

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We are regularly contacted by school administrators, board members, parents and others with questions about school bullying policies. In fact, a few months ago the principal at my son’s elementary school asked me to review their bullying policy. I am always happy to help, with the preemptive caveat that I am not a lawyer and therefore my feedback should be viewed as suggestive rather than definitive. But I have seen lots of bullying policies over the last 15 years. And some are plainly better than others.

In an effort to better understand the landscape of bullying policies across the United States, Sameer and I (along with one of my students) recently reviewed all of the state model bullying policies that we could find (they are usually put out by a state’s Department of Education). We were able to locate model policies for thirty-nine states. When we couldn’t find a model policy for a state, we reviewed their state law to see if certain provisions were required in school bullying policies. Schools aren’t generally required to adopt the specific language offered in a model policy, but no doubt these policies serve as a template for schools in the state and deviating from them in substantial ways could open a school up to criticism.

In my home state of Wisconsin, every public school is required to have a bullying policy. There are no stipulations, however, regarding what must be included in that policy. I often point out (with much consternation) that Wisconsin is one of only two states in the US that does not mention cyberbullying or electronic forms of harassment in its bullying law (Want to know the other state? See our table here.). As much as Wisconsin state law is substandard when it comes to bullying, the model bullying policy put out by our Department of Public Instruction is pretty decent. At least it specifically references “cyberbullying.” But again, schools aren’t required to adopt that policy, or any of its particular protocols. And while most schools that I have worked with in Wisconsin (and elsewhere in the US) have acceptable bullying policies, some fall short.

So what does a good bullying policy look like? Below are some elements that should be considered in any comprehensive school bullying policy.

Clear Definition of Bullying

First and foremost, bullying policies must clearly define what bullying is. And it needs to be defined in a way that everyone involved can understand. You’d think this would be a no-brainer, or that “everyone knows what bullying is.” But that is not the case. Ask three different people to define bullying and you will likely get three different answers. It is important to remember that not all hurtful behavior between students is bullying (sometimes it is better characterized as conflict, drama, a disagreement, or even something more serious like assault). And while there is a debate among scholars about how best to define bullying, most agree that it is intentional, repeated, hurtful behavior where the target lacks the power to defend him or herself. To be sure, any hurtful action directed toward someone is something that needs to be addressed (whether intentional or not), but that doesn’t mean it is accurate to refer to them all as “bullying.” Admittedly, there is a lack of consensus about whether a single, isolated incident could be characterized as bullying. Even some state laws and policies define bullying in a way that can include a single incident. I disagree with this for reasons too detailed to get into now, but suffice it to say your policy should clearly articulate what is meant by “bullying.”

BULLYING means the use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof directed at a student that:

a. Causes physical or emotional harm to the student or damage to the student’s property;
b. Places the student in reasonable fear of harm to himself/herself or of damage to his/her property;
c. Creates an intimidating, threatening, hostile, or abusive educational environment for the student;
d. Infringes on the rights of the student to participate in school activities; or
e. Materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.

Bullying most often occurs as repeated behavior and often is not a single incident between the bullying/cyber‐bullying offender(s) and the bullying victim(s).

Rhode Island Model Bullying Policy

All of the 39 state model policies we found included a formal definition of bullying. There is one state (Arizona), which does not offer a model policy or appear to offer a definition of bullying anywhere in state law. I guess they assume that millions of people in Arizona all know exactly what they mean by bullying. Most—but not all!—of the model bullying policies mentioned cyberbullying (34 out of 39). It is important to define bullying in a way that includes all the types of behaviors you intend to address under the policy. If the policy doesn’t mention cyberbullying, then it will be more difficult to deal with when it happens.

Investigation and Reporting Procedures

Bullying policies should outline reporting mechanisms (if I am being bullied, how–and to whom–do I report it?) and investigation protocols (whose responsibility is it to investigate the allegations?). All interested parties (students, educators, parents) need to know the process that will be followed when there is a bullying incident. And this process needs to be followed closely to avoid perceptions of favoritism, ambivalence, or inconsistency. Who specifically will be responsible for conducting the preliminary investigation? Under what circumstances will law enforcement officers be brought in?

Some states require schools to report all incidents of bullying to their state Department of Education. If this is the case in your state, whose job is it to collect and submit this information? I’ve always wondered how valid reports like this are. In New Jersey, for example, 23% of school districts reported zero incidents of harassment, intimidation, and bullying in the 2015-16 school year. I find it very difficult to believe that nearly one-quarter of schools in the state had no bullying all year.

It is also important for schools to give students easy avenues to report bullying or other problems that impact their ability to learn and feel safe at school. We know from our research that students are generally reluctant to come forward with their experiences, and so educators need to make it simple and painless. We’ve written about setting up anonymous reporting systems (and even wrote a guide on how to use Google Voice at no cost to allow students to anonymously tell you about their safety concerns). Of course this is just the first step. Schools need to follow through on all reports and make sure that the bullying stops and the targeted student is supported.

[School administrator] will conduct a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation of all reports of bullying and harassment using the bullying and harassment incident investigation form within three days after the report to ensure the safety of all students involved. Any individuals who were bullied, individuals who bullied and bystanders will be separated and asked to provide information about the incident. The investigation will also include a review of any previous complaints involving either the individual(s) who was (were) bullied or the individual(s) who bullied. The investigation procedure will vary depending on the nature of the reported incidence. All information gathered during the investigation will be submitted to [compliance officer] and will remain confidential. The findings from the investigation will be used by school administrators to determine the appropriate response procedure.

Kansas Model Bullying Policy

Range of Response Options

Schools need to make sure that their bullying policy includes language that all instances of bullying will be subject to appropriate and relevant discipline, even those that occur away from school or at a school-sponsored event, if such behaviors substantially and materially disrupt the learning environment at school or interfere with the ability of other students to learn or feel safe at school (more on this next). Schools should list examples of graduated consequences and remedial actions for rule violations. The policy should include a range of disciplinary responses (from a meeting with the principal, to detention or suspension), and point out that the response will be commensurate with the potential or actual harm or disruption caused. Having a number of specific examples in the policy will serve to make students and parents aware of possible penalties. There should be no surprises about what could happen if you participate in bullying.

Consequences and appropriate remedial actions for anyone who commits one or more acts of harassment, bullying, or other acts of violent behavior may range from positive behavioral interventions up to and including suspension or expulsion, as set forth in the Board of Education’s approved code of conduct. Remedial measures shall be designed to:

• Correct the problem behavior;
• Prevent other occurrences of the behavior; and
• Protect the complainant of the act.

