Category Archives: Useful links

Hot or Not? Your nine-year-old is on Instagram

Beauty is skin deep

From Hollee Actman Becker

A few weeks ago, I had one of those humbling, weak-at-the-knees parenting moments. Another mother was relating a story about bullying and miscommunication on Instagram when I realized her daughter was 10 years old. In fourth grade. Same age as my youngest daughter.

Instagram? For nine and ten-year-olds?

I panicked. Was my littlest girl on this picture-sharing social network. I had no idea. Me, the social media “expert,” totally unaware what my own kid was doing. Huh.

Truth is, this whole conversation took me by surprise. I had never thought of discussing Instagram with her. It never occurred to me that this was a conversation to be had with a fourth-grader. We were too busy talking about spelling words, long division, why she was now old enough to walk the dog by herself but not yet old enough for babysitting.

When her older sisters were in fourth grade four short years ago, all the kids had Nintendo DS games. No social networks. No “liking” and “friending” and “following.”

It seems a lot has changed in the intervening 48 months. Most of these nine and ten-year-olds have iPod Touches or iPads of their own. They use email and FaceTime and Skype without a thought. And though I don’t know of any of her peers who are on Facebook yet (though the average age in North America for a first Facebook account is 11 years old), it seems many parents either don’t know or don’t understand what it means for their children to be on Instagram.

This Huffington Post article does a great job explaining exactly what it might mean. Author Hollee Actman Becker uses one of the preferred analogies in my parenting workshop: “…letting your child have an Insta (you knew they called it that, right?) without teaching them how to use it properly is like buying your kid a car without teaching them how to drive.”

Exactly. We are handing them the keys to this incredibly powerful communication tool without teaching them how to use it safely, how to protect themselves and how to avoid hurting others.

Right now you are possibly wondering how anyone could really get hurt on a picture-sharing social network. Turns out there are many ways. Actman Becker describes the incredibly popular use of the site for beauty contests among tweens (especially girls):

See, right now, as I sit here typing this, there is a tween girl with an iPhone somewhere making a grid out of four pictures of her besties using Instacollage or Mixel or whatever cool new app is making the rounds this week (omg Juxtaposer is sooooo amaze!)

When she’s finished, she will post that grid on Instagram, and then write something along the lines of: BEAUTY CONTEST! VOTE SOMEONE OUT!

Did you just throw up in your mouth a little? I know I did when this whole thing blew up here on the Main Line over the weekend.

And I’ll get to that in a minute.

But wait. That’s not even the worst part. Because what happens next is this: People will actually vote for who they think is the least attractive in the comments, and whichever girl’s name is written the most will be awarded a big fat X drawn across her face.

Whether your child ends up with the X across her beautiful little face or not (or whether s/he is merely a spectator to this demeaning, reactionary kind of representation), it’s clear that kids are getting hurt. And it’s not their fault.

It’s ours. Because we didn’t teach them it wasn’t OK. Mostly because we didn’t know we had to talk about this with our fourth graders.

In my case, I resisted the panicky urge to call her school and have her brought to the office to tell me over the phone if she even had an Instagram account. (Turns out she didn’t – “Mom, you already told me I couldn’t have a Facebook account yet so I figured I couldn’t go on Instagram either.” Which officially makes this the first time this, um, spirited child has ever not tested me to the absolute limit. Shocker. And I don’t expect this miraculous compliance to last long.)

Moreover, the story from the other mom of a fourth grader that inspired this whole post wasn’t about these beauty pageants either. It was about how the usual social drama of ten-year-old girls gets exponentially magnified and distorted in an online world where clicking “like” makes you someone’s favourite friend or not.

But the whole experience taught me that for parents, the world is moving much faster than it used to. I can’t assume the digital experiences of my older daughters will be true for my youngest. A lot changes in four years. And it taught me that teaching digital citizenship needs to begin with our youngest kids as soon as they learn to click and swipe. Like teaching them about sex, drugs or alcohol, if you’re waiting for your kids to come to you for advice, you’re waiting way too long.

