Monthly Archives: January 2013

“It was just a joke!” How bullies blame their victims

 

“Why do you take everything so seriously? It was just a joke!”

“Where’s your sense of humour?”

Girls excluding another

“It was just a game.”

“That’s just kids being kids. It’s how they have fun.” (Or substitute “girls” or “boys” for “kids”).

All of these statements have one thing in common — they are typical responses from bullies (or their parents) when confronted with their wrong-doing. In dismissing it all as a joke, they are doing two things that are tip-offs to bullying:

  1. they are showing a lack of remorse for the hurt they caused;
  2. they are blaming their targets for feeling hurt and daring to articulate it.

All of this tends to make the kids targeted by bullying feel even more victimized. They are rendered totally powerless, and their hurt is discredited and delegitimized.

Saying those words alone does not make it bullying, however. There are other aspects to bullying, including its repetitive nature and the power imbalance between the parties involved. But this hallmark dismissal of someone’s feelings is a particularly cruel stroke, a manipulative flourish to cap off the mean act, words or gesture.

They are designed to hurt. And they do. The hurt comes from the further disempowerment, the insult added to the injury.

It’s important to recognize these words as red flags, whether you are a parent, teacher or child care worker. If your child comes home from school complaining of being blamed unfairly for a fight with another kid, and excuses his actions by saying “it was just a joke,” listen carefully. They might have been misunderstood (these things can happen), but it can also suggest the kind of manipulative behaviour that requires intervention before it worsens.

It can be hard for teachers and principals to see past this when confronted with it in the middle of a hectic school day. It can be tempting for parents of kids who bully to buy into their children’s defences. Those are some of the challenges we face in bullying prevention. But recognizing the words for what they are is a really critical first step.

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What Facebook’s new Graph Search option means for parents and kids

Facebook graph searchFriends who Like Justin Bieber. Photos of my friends before 2000 taken by my mom. Photos taken in New York City.

These are some of the search options currently available in the newly launched Facebook graph search tool. For the moment, it’s only in beta (or test) mode, only available in the U.S. to a few selected invitees. And the search options are still limited.

But make no mistake, this is a very big deal when it comes to privacy, access to information and the convergence of social networks. Simply put, it means that all of the personal information we (and our kids) put online can now be quickly and easily indexed and searched by others.

Facebook is the largest voluntary sociological experiment in the history of humankind. Users everywhere think little of sharing intimate details of our lives, our relationships, our preferences and our consumer behaviours. And while Facebook gives us our accounts for free, make no mistake that they anticipate making vast revenues off this freely shared information through advertising and other forms of data mining.

If you or your kids are Facebook users, consider whether you use your Facebook sign-in information to link to any other accounts: TripAdvisor, group coupon buying sites like Groupon or Living Social, Twitter, Netflix, Pinterest, Goodreads or Instagram. Have you linked your Facebook to your LinkedIn account? A blogging website? Web strategist Jeremiah Owyang has predicted that this interactive convergence between websites is the future of website design, so we are bound to see more and more of it.

What do these linkages mean for you and your kids? It means that when you log in to TripAdvisor, your home page is customized to reflect the data your Facebook friends entered. Bob loved this hotel in Ireland. Emily rated this restaurant in Washington, D.C. When you log in to Netflix, you can see which TV shows they watched; on Goodreads you can see what books they’ve read.  These sites are all connected, and they personalize what you see based on your contacts.

When it comes to helping ourselves and our kids make wise decisions about what they share online, it means we need to be even more aware about what we’ve chosen to out there. And it doesn’t just start now: the photos you uploaded back in 2006 when you first joined are still there.

Although it’s still not yet clear exactly how this will impact users, here are a few things you will want to consider:

  • Search categories on Graph Search are still somewhat limited, but others (including Instagram) are due to be added over time. Keep an eye out for what becomes searchable, so you can discuss those things with your kids.
  • It’s more important than ever to make sure your kids’ privacy settings are set to the highest level, so that “Only friends” or “Only me” are chosen for distribution of information. It’s still not clear how this new Graph Search tool will be impacted by user settings, but it makes good sense to err on the side of caution.
  • Be aware of the App permissions in your privacy settings. You should help your teen choose what apps have permission to share information with others – perhaps they don’t want others to know what they are watching on Netflix, playing on different games or reading.
  • Discuss with your kids why they might not always want to use the “Sign in with Facebook” or “Sign in with Twitter” options when opening a new account. Do they really want all that information connected?
  • Some of your information may show up in searches from people you don’t know. In this Mashable post, the user searched for photos of Paris, France and found images from those they didn’t know. 
  • Be aware of information within your information, sometimes called metadata. Pictures you and your kids take with smartphone cameras tends to record the geographical location where the image was snapped (the GPS data). Some new digital cameras come with this option as well. Although you might not even see it or know it’s there, others can use a simple tool to figure out where your kids go to school, live and hang out with friends. See this post here for more information and explanations on how to easily change the GPS settings on your phones.  
  • The more information your kids’ friends share on Facebook, the more there is to be included in search criteria about them as well. It’s more important than ever to make sure they set up accounts so that they can approve all picture tags or mentions that might appear on their timeline (click here to see how). For example, if someone posts a picture with me in it, but doesn’t tag me, I won’t be part of the search criteria for that image. But if I am tagged, I want the right to approve or disallow what’s out there with my name in it.
  • If you want a clear picture of what you or your kids have shared on Facebook already, you can download a version of all this data. Check out this post for instructions on how to do so.