Tennessee Model Bullying Policy

See more tips directed at responding to cyberbullying here.

Off-Campus Behaviors

School officials are often uncertain about whether they can intervene in bullying behaviors that occur away from school. This is generally the case when it comes to cyberbullying (which typically occurs when school is not in session), but could also include any problem between students that creates issues at school. I’ve written a lot about this issue over the years and while I feel like progress has been made when it comes to a better understanding of the factors to consider when determining if a school response is appropriate, many still do not recognize the circumstances where schools can or should take action. Case law is fairly clear that schools can discipline students for off-campus behaviors when those behaviors are having an impact at school. Despite this, only 28 of the 39 model bullying policies put forth by states across our country included specific reference to off-campus behaviors. This is better than state law, as only 17 state bullying laws mention off-campus incidents. It is critical for schools to detail the rules against–and consequences for–off-campus behaviors in their policies. In chapter 5 of our book Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard we offer the following recommended policy language:

“Schools have the authority and responsibility to apply reasonable and educationally-based discipline, consistent with a pupil’s constitutionally granted privileges, to bullying that: (a) Occurs on, or is delivered to, school property or a school-sponsored activity or event on or off school property; or (b) Occurs off of school property or outside of a school-sponsored activity or event, if the conduct interferes with a pupil’s educational opportunities, creates a hostile environment for that pupil or others, or substantially disrupts the orderly operations of the school or school-sponsored activity or event.”

Prevention Strategies

What are you doing as a school to prevent bullying from happening in the first place? There are a number of evidence-based prevention activities that have shown promise to reduce the incidence of bullying at school, including those that utilize social and emotional learning principles and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Moreover, many of the most effective programs involve empowering bystanders to take action. Overall, a positive school climate where students and staff work collaboratively to solve problems has been shown to alleviate bullying issues both at school and online. The truth is, you don’t need a pre-packaged formal anti-bullying curriculum, but you do need to specify what steps you will take to improve peer relationships and student well-being, and to create an overall sense of connectedness and belongingness at school.

“Positive Sustained School Climate” is the foundation for learning and positive youth development and includes:

-Norms, values and expectations that support people feeling socially, emotionally, intellectually and physically safe;
-People who treat one another with dignity, and are engaged and respected;
-A school community that works collaboratively together to develop, live and contribute to a shared school vision;
-Adults who model and nurture attitudes that emphasize the benefits and satisfaction gained from learning; and
-A school community that contributes to the operations of the school and the care of the physical environment.

Connecticut Model Bullying Policy

In addition to engaging in prevention programming, it is key to let everyone know what you are doing so that they can be supported. How will members of the school community learn about your stance on bullying (or even about the content of the bullying policy)? If students don’t know what bullying is, or what consequences could follow, how can we expect to deter the behavior? Similarly, if school staff aren’t aware of the details of the bullying policy, how can we expect them to respond when they see or are made aware of bullying? Formal educational efforts about this can take place within the classroom or in larger all-grade or all-school assemblies, and informal conversations can be had about behavioral standards and expectations whenever the opportunity presents itself. The key to preventing bullying, though, is to bring it up regularly and consistently over the course of the whole school year. A single lesson or presentation at the beginning of the year will not be enough. Your policy should discuss the myriad ways the school will work to prevent bullying throughout the year.

See more tips directed at preventing cyberbullying here.

Final Thoughts

When is the last time you looked over your school’s bullying policy? Do you really know what is included? Is it easily accessible to students, parents, and staff members (such as posted on the school’s website)? My challenge to you is to take a moment to find and read the policy. You might think you know what is in it, but you also might be surprised at what isn’t. If you have questions about the policy, connect with the appropriate decision-makers (school administrators and board members) to discuss any concerns. A formal committee at your school should undertake a regular review of your policy to make sure it is keeping up with developments in student behaviors. Moreover, policies should not be created or modified in a vacuum. Educators should include parents and students in the development and review of the bullying policy. That way everyone is on the same page regarding how bullying will be handled across your community. Preventing bullying requires a coordinated community effort in which everyone has a role.

As far as we can tell, 39 states have prepared model bullying policies. You can see all of them here. If you are in one of the states not listed here but are aware of a model policy that we missed, please let us know.

Image from Ryan Jacobson (@rcjphoto) on Unsplash

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Digital Dating Abuse: A Brief Guide for Educators and Parents https://cyberbullying.org/digital-dating-abuse-2 https://cyberbullying.org/digital-dating-abuse-2#respond Thu, 23 Jan 2020 15:40:09 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=27155 This 8-page research brief provides educators, parents, and other youth serving adults information about the nature and extent of digital dating abuse among adolescents and how to best address it.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines dating abuse as physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence that occurs within a dating relationship. In the 21st Century, a new manifestation of dating abuse has emerged, one that exploits digital communications technologies that are omnipresent. “Digital dating abuse” (also known as “electronic dating violence”) can be defined as “a pattern of behaviors that control, pressure, or threaten a dating partner using a cell phone or the Internet.” This 8-page research brief provides educators, parents, and other youth serving adults information about the nature and extent of digital dating abuse among adolescents and how to best address it. The Guide includes results from a national survey of U.S. of middle and high school students about their experiences with digital dating abuse. This research brief is a summary of a longer, more detailed academic paper entitled “Digital Dating Abuse Among a National Sample of U.S. Youth” which appears in the Journal of Interpersonal violence.

Download the Guide

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2020). Digital Dating Abuse: A Brief Guide for Educators and Parents. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from https://cyberbullying.org/digital-dating-abuse.pdf

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It is Time to Teach Safe Sexting https://cyberbullying.org/safe-sexting https://cyberbullying.org/safe-sexting#respond Tue, 21 Jan 2020 19:16:41 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=27106 By Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja Research shows that roughly 10-25% of American teens have participated in “sexting,” the sharing of sexually-explicit or sexually-suggestive images. When minors share nude images of themselves with others in the United States, they are distributing child pornography. If these images are received from others and stored on personal…

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By Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja

Research shows that roughly 10-25% of American teens have participated in “sexting,” the sharing of sexually-explicit or sexually-suggestive images. When minors share nude images of themselves with others in the United States, they are distributing child pornography. If these images are received from others and stored on personal devices, individuals are in possession of child pornography. Despite threats of prosecution, formal punishment, and fear-based messages from the media and many youth-serving adults, rates of sexting among children have remained relatively constant. Adolescents have always experimented with their sexuality, and will continue to do so via sexting and similar intimate behaviors. As such, in this commentary we argue for a new paradigm: one in which youth are empowered with information, strategies, and tools to reduce risk and minimize harm when engaging in sexting. Mirroring the evolution of sex education from abstinence-only to a comprehensive curriculum emphasizing all aspects of sexual health and safety, we should understand and work with current realities at the intersection of technology and youth development. It is time to proactively teach safe sexting to teens so the most significant of consequences of participation may be minimized.