What parents should do:

  • Tell your child they need to ask for permission to open all social network accounts.
  • Make sure you have their username and password.
  • Review their posts and comments from time to time.
  • Make sure their account is set to “private” and geotagging is turned off.
  • Make sure they know to never, ever give out personal information like their real name, address or phone number? Many kids don’t think twice about mentioning the name of their school either, but that’s clearly a really bad idea.
  • Get your own Instagram account and follow them. You need to know what your children are doing.
  • Explain that they must never, ever post a picture that might hurt or embarrass someone else.
  • Explain that anything they post on the Internet is written in ink – it’s there forever.
  • Explain why they shouldn’t be posting pictures of themselves in bikinis or revealing bathing suits (yes, I know your nine-year-old still looks like a baby in her bikini, but there are a lot of ways that representation can be used to hurt her).
  • Talk to your child (girls and boys) about how those Instagram beauty contests are demeaning and hurtful. They are not just a silly game done just for fun. In a world where the Steubenville rape victim was further victimized for reporting her assault, where bullying victim Amanda Todd was judged by other girls as a “slut” for impulsively giving in to exhortations to flash her 12-year-old boobs at a webcam, these images have meaning.
  • Suggest your kids ways they can turn this around with more positive kinds of pictures (see image attached). Tell them to speak out when they see beauty contests promoted among friends and followers, and how being a conscientious objector can help them be safer, more respectful digital citizens.


Dignity, respect, manners & civility: An annotated list of bullying prevention resources for schools

RESPECTI hear a lot of difficult stories from the teachers, school principals and parents who attend my anti-bullying workshops, but the mom who approached me after an evening information session for parents this week has lingered in my mind. She was a single mom of three boys, two in high school and one in sixth grade. Her older boys had experienced a fair amount of harassment and bullying in school, she said, but they seem to be mostly handling it. It was her youngest that worried her.

“He’s such a quiet boy. Into books and computers. I’m terrified about what will happen to him next year when he starts high school,” she confided, recalling with tears in her eyes some of the abuse her older sons had endured. “I’m especially worried about the school bus. I’ve called the school in the past and nothing has changed.

“My older boys made it through OK, but my youngest? They are going to eat him alive.”

We spoke about how she might intervene with the school and transportation company. How Bill 56, Quebec’s new anti-bullying and anti-violence legislation, might provide parents and schools with new policy tools and protocols to help deal with these stories.

This story was fresh in my mind as I spent the following day at McGill University, facilitating a full-day working session on Bill 56 policy documents with a select group of principals, directors general, administrators, teachers, guidance counselors and resource people from English schools around the province.  This initiative was organized as a collaborative effort with MELS and the Office of Leadership in Community & International Initiatives (LCII, formerly CEL) and the Faculty of Education at McGill.

One of the requirements of the new legislation is that all schools put together an action plan to combat violence and bullying in their schools. And implementing prevention initiatives is to be a critical part of that action plans.

The 60-odd educational professionals brainstormed a list of some excellent prevention programs, ideas and initiatives, which I jotted down as a list. I’d like to share that list with you here, with links provided to resources wherever possible. I’ve also added a few of my own to the end. Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, it offers a snapshot of some excellent programs and ideas. Please feel free to let me know of any additional programs or protocols that have worked for you – I’ll be happy to add those in as well.

Some of the entries on this list are well-known formal programs, while others are suggestions for more short-term strategies or smaller things that can be done on a daily basis. It’s my sincere hope and fervent belief that a combination of formal programs and small, every-day strategies together can help keep many more of our children from dealing with bullying on a regular basis.

  • Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: Developed 35 years ago in Norway, this program is now established in schools around the world, and has emerged as a research-supported gold standard in the area of bullying prevention.
  • Pacific Path: This program aims to reduce violence in schools by encouraging social skills development and conflict resolution strategies in children 4-12 years old.
  • Second Step: Second Step is a classroom-based social-skills program for children 4 to 14 years of age that teaches socio-emotional skills aimed at reducing impulsive and aggressive behavior while increasing social competence. The program consists of in-school curricula, parent training, and skill development.
  • This site is chock full of resources for educators, parents and kids. Lesson plans on bullying include “Screen out the mean,” “The power of words,” “Cyberbullying: Be Upstanding,” “Reality of digital drama” and more.
  • Special Needs Anti-Bullying Toolkit: Students with special needs are at far greater risk for being bullied. This toolkit looks at why this is the case, and what educators, parents and students can do to prevent and/or deal with bullying issues.
  • PREVNet(Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network): This umbrella network of 65 leading Canadian research scientists, more than 90 graduate students, and 52 youth-serving organizations maintains as its mission the prevention of bullying and promotion of safe, healthy relationships for Canadian youth.
  • Don’t Laugh At Me (Operation Respect): DLAM is designed to inspire students, along with their teachers and other educators, to transform their classrooms and schools into “Ridicule Free Zones”. The program materials include a curriculum guide, CD, video and pre-and-post implementation questionnaires for both schools and summer camps. The school program consists of two separate curricula; one developed for grades 2-5 and the second developed for grades 6-8.
  • Stand up! (Be a friend!): An initiative of with a variety of activities for an Anti-Bullying Week at school.
  • Finding Kind: A documentary, movement and school program aimed at encouraging kindness (and discouraging relational aggression) among girls.
  • Tribes: This research-based, whole-school program builds Tribes Learning Communities in schools around the world. Lesson plans, teaching resources, posters and videos round out a program at teaching collaborative behavior and respect in children.
  • This association offers educational programs and resources to individuals, families, educational institutions and organizations. This includes online learning and educational resources in order to help people deal effectively and positively with the act of bullying and its long-lasting negative consequences.
  • This project of the Southern Poverty Law Centre includes resources on a wide variety of subjects, including bullying. There are teaching kits, lesson plans and educational resources for professional development.
  • Dr. Gordon Neufeld talks about “What Makes a Bully” in this informative video, which suggests that some empathy training may actually backfire when bullies feel validated learning of the hurt they have caused.
  • Character Counts!: A character education program with training and resources for educators.
  • This organization offers online learning programs related to cyberbullying as part of their SimpleK12 offerings, called “Protecting Students in the 21st Century.”
  • Fluppy: A program designed to teach pro-social behaviors to preschool children.
  • Face It – intervention theatre production offered by Théâtre Parminou.
  • Organizing workshops and awareness sessions for parents and teachers. Check out RiskWithinReason’s presentations called “Beyond Sticks and Stones: What Parents/ Teachers Need to Know About Bullying.”
  • Define The Line: Excellent resources on cyberbullying for educators, parents and students.
  • Connect For Respect: The U.S. National PTA has put together this prevention program to involve parents in school initiatives to prevent bullying.
  • BeWebAware: This Media Awareness Network site offers resources for educators and parents on promoting cybersafety and digital citizenship.
  • Develop an accessible social media policy for students and staff at your school. Check out this template here for how to get started.
  • Developing an excellent Code of Conduct for students and staff, written in accessible language.
  • Integrating key concepts of dignity, respect, manners and civility in existing curriculum through books, theatre, videos, classroom projects, etc. (check out the NFB’s Bully Dance animated short and accompanying Teacher’s Guide).
  • Visits with pro-social messages by sports figures (such as the Alouettes).
  • Organizing sessions with officers from your local police station.
  • Sensitizing staff to issues related to bullying, handling bullying incidents, re-integrating students involved in bullying.
  • Secret friends: An informal program concept linking compassionate student volunteers with counterparts who have been bullied, to aid social re-integration.
  • Students trained as peace ambassadors for their peers.
  • Public recognition of outstanding citizens in the school community (in an assembly, with certificates, etc.).
  • Focusing on self-esteem and self-confidence in an ethics class.
  • Hiring character education consultants as resource professionals in the school.
  • Nominating a student of the week.
  • And last but not least, this outstanding Resource Manual on School-Based Violence Prevention Programs from the University of Calgary assesses 29 different bullying and violence prevention programs according to their objectives and research support.




Glitch on Facebook means your old direct messages and posts to friends may be visible to all


Imagine if some of your direct messages suddenly were made publicly visible to all? The potential for friendship disaster may be very high, especially in the high drama world of middle and high schoolers.

The tech blog TechCrunch has just revealed that this seems to be the case. Posts made in years past to individual friends, and in some cases direct messages, may be revealed in past years on your timeline.

How can you fix it? Easy enough.

  1. Click on your name in the upper right hand corner to view your timeline.
  2. Click on past years (one at a time). It will open up a box (see image) listing all the individual posts you made to others. Hover over the upper right hand corner so that a little pencil icon appears. Choose “Hide posts from timeline.”
  3. Repeat this for each year.
  4. No go help your kids do the same on their timelines.
This is a powerful reminder that we need to be scrupulously careful about the things we post online, even in a supposedly private context like a direct message. As soon as we put it in writing and release it into the ether, we lose control.