 

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Snapchat, sexting and common sense: What parents need to know

www.snapchat.comA big challenge of parenting in a digital age is keeping up to date with the technologies our kids are using. Truth is, it’s time-consuming and constantly changing. Hard to fit that extra learning and guidance into schedules already crammed with carpools, swimming lessons, last-minute dinners and never-ending piles of laundry. And the reality for plenty of moms and dads is that they need their eight-year-old to figure out why the printer isn’t working or set up the PVR, never mind helping them wade through a gazillion levels of Facebook privacy controls.

In many families, kids way outmatch their parents when it comes to technology.

So when the New York Times or your local paper runs an article about teens getting into trouble with some new app or social media tool, parents tend to have one of four reactions:

  1. Denial. Oh god. My kid would NEVER get involved in anything like that. S/he’s way too smart.
  2. Panic. Oh god. My kid is going to get into SO much trouble with that. I have no idea how to even begin making sure s/he is safe. I feel totally overwhelmed by how dangerous our world is. 
  3. Procrastination. Oh god. One more thing to worry about. I should talk to him/ her and see if they know about this. But I’m so busy and they will just roll their eyes and groan, and I haven’t heard anyone I know mention it. I’ll do it soon and hope for the best in the meantime. 
  4. Cursory check-in. Oh god. I better ask them if they know anything about this. No? Really? Great. Nice talking to you. 

None of these are particularly helpful. Even worse, numbers one through three will actually interfere with your relationship with your teen. Number four makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but you are setting yourself up to be shut down. Few teens appreciate the lines of direct questioning that will inevitably lead to lectures or more rules. Totally ineffective, but lets you mentally check it off your List of Things to Talk About.

So what does work? Two things: education and communication.

Take Snapchat, for example. This picture-sharing app allows users to send images and control how long the viewer can see it, up to 10 seconds. After that, the picture supposedly disappears and can’t be seen again.

It’s possible to imagine a million fun, silly and totally benign uses of such an app. But it’s also possible to see how the temporary nature of the image would appeal to those who want to share sexually suggestive images (often called sexting). It gives the appearance of being a totally safe way to do it. After all, after a few seconds, there’s no trace of your wild side left to haunt you.

Right?

Maybe not. While the site is set up to notify you if a user tries to screen grab the image, it’s not clear if they can actually prevent someone from trying to do so. And even if they have put in that kind of control, I can practically guarantee there are computer whiz kids out there trying to hack their way through those controls as I type. Furthermore, as the New York Times blogger Nick Bilton notes, there is nothing to prevent a user from snapping a picture of the photo on the screen using a different camera.

How big a problem is sexting for our kids anyway? Hard to tell. Lots of anecdotal evidence but very little good quality research out there. Bilton cites a yet-to-be released  Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project that shows 6% of adult Americans admitting to having sent a sexually suggestive or nude picture of themselves, but only 3% of American teens. Another 15% of adults admitted they had been on the receiving end of that kind of image.

This seems to suggest sexting is not nearly as big a problem as the media make it out to be. However, I do a lot of work with high school principals and teachers who would swear that figure is vastly underreported. Some of them say they deal with sexting in their schools (and the related bullying and behavioural issue) on a regular basis.

I’m not going to wade into this one. It’s not my intention to fan any kind of moral panic or hysteria concerning the hypersexuality of teens. What I am interested in is helping parents keep kids safe and using technology in productive, creative and respectful ways. The guidelines I advise in this case are the same ones I’ve always proposed:

  • Talk to your kids. Often. About everything. In the car on the way to hockey practice. In the kitchen after dinner. Late at night when they are going to bed.
  • Listen when they talk to you. Don’t cut in. Don’t have an answer for everything. Don’t offer unsolicited opinions. 
  • Know all accounts and passwords for your pre-teens and young teens.
  • Make sure they understand that their freedom online (and with cellphones) is a privilege to be earned through consistent, responsible behaviour.
  • With pre-teens and young teens, periodically review their accounts and cellphone materials with them (not behind their backs).
  • Talk about things like sexting, even if it’s embarrassing and they’d rather die. They often don’t understand the many, many ways these images can be humiliating, hurtful and destructive.
  • Tell them never to write or post anything they don’t want their parents to see. 
  • Tell them they must always be respectful to others.

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