Patchin, J. W. & Hinduja, S. (2020). It is Time to Teach Safe Sexting. Journal of Adolescent Health, 66(2), 140-143.

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It is Time to Teach Safe Sexting https://cyberbullying.org/it-is-time-to-teach-safe-sexting https://cyberbullying.org/it-is-time-to-teach-safe-sexting#respond Thu, 16 Jan 2020 14:38:37 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=26990 It’s 2020. And it’s about time we rethink our approach to teen sexting. Justin and I wrote an piece that was just published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (currently free to download!) arguing that it is time to take a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach to sexting, by supplementing abstinence messages with information to…

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It’s 2020. And it’s about time we rethink our approach to teen sexting. Justin and I wrote an piece that was just published in the Journal of Adolescent Health (currently free to download!) arguing that it is time to take a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach to sexting, by supplementing abstinence messages with information to reduce harm should youth people choose to participate. This isn’t about encouraging kids to sext, but about minimizing the worst of the potential problems that could result. Deterrence-based messaging has failed to curtail the sexting problem and, frankly, something more needs to be done. While I encourage everyone to read and discuss the paper – which includes specific strategies for minimizing harm associated with sexting – below I discuss some of the issues that prompted its writing. 

teach-safer-sexting-fau-hinduja

Teen Sexting is a Problem

Sexting continues to be a topic of major concern among parents, educators, and youth professionals responsible for teaching the current generation of adolescents to use technology with wisdom and discretion. We define sexting as “the sending or receiving of sexually explicit or sexually suggestive images” (photos or video) usually via mobile devices.” Understandably, most adults don’t want kids to be taking sexy topless shots or “dick pics” and sending them around to each other. There are many good reasons for this.

First, according to the formal letter of the law, nudes could be classified as child pornography if the depicted individual is under the age of 18. The sender and recipient can be charged criminally if caught under those laws which were meant to apply to adults who exploited children.

Second, sharing explicit images counters historically ensconced thinking about how children should behave, and what behaviors they should abstain from until they gain more emotional maturity and perspective (Boyer & Byrnes, 2009).

Third, sexting can contribute to the objectification and sexualization of the youth involved, and can result in further exploitation via sextortion, revenge porn, predators, cyberbullying, blackmail, threats, humiliation, and a destroyed reputation. And according to the research, these outcomes can also contribute to numerous negative emotional, psychological, behavioral, and physiological consequences (Gámez-Guadix & De Santisteban, 2018; Grabe & Hyde, 2009; Tiggemann & Slater, 2015; Vasquez, Osinnowo, Pina, Ball, & Bell, 2017).

“In contrast to previous generations, where the flashing of a classmate might have had only momentary consequence, new technology greatly enhances the likelihood that such indiscretions will be permanently recorded and disseminated to large audiences.” (Eraker, 2010:563; Gold, 2017)   

When we think about it, the risks are very evident. Personally, I don’t want kids sending nudes to each other – even if they are in a committed relationship – because relationships in middle and high school rarely last. And based on my observations and conversations with youth, when breakups happen, they are typically not amicable. Rather, they often end with a lot of drama and pain. As a result of the anger and disappointment, private pictures and videos are more vulnerable to sharing outside of their intended audience.

From what I can tell, kids who sext just don’t feel the weight of the possible negative outcomes. They hear us preaching to them, and they’ve also seen some of the tragic headlines. But some seem to have an invincibility complex and don’t think that anything bad is going to happen to “them” (Dunkels, Frånberg, & Hällgren, 2011; Livingstone, 2008). Maybe to others, but not them.

Anecdotally, many teens who sext tell me that sexting is a harmless, normative behavior that is done for various reasons: foreplay, experimentation, a prelude to hooking up, to increase intimacy, as a form of sexual expression, because that’s what you do when you love someone else, because they’re proud of their body and it’s their right to show it off, because it’s exciting and enjoyable.

“This is awesome, risky, sexy, fun, flirty, intimate, and the chances are that nothing bad will happen.”

“This is my body, I should be able to do whatever with it.”

“I work hard on having a nice body and I should be able to show it off if I feel like it.”

Given the desire in many teens to be intimate with their partners and the potential consequences of doing so using technology, along with the so far ineffective efforts to stem participation in these behaviors, it is time to reconsider our approach to teen sexting.

A New Paradigmatic Approach – Harm Reduction Instead of Risk Reduction

Justin and I have been discussing the best ways to address sexting behaviors among youth for many years, including whether there should be some form of safe sexting curriculum, to teach youth about the consequences of participation, and how to mitigate those. In general, we believe that just like with the evolution of sex education in the United States, we need to move from the exclusive goal of risk reduction (Markham et al., 2012) to the inclusive approach of harm reduction (Leslie, Society, & Committee, 2008). In case these terms are unfamiliar, allow me to briefly summarize what I mean.

Risk reduction focuses on the possible vulnerabilities and dangers that youth might face, and attempts to eliminate them if at all possible. It’s not just an approach, but also a worldview that reflects the notion that we need to save kids from themselves and from a host of potential evils that surround them. The problem with this mentality, though, is that it promotes moral panic and fear mongering, as well as rule-based restrictive and punitive controls on their life. From a risk reduction perspective, some experts have preferred that kids rarely play away from vigilant supervision for fear of being kidnapped and sexually assaulted by pedophiles (Kalish, Banco, Burke, & Lapidus, 2010). Others have railed against social media apps, gaming platforms, and online connectivity in general for the same reasons (Sher, 2010)– overemphasizing the possibility of stranger danger and undervaluing the inherent knowledge and savvy of youth to implement some measure of safety precautions themselves (Nolan, Raynes-Goldie, & McBride, 2011; Sullivan, 2008; Todd, 2015). These perspectives seem counterproductive at best and serves as an axe to the base of candid dialogue between adults and youth. Bringing the conversation back to sexting, a risk reduction approach means that we spend all of our time and energy demanding that youth never send intimate pictures to anyone while creating a police state of sorts to try to ensure it doesn’t happen (e.g., monitoring, spyware, etc.)

