This past summer, I served as a Fulbright Specialist at the Anti-Bullying Centre (ABC) at Dublin City University (DCU) in Dublin, Ireland. It was an amazing experience. I just wanted to take a few minutes to share what it involved, who I spent time with, and how it made an impact – not just short-term, but hopefully long-term as well. I’m already looking forward to going back!
We know that with the almost ubiquitous use of social media and smartphones by adolescents these days across Ireland and most other countries, certain forms of teen technology misuse continue to cause problems at school, in communities, and on social media. These issues have made many Irish educators, parents, and other youth-serving professionals very nervous as it relates to their negative impact, and very overwhelmed in terms of knowing what to do.
My responsibilities generally involved serving these constituent groups in any way I could. I provided bullying and cyberbullying prevention trainings to various audiences – including academics, legislators, policy makers, IT professionals in schools, Fortune 500 companies like Facebook and Intel, teachers, social workers, and others who need to understand the best practices that are evolving on the topics we study. I have already kept in touch with so many from my trip, and know that the relationships will continue because our goal and passion is the same: to build and maintain safe spaces offline and online in which kids can thrive on every level.
In addition, my time was spent initiating and dialoguing about research collaborations with a number of lecturers, professors, and graduate students both in the Dublin area as well as across the country. To be honest, it was crazy to see that various professionals who work with adolescents wanted to spend face time with me and just chat about their projects! I didn’t know specifically how I could be of help given the fact that they are based in Ireland and have to deal with context-specific problems, but I realized that these issues involving teens are pretty much universal. It turned out that I did have a lot to say and a lot of value to add when we spent time together and dialogued about best practices and future directions at the intersection of teens and technology.
Finally, I spoke extensively to the print, radio, and TV media, generating €328,818.00 in publicity value for my host (Dublin City University), my home university (Florida Atlantic University), and the Fulbright Foundation. It felt like I was being shuttled to this interview or that interview every single day – which again was shocking and unexpected to me.
I remember frequently thinking to myself: What can I add that hasn’t already been said? How can my words really make a difference to Irish educators, Irish mental health workers, and Irish families? How can I inspire Irish youth to set themselves up for an amazing future by connecting and interacting with others online with empathy, wisdom and kindness? How can I get them to develop resilience to face social and relational hardships in their life, so they can be overcomers and do epic things as they move into adulthood? Here again, the words came and I honestly believe I contributed a lot of value, instead of just adding to the noise with random feel-good inspirational statements or other fluffy points that sound great but lack substance.
I’d like to give a shoutout to my main host, Dr. James O’Higgins Norman, who heads up the ABC. It was remarkable how my work and the work of his Centre at DCU fit so seamless and beautifully together. It was wild how quickly I was able to settle into my days at the Centre, and it felt like I had been a part of their team my entire life. Every day was productive and enjoyable because of their warmth, competence, and fun dispositions. And I felt like my presence there made a difference. This is all I could have hoped for with my Fulbright experience: to serve in a role that has significant and far-reaching meaning for my host, and for the host country.
As I reflect back upon the experience, the Fulbright award allowed me to contribute in significant ways by educating youth professionals on prevention and response strategies to address online misuse among adolescents, and encouraging them to promote the positive uses of technology through specific, meaningful strategies. I believe that the introductions and connections I made will foster deeper partnerships that will contribute to various noteworthy projects we hope to undertake at the Cyberbullying Research Center and with the International Bullying Prevention Association. And I feel that simply being there – fully present and available to so many in Ireland as a resource – was tremendously valuable to those who reached out or heard me speak. I have promised to continue to help them moving forward, because I know we are all committed to this cause with one mind and one heart!