Harm reduction, conversely, begins with the assumption that some youth are going to engage in certain risky behaviors, and with that in mind informs policies and practices designed to reduce the negatives that may occur. Allow me to provide you with a real-world example to make this clearer before circling back to sexting. We know that some teens drink and get drunk sometimes, and some use recreational or illicit drugs (YRBS, 2017a, 2017b) – to have a good time, to medicate or numb themselves, or for other reasons. Risk reduction generally involves demonizing alcohol and drugs, focusing on criminal penalties, and employing scare tactics to get kids to stay far, far away from those substances. Harm reduction conveys the reality of consequences but also provides counseling and guidance about preventing major fallout during and after drinking or using drugs. For example, a recommendation might be to give someone your car keys before you start drinking and have a designated driver, or to sleep it off where you are. Or reminders to keep eating and stay hydrated while drinking. Or providing knowledge related to what leads to overdosing and the bad mixing of chemicals.

To be sure, some kids are not going to heed the advice and do some experimenting on their own. If that is going to happen, it seems critically essential to share advice that can preempt the most serious harms from occurring (e.g. overdosing, drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, etc.). Education not only involves describing dangers and attempting to deter immature and unwise choices, but also how to make sure the backlash from those choices is not fatal.

Safe Sex and Safe Sexting

I understand that the thought of educating kids about safe sexting may make you cringe. But the same emotional reaction happened back when safe sex education was first introduced. Two generations ago in conservative America, many adults and legislators promoted abstinence-only policies and programming when it came to sex education in primary and secondary schools (Santelli et al., 2017). They believed that teaching about condoms and safer sex practices would tacitly encourage the onset of participation from those not normally so inclined. Public opinion consistently suggested strong support for abstinence as a “behavioral goal for adolescents” (Santelli et al., 2006). In fact, more than two billion tax dollars were spent on abstinence-only, wait-until-marriage education in the US over the last 25 years (Boyer, 2018). It took the HIV epidemic in the mid-1980s (Williams, 2011) to bring more people into the camp of safe-sex education – and now it is commonly acknowledged that this approach – though very progressive at the time – has done a world of good in preventing STDs and unwanted pregnancies (Fonner, Armstrong, Kennedy, O’Reilly, & Sweat, 2014; Stanger-Hall & Hall, 2011).

As the years have gone on, research has examined the effect of sex education on teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections and concluded that “there does not exist any strong evidence that any abstinence program delays the initiation of sex, hastens the return to abstinence, or reduces the number of sexual partners” (Kirby, 2007:15; see also Hauser, 2004; Landry, Kaeser, & Richards, 1999; Trenholm et al., 2007). This research has finally begun to affect public policy, as former President Barack Obama eliminated a $10 million per year grant in 2016 from the Department of Health and Human Services that supported abstinence-only programs.

Some type of education, though, does work (Clemmitt, 2010; Kirby, 2001). Studies have consistently shown that comprehensive sex education (which includes information about safe sex, not just abstinence) results in fewer teens having sex and getting pregnant, and a delay in the initiation of sexual activity (Kirby, 2008; Kirby, Laris, & Rolleri, 2007; Kohler, Manhart, & Lafferty, 2008; Mueller, Gavin, & Kulkarni, 2008). Overall, the number of teens having sex has decreased significantly over the last generation. According to the CDC’s 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, 39.5% of high school students report having had sex. In 1991, that number was 54%. Moreover, the teen pregnancy rate is at a record low (20.3 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19 in 2016, compared to 62.1 per 1,000 in 1991). These are all positive trends, occurring at a time when more comprehensive sex education has become more common in schools.

That said, sexting behaviors do not seem to be slowing. Our 2016 research found that 12% of middle and high school students across the U.S. had sent a nude photo or video of themselves to someone at some point in their lifetime (Patchin & Hinduja, 2019). About 19% said they had received a nude photo from someone else.  Our newly collected (unpublished) data from a national sample of nearly 5,000 youth aged 12–17 years in April 2019 found that 14% had sent and 23% had received sexually explicit images. These figures represent an increase of 13% for sending and 22% for receiving from what was found in 2016. So while some indicators of teen sexual behavior are trending in the right direction, sexting is not. As such, something new needs to be done.

teach-safe-sexting-fau-hinduja-emoji

Strategies for Safe Sexting

In our piece that appears in this month’s issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, we articulate 10 strategies to reduce harm in sexting situations. Here are some examples that can be shared with adolescents in certain formal (educational, therapeutic) or informal (familial) contexts after weighing their developmental and sexual maturity.

1. If someone sends you a sext, do not send it to—or show—anyone else. This could be considered non-consensual sharing of pornography, and there are laws prohibiting it and which outline serious penalties (especially if the image portrays a minor) (Burris, 2014; Krieger, 2017; Waldman, 2016).

2. If you send someone a sext, make sure you know and fully trust them. “Catfishing” – where someone sets up a fictitious profile or pretends to be someone else to lure you into a fraudulent romantic relationship (and, often, to send sexts) – happens more often than you think (Hartney, 2018; Smith, Smith, & Blazka, 2017). You can, of course, never really know if they will share it with others or post it online, but do not send photos or video to people you do not know well.

3. Do not send images to someone who you are not certain would like to see it (make sure you receive textual consent that they are interested). Sending unsolicited explicit images to others could also lead to criminal charges.

4. Consider boudoir pictures. Boudoir is a genre of photography that involves suggestion rather than explicitness. Instead of nudes, send photos that strategically cover the most private of private parts. They can still be intimate and flirty, but lack the obvious nudity that could get you in trouble.

5. Never include your face. Of course, this is so that images are not immediately identifiable as yours, but also because certain social media sites have sophisticated facial recognition algorithms that automatically tag you in any pictures you would want to stay private.

Check out the full list in our paper.

Final Thoughts On The Safe Sexting Approach

Despite efforts to dissuade youth from sharing intimate images, some teens continue to participate in sexting. Adopting a harm reduction framework to educate those inclined to sext will help minimize the worst of the possible outcomes that could occur. Such a philosophy should include strategies for youth to utilize to reduce the likelihood that their images can be directly linked to them or that the images will be shared beyond their original target. We are not the only one pondering this approach. Darren Laur, a leading social media safety and digital literacy presenter from British Columbia, has been presenting similar ideas to students in school for years. He told me that he always makes sure he runs this game plan by an administrator beforehand and explains his rationale. Only once has he received pushback; hundreds of other times the school leaders have recognized the reality of sexting across their student population, and enthusiastically wanted to reduce any resultant harm. Basically, if this message can help, they are enthusiastically on board.

Darren also wrote a blog post recently articulating his thoughts about safe sexting, which are in line with what we believe to be the most reasonable approach. And Nicola Döring (2012), a scholar from the Ilmenau University of Technology in Germany, explored the concept of “safer sexting” almost ten years ago. Suffice it to say, these might be provocative ideas here in the U.S., but they are not new when looking elsewhere in the world.

The primary reason that Justin and I wrote this piece and sought to publish it in a premier adolescent journal is because we firmly believe it is time to think anew about how best to handle teen sexting. What we are currently doing is not working. If you disagree with our approach outlined in the paper, please feel free to reach out with your concrete suggestions for reducing these behaviors and their consequences. We’d love to work through some solutions with you.

Image source: https://bit.ly/2RjfTST (by Andrew Neel from Pexels)

References

Boyer, J. (2018). New name, same harm: rebranding of federal abstinence-only programs. Guttmacher Policy Review, 21, 11-16.

Boyer, T. W., & Byrnes, J. P. (2009). Adolescent risk-taking: Integrating personal, cognitive, and social aspects of judgment. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(1), 23-33.

Burris, A. (2014). Hell hath no fury like a woman porned: Revenge porn and the need for a federal nonconsensual pornography statute. Fla. L. Rev., 66, 2325.

Clemmitt, M. (2010). Teen Pregnancy: Does Comprehensive Sex-education Reduce Pregnancies? : Congressional Quarterly.

Döring, N. (2012). Erotischer Fotoaustausch unter Jugendlichen: Verbreitung, Funktionen und Folgen des Sexting. Zeitschrift für Sexualforschung, 25(01), 4-25.

Dunkels, E., Frånberg, G.-M., & Hällgren, C. (2011). Young people and online risk Youth culture and net culture: Online social practices (pp. 1-16): IGI Global.

Eraker, E. C. (2010). Stemming sexting: Sensible legal approaches to teenagers’ exchange of self-produced pornography. Berkeley Tech. LJ, 25, 555.

Fonner, V. A., Armstrong, K. S., Kennedy, C. E., O’Reilly, K. R., & Sweat, M. D. (2014). School based sex education and HIV prevention in low-and middle-income countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 9(3), e89692.

Gámez-Guadix, M., & De Santisteban, P. (2018). “Sex Pics?”: Longitudinal Predictors of Sexting Among Adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health.

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Digital Dating Abuse Among a National Sample of U.S. Youth https://cyberbullying.org/digital-dating-abuse https://cyberbullying.org/digital-dating-abuse#respond Wed, 08 Jan 2020 19:44:21 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=27109 By Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin Digital dating abuse is a term used to describe physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence that occurs between romantic partners through the use of texting, social media, and related online mediums. Survey data were obtained from a nationally representative sample of 2,218 American middle and high school students (12–17…

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By Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin

Digital dating abuse is a term used to describe physical, sexual, or psychological/emotional violence that occurs between romantic partners through the use of texting, social media, and related online mediums. Survey data were obtained from a nationally representative sample of 2,218 American middle and high school students (12–17 years old) who have been in a romantic relationship. About 28% of students in a relationship in the previous year had been the victim of digital dating abuse. Males were more likely to report having experienced it (32% compared to 24%), though no other demographic differences emerged. Several covariates did emerge as significantly related to experience with digital dating abuse, including depressive symptoms, sexual intercourse, sexting, and being the victim of cyberbullying. Experiencing offline dating abuse was by far the strongest correlate. Implications for prevention and policy within schools and the community are discussed, along with considerations for future research in this important area.

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (In Press). Digital Dating Abuse Among a National Sample of U.S. Youth. OnlineFirst in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

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How Social Media Companies Should Combat Online Abuse https://cyberbullying.org/how-social-media-companies-should-combat-online-abuse https://cyberbullying.org/how-social-media-companies-should-combat-online-abuse#respond Wed, 08 Jan 2020 15:01:13 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=26848 A new year is upon us. While we’ve made some progress in reducing cyberbullying, online hate, and other forms of abuse and toxicity, I think we can do better. Social media companies are often seen (and vilified) as accomplices to the harassment and victimization that happens on their platforms, and – admittedly – are an…

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A new year is upon us. While we’ve made some progress in reducing cyberbullying, online hate, and other forms of abuse and toxicity, I think we can do better. Social media companies are often seen (and vilified) as accomplices to the harassment and victimization that happens on their platforms, and – admittedly – are an easy target for us to scapegoat. To be sure, they do share some of the blame and are learning as they (and we) go when it comes to what online safety policies and practices work the best.

However, I am convinced more progress must happen ASAP across the social media landscape.

Here are my specific Calls to Action for social media companies in 2020.

Perfect the feedback loop.

social-media-report-abuse-feedback-loop

Those who make reports of abuse or harm need to hear back from the app within 24 hours. I don’t think this is asking too much. I’ve already blogged about the reality of secondary victimization. This is a criminal justice concept describing how victims are re-victimized (emotionally and psychologically) when law enforcement officials respond callously (or in an incomplete or untimely manner) to those who took a chance in reporting their experience – and believed that an authority figure would actually help them. Social media companies have to – at all costs – keep their users from being victimized a second time because they failed to respond to a report of abuse or harm. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are doing a good job here, but should close the feedback loop more quickly. Other companies are not doing a good job. Everyone who files a report needs to at least be able to say, “Hey, the company did get back to me in a meaningful way” – even if they wish the outcome had gone a different way. Responsiveness matters.

Be transparent and fair about takedown decisions.

social-media-companies-transparency

Brand new research from the Journal of Experimental Criminology points out that users who have had their content taken down for a rule violation are less likely to violate the platform’s rules IF THEY BELIEVE THE PROCEDURES INVOLVED ARE FAIR. This is so key. We need to understand (and build an evolving body of knowledge) on what types of posts and user-generated content violate the rules, and what do not. Otherwise, the decision-making seems arbitrary and capricious – which is not a good look for social media companies who already have a reputation for prioritizing profit-making over user safety. Possible good news from one company: Facebook is creating an independent oversight board to evaluate appeals made by users who believe their content was unfairly taken down. We’ll have to see how this goes. I still think it would be best for this board (or social media companies in general) to create an online repository of categorized examples of problematic content (anonymized) with brief but clear explanations of WHY it was taken down. Then, everyone – potential and actual users of the app, members of vulnerable groups, champions of free speech, media pundits – knows and understands the decision-making process. Then, all of this is much more transparent and fair. Otherwise, people might wonder about the objectivity of the decision-makers who make up the oversight board. But it’s a start.

Devote more resources to social science solutions instead of computer science solutions.

social-science-research-social-media-abuse

Social media platforms are increasingly outsourcing content moderation to third-party companies like Two Hat, Spectrum Labs, and similar others. I’ve written extensively on how AI and machine learning can help us combat online abuse – and so I obviously see much value here. While we are nowhere close to accurately evaluating context (and will probably never be able to accurately evaluate intent), the technology is improving all of the time. Great. Hooray. These are computer science solutions, and they are important. However, we need a lot more focus on identifying and understanding what factors escalate (and de-escalate) abuse and toxicity online.

Some incipient work has been done in this area but so much more is required. For instance the popular multi-player game League of Legends experimented with The Tribunal (a jury of peers) until 2014 and now has a “Honor” System where you can give props to another player for great teamwork, friendliness, leadership, or being a principled opponent. These ideas are not perfect (the Tribunal could only punish players instead of also rewarding them, punishments occurred way too long after the infringing behavior, and receiving “honor” doesn’t really add substantive value to one’s gaming experience), but at least they are innovative. At least Riot Games (makers of League of Legends) is TRYING (and publicizing their attempts even if they fail). I love that, and it goes a very long way to creating good will towards that company.

Another popular game – Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch – did something similar (and were perhaps inspired by Riot Games) by creating a system where users could reward and celebrate others in three categories (sportsmanship, good teammate, and shot caller (leadership)). They incentivized it by giving 50 XP for every endorsement, and it has apparently led to a meaningful decrease in toxic behavior. Good job, Blizzard.

With regard to social media platforms, in late 2019 Instagram started using AI specifically to get users to pause, reflect, and edit their words when they are about to post something potentially offensive or hurtful via their new Comment Warning and Feed Post Warning systems. I approve! It’s progress. It’s something different. It’s a new effort designed to promote civility. Way to go, Instagram.

But….I need to see way more experimentation and innovation with cognitive restructuring and behavior modification approaches on all social media and gaming platforms. I believe this can help determine how to induce positive conduct and deter negative conduct online. And figuring that out, in my opinion, holds the solution to all of this. Experimentation is great, and it shows the world that your company is actually TRYING unique strategies (and spending money to do so) instead of just being reactive and only putting out fires when they are sparked. I advise strongly that platforms make public their attempts and ideas in this realm! Companies, please let us all know what you’re trying to do. Let us know what is working and what is not working. And we will start to give you more of the benefit of the doubt.

To do the above, social media companies must allocate more resources (and personnel, internal and external) towards social science solutions. This is how we will get a better handle on human behavior. Even though it’s not perfectly predictable, it still operates in patterns and regularities. And we need to use that to our advantage to create healthier, safer, and more constructive online communities.

Focusing on safety in these ways may feel like an opportunity cost, but the reputational and financial benefits that can result down the road are well worth their attention and implementation. My Calls to Action can also fit within a Safety by Design framework that your social media or gaming company may be adopting or retrofitting (shout out to the Australian eSafety Commission for their leadership – we’re huge fans of this approach!).

Let me know your thoughts and if I’m missing any other Calls to Action you think are important. I look forward to continuing the conversation and our work in this area.

Image sources:

https://bit.ly/39CpVHe

https://bit.ly/39CW4hF

https://bit.ly/2u9Sawq

https://bit.ly/2ST1v63

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Sextortion: More Insight Into the Experiences of Youth https://cyberbullying.org/sextortion-more-insight-into-the-experiences-of-youth https://cyberbullying.org/sextortion-more-insight-into-the-experiences-of-youth#respond Tue, 19 Nov 2019 21:08:43 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=26176 Earlier this year, thirty-six-year old Barton Scott hacked into dozens of Snapchat accounts to access explicit images of 14 to 16 year-old girls. According to court records, he manipulated and subsequently coerced victims into turning over their passwords, giving him access to images not intended for public dissemination. He then used those private images as…

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Earlier this year, thirty-six-year old Barton Scott hacked into dozens of Snapchat accounts to access explicit images of 14 to 16 year-old girls. According to court records, he manipulated and subsequently coerced victims into turning over their passwords, giving him access to images not intended for public dissemination. He then used those private images as leverage to pressure teens into sending more nude photos and videos.

This is just one recent example of sextortion, which we have formally defined as “the threatened dissemination of explicit, intimate, or embarrassing images of a sexual nature without consent, usually for the purpose of procuring additional images, sexual acts, money, or something else.” Sextortion can occur when explicit images are voluntarily provided to others (e.g., beginning as consensual sexting), or when they are accessed without permission (e.g., hacking a device or account). Once in possession of these sensitive images, offenders demand more. They threaten to disclose the images to others–usually family or friends–unless more images, videos, money, or something else is given.

Sextortion Research

Despite widespread public concern about sextortion over the last several years, there has been very little research systematically examining it. Last year we published the first academic article that explored sextortion among middle and high school students. Other scholars have previously reviewed court records of sextortion cases or surveyed adults about their experience with these behaviors, but ours was the first study to survey adolescents about their personal experiences. We wanted to know more about the nature of sextortion incidents, who was experiencing it, and how big of a problem it was.

We collected some important baseline data in that study, which was based on a national U.S. sample of about 5,500 students collected in 2016. Results showed that about 5% of students had been the target of sextortion and that about 3% had done it to others. We also learned that most youth who are targeted do not tell adults about what happened (only about 40% reported the incident to an adult, with girls significantly more like to do so than boys). You can read more about that study here.

As important as that first study was, many additional questions remained. So, we set out to answer a few of them in our most recent survey, with data collected in April of this year from about 5,000 middle and high school students. About the same number of youth were the target of sextortion in 2019 (5.3%) as 2016. We also found a similar prevalence rate for those who admitted to us that they had threatened others with sextortion (3.4%). In both surveys, males were more likely to be involved in sextortion both as a target and as an aggressor. This is noteworthy because most of the public discussion of sextortion involves female victims (an incident earlier this year involving Jeff Bezos–Founder and CEO of Amazon–being a high profile exception).

About the same number of youth were the target of sextortion in 2019 (5.3%) as 2016 (5.0%).

To learn more details about the nature of sextortion incidents, we asked those who had been targeted to tell us what the person threatened to do to them, and ultimately what they actually did. Forty-three percent of those who experienced sextortion said the aggressor threatened to send the explicit image to the victim’s friends, while 35% said they would post the photo online and 29% said they would tell the target’s parents. When it came to what the aggressor actually did, about one in five said their photo was sent to their friends, and about the same number said their photo was posted online. Thirty-eight percent of the time, the aggressor ended up doing nothing (as far as they knew).

Most of the time the aggressor wanted more photos (38%), sex or a sexual act (29%), or money (29%). About half the time the target did not comply with the requests, but 23% sent more photos; 19% sent money; and 18% provided sex or a sex act.

Sextortion among youth

The proportion of youth who experienced sextortion who told an adult (parent, educator, police officer) increased only slightly from 2016 to 2019 (from 39.9% to 41.1%). Most often, victims tell friends, but about 17% did not tell anyone. Clearly more needs to be done to encourage victims to come forward about their experience.

Sextortion among youth 2019

Additional Research Questions

One question we did not ask is how the perpetrator came to acquire the explicit images in the first place. Barton Scott apparently befriended, groomed, and ultimately manipulated victims into sharing their Snapchat passwords. I’m not entirely clear how he used access to the accounts to access the images (maybe the Snapchat access created access to the user’s camera roll, where images were stored), but it appears that the targets did not initially send explicit images to him freely.

Presumably a large portion of most victims of sextortion do provide their images to others voluntarily. That is, consensual sexting turns into exploitative sextortion. In our data, 75% of the victims of sextortion admitted to sending a sexually-explicit image of themselves to someone else. That means that at least 25% of the victims did not, and their images were somehow procured illicitly (perhaps through hacking their phone, or the Cloud where their images were backed up). Future research should better understand how offenders come to possess the images in the first place, as this might help inform prevention efforts. Certainly refraining from taking explicit photos of one’s self would help (though not completely prevent it from happening as someone could still covertly take a photo of another).

Boys are more likely to be the target of sextortion, but less likely to report it to an adult.

Moreover, research should seek to better understand how the sextortion experiences of boys and girls differ. Our data suggest that boys are more likely to be the target of sextortion, but are less likely to report it to an adult. Why are boys less likely to come forward? We know that middle and high school boys are significantly more likely to have sent a sext to someone else (16.4% compared to 12.2%), possibly opening themselves up to vulnerability for sextortion. Maybe they are reluctant to report because they initially shared the images voluntarily and don’t want to risk being labeled a distributor of child pornography. We also know that boys are more likely to have been threatened by a boyfriend/girlfriend (48% compared to 41%) while girls are more likely to have been threatened by a stranger (6% compared to 3%). It might be easier to seek help when the aggressor is a stranger than when it is someone known to the target (especially a current or former romantic partner).

Finally, even though we have now surveyed over 10,000 middle and high school students in the last three years, we only have data from about 500 in that sample who have experienced sextortion. It is difficult to understand the unique characteristics of these behaviors with such a small sub-sample. More data, from more who have been involved in sextortion incidents, would enable researchers to learn even more about these behaviors, particularly among unique populations of youth (LGBTQ, racial minorities, etc.).

Responding to Sextortion

Barton Scott is a predator. He was sentenced in September to 25 years in prison. If the results of our 2019 research are accurate, he is an anomaly to the extent that it was an adult targeting unknown minors. In our study, nearly half of those who were targeted (44.9%) said the person threatening them was a boyfriend or girlfriend. About two-thirds of the time, the person was approximately the same age as the target. It is actually quite rare for the aggressor to be over the age of 18 (less than 5% of the time in our data). That said, anytime anyone–of any age–is threatening another person, using sensitive images as a weapon to force compliance to demands, it should be investigated as criminal behavior. These incidents do require thoughtful consideration of all of the elements involved (relationship between individuals, nature of threats made, how widespread the images have been circulated, harm to target, etc.) to determine the most appropriate response.

We must create safe opportunities for those who are being exploited to report by ensuring a rational response that takes their developmental maturity into consideration.

Finally, the FBI believes that there are more victims who have yet to come forward in Barton Scott’s case. The pressure to conceal these behaviors is high given the potentially significant consequences for youth who share explicit images. This is unfortunate, because if youth hesitate to let someone know that they are being sextorted because they don’t want to be blamed or punished for taking and sending a nude in the first place, it gives aggressors the upper-hand for further control and manipulation. We must create safe opportunities for those who are being exploited to report by ensuring a rational response that takes their developmental maturity into consideration. Adolescents, by there nature, are prone to experimenting with their sexuality (and in their relationships) in ways that could result in them being taken advantage of. In short, youth who voluntarily share images with others, and then who are subsequently targeted for sextortion, should be treated and supported as victims, rather than labeled and prosecuted as distributors of child pornography. Legislators might even consider passing immunity laws, protecting youth who sext from prosecution when they are being extorted.

In conclusion, we’ve made some good progress on better understanding the nature and extent of sextortion among adolescents. But there is still a lot of work left to do. We’ll continue to study these behaviors and encourage you to do whatever you can to contribute to a society where victims are supported and predators are held accountable.

Image: Boudewijn Huysmans (unsplash)

Support for this study was provided by a grant from Facebook Research

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Sticks and Stones Sixty Years Later: A Disabled Woman’s Advice for Adults and Teens on Dealing with Bullying and Cyberbullying https://cyberbullying.org/sticks-and-stones-sixty-years-later https://cyberbullying.org/sticks-and-stones-sixty-years-later#respond Wed, 09 Oct 2019 13:44:59 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=25595 Note: October is National Bullying Prevention Month. All this month we are highlighting resources to help youth—and those who care for them—deal with bullying (online and off). One particularly vulnerable population is youth with disabilities. Those who bully often target those who are perceived to be different than them, and living with a disability is…

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Note: October is National Bullying Prevention Month. All this month we are highlighting resources to help youth—and those who care for them—deal with bullying (online and off). One particularly vulnerable population is youth with disabilities. Those who bully often target those who are perceived to be different than them, and living with a disability is often a very visible marker of difference. What follows is an invited guest post from Dr. Katherine Schneider. I have known Kathie for many years. She retired from my university but is still very active in the Eau Claire (Wisconsin) community. She is a champion for the rights of the disabled, and works tirelessly to make their lives easier. We got to talking one day about my work, and agreed that more could be done to address bullying among those who live with disabilities.
–Justin Patchin

By Katherine Schneider, Ph.D.

I was born blind and grew up in public schools. Hurtful teasing, bullying, and shunning were regular parts of my growing up, and as a result, so was a very low self-concept. I hated being blind. All I knew to do when confronted by bullying was to respond with the old saw about “sticks and stones will break my bones” and tell the bully to “shut up.” Sometimes this worked, but usually not.

Thankfully some things have changed since my adolescence. There are laws like Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Both serve to prohibit discrimination at schools (or other public entities) based on disability. There are online resources for parents, professionals, and teens like the Pacer Center’s National Bullying Prevention Center. Parent support groups for parents of children with disabilities and social support/skill building groups for teens with disabilities exist.

Another change is the playground got larger! The online world adds wonderful access to resources and communities, but also new places to be bullied. No longer is the home a respite from bullying.

Some things have not changed. A disability does make its owner more vulnerable because whether it’s physical, cognitive, or emotional, the person has some limitations that a nondisabled person does not have. Those who bully look for differences and weaknesses when choosing a target. Parents, teachers, paraprofessional aides, and therapists need to talk honestly with children who have disabilities about acknowledging limitations, learning social skills, and accentuating the child’s strengths. If the child can’t outrun the bully, for example, perhaps they can use their verbal powers to diffuse the situation (such as with humor), say a loud and clear “stop,” or surround themselves with friends who can deflect the bully’s attention.

Denial at some level still exists about acknowledging what a problem bullying is for people with disabilities. When I was working on my children’s book Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold, several editors suggested I remove the page about what to do when bullied, because “that doesn’t happen anymore.” Parents fear to ask their child if they’re bullied partly because they know they will be furious if the answer is yes. All that good advice about staying calm and not swooping right in to solve the problem goes right out the window when it’s your child, especially your child who has a disability. The instinct to protect is always there and we want to make their unpleasant experiences go away.

Denial at some level still exists about acknowledging what a problem bullying is for people with disabilities.

We want to solve their problems. But in some cases that isn’t the best response. Listening and giving verbal first aid “That is wrong,” “I’m sorry that happened,” or “I’ll help if you’d like” is the way to go. Help the child brainstorm about what needs to be different next time and role-play techniques to use. Modeling compassionate but firm problem-solving teaches more than lecturing, ranting, or stomping off to confront the parent of the mean kid. Coach the child to ask for the assistance they want. You are teaching skills that will last a lifetime.

We also need to remember that bullying of the disabled (and bullying in general) does not end on graduation day. I recently had two encounters with an adult female bully who I needed to work with on a project. Bystanders were as shocked at her behavior–as I was–and did nothing. The first time I froze, but by the second time I had a caustic verbal retort ready. The bullying has not recurred since then.

Listening and giving verbal first aid “That is wrong,” “I’m sorry that happened,” or “I’ll help if you’d like” is the way to go.

As I was preparing this post, I came upon a book by Melody Beattie, Playing It by Heart, about how to not fall back into being a victim that I plan to read. Memoirs like Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures, and Mark Zupan’s Gimp help teens know it will get better. Books for children and teens are available in alternate formats from www.bookshare.org so that those who don’t read regular print can know they’re not alone and learn ways to deal with the bullying. For me, reading and writing is therapeutic in that I can be in—and help create—a world where there is less bullying and more kindness and empathy. Together we can make a better world, within the pages and beyond.

Dr. Katherine Schneider is a retired clinical psychologist living in Wisconsin with her ninth Seeing Eye dog, Luna. Dr. Schneider has published a memoir To the Left of Inspiration: Adventures in Living with Disabilities and a children’s book Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold.You can learn more about her work at http://kathiecomments.wordpress.com.

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RESTRICTing Bullying on Instagram https://cyberbullying.org/restricting-bullying-on-instagram https://cyberbullying.org/restricting-bullying-on-instagram#respond Wed, 02 Oct 2019 20:59:34 +0000 http://cyberbullying.org/?p=25499 Last summer the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, announced that the platform would be taking more of a leadership role when it comes to tackling online bullying. With over a billion active users, they are well positioned to make an impact. In a message to users, he discussed some ways Instagram has been using technology…

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Last summer the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, announced that the platform would be taking more of a leadership role when it comes to tackling online bullying. With over a billion active users, they are well positioned to make an impact.

In a message to users, he discussed some ways Instagram has been using technology to minimize hurtful behavior. Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms can identify potentially problematic comments, for instance, and cue the poster to possibly reconsider before clicking “post.” It is hard to know how effective this prodding is, and whether users actually refrained from posting once they were cautioned about the questionable nature of their post, but the idea is nice (first introduced by Trisha Prabhu five years ago). Instagram is continuing to refine its AI capabilities to detect problematic and harassing content in real time, but it isn’t easy to work through all of the issues related to the context of communications and the nuances of human expression. As I’ve written about previously on this blog, it is often difficult to distinguish between hurtful bullying and friendly banter when it comes to third-parties observing online (or offline) behavior.

Mosseri also announced a new feature that officially launched this week, called Restrict, that gives users an additional tool to deal with those who might want to be mean. Restrict allows users to, well, restrict who can see comments posted to images. Just swipe left on a specific comment and you will be given options to report the comment or restrict the user. If, for example, Sameer posts a mean comment to my most recent photograph, I can Restrict him, which would make the comment visible to just him and I. None of his or my friends will see that he commented. Even he doesn’t know that he has been “restricted” (in terms of his visibility to others). From his vantage point, nothing has changed in our online relationship. I can elect to approve his comment, in which case others will be able to see it. But I don’t have to. Also, if I restrict Sameer, his direct messages to me will be automatically sent to a spam folder (the “Message Request Inbox”). I can read them, but don’t have to. Here again, he would have no idea if they are read or not. He also wouldn’t be able to see when I am active on Instagram.

Most online platforms already allow users to block others. I find this feature quite useful on Twitter when individuals tweet or reply to me in a way that is unproductive or even hurtful. Going back to my example with Sameer, if I were to block him, he wouldn’t be able to access my profile (let alone comment on it). At least not from the account that was blocked. He would know I blocked him because he wouldn’t see my profile. Moreover, I would not be able to see what he posted on his own profile or on other friend’s profiles (which could be about me). “Blocking” completely separates us online, whereas “restricting” allows the online relationship to persist, with some controls on what is seen, and by whom.

Another reason those who are being targeted don’t like to block those who bully them is because they don’t want to deal with any drama or fallout that might come when they encounter that person at school. With Restrict, the aggressor doesn’t know they have been restricted, though the lack of response to comments or messages might aggravate or annoy the aggressor, perhaps leading to some backlash in some other way (e.g., at school).

Finally, relationship situations often change over time (particularly in adolescence). Sometimes we just need a break from someone. Given that reality, Instagram allows users to easily unrestrict others very easily. It isn’t as blunt a tool as blocking or reporting can be. I might still like Sameer but just don’t appreciate how he is treating me in this moment. Restricting him temporarily can help me through this difficult phase in our relationship, without further aggravating it.

Of course as a researcher, I would LOVE to study this new feature. As it becomes more well known, we will certainly ask youth if they have heard of this and if they have used it. But ultimately the question is: does it work? Is bullying really thwarted with such a simple tool? I am in favor of anything that puts more control in the hands of the user, but I still wonder if something as complicated as bullying can be so easily stopped. And since we know that most online bullying is related to offline relationships, I worry that something like this might lead to offline problems, at least in the short term.

Have you used the Restrict feature? Has it worked for you? Did you encounter any unintended consequences?

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