A new virtual reality | Teens and Technology Series Part II
By KRIS HILL
Covington Reporter Assisitant Editor
September 10, 2011 · Updated 2:23 PM
Editor’s Note: this is the second and final part of a series examining the impact of technology ranging from cell phones to Facebook and Twitter to laptops in schools on today’s teenagers.
Much like the playground bully that generation after generation of children have endured, young people today endure cyberbullying in silence, not knowing how to deal with it or what to do when they see someone else victimized.
Kids and parents alike need to understand how to use cell phones, instant messaging, social media sites and other technology tools as well as understand the power of words on a screen.
There are many things adults and teens can do to prevent online bullying. There are also appropriate ways to deal with cyberbullying when it happens.
Young people also need to understand the impact of what they post, how to interact with each other as well as the adults they’re friends with or follow.
It’s a new reality in cyberspace.
MORE THAN WORDS ON A SCREEN
Kentwood High senior Madison Bellmondo is not one to stand by and watch online drama.
Bellmondo has seen her friends on Facebook post things about other people that she thought was out of line.
She’s seen other people post comments that were wrong.
“A friend of mine posted something about another one of my friends that was extremely rude,” Bellmondo said. “It was just over the top. I didn’t say anything. But, I was appalled.”
In her time on Facebook she’s seen a number of things she wanted to report but didn’t.
Still, there have been times where it was intolerable.
“It’s really hard because you’re scared people are going to find out it’s you, but, on Facebook there’s a link you can click that says ‘Report Spam,’” she said. “I’ve done that twice and it was so nerve wracking. I’ve seen it 20 times where I’ve wanted to do it. You look at it and say, ‘Why would someone post that?’”
Still, Bellmondo admits it is not socially acceptable to call out your friends publicly or privately for their bad cyber behavior, but sometimes it has to be done.
Allan Kush, deputy executive director of wiredsafety.org, explained that kids are hiding much of what goes on in cyberspace.
“There’s this whole concept that the kids have of not narcing each other out that has gotten to the point where kids won’t even acknowledge to their parents or family they’re being bullied or people are posting rude and crude things about them,” Kush said. “They’re going through the emotional trauma that creates. A lot of parents are ambivalent about what’s going on. Sometimes to them the silver bullet is I’m going to take your laptop, I’m going to take your smartphone, so if the kid is being bullied they’re going to suffer from the so-called cure.”
Kush said his organization encourages teens to find some adult they can trust, even if it isn’t their parents, to talk to if something is going wrong in their virtual lives whether it’s a member of the clergy, a teacher, another family member, a coach, someone.
“Isolation is the tool that bullies and stalkers depend on,” Kush said. “If there is anything we can do to get the message across that this is a common thing and isolation is something bullies and predators and stalkers try to use against you, so, don’t let them have that victory. Seek out an adult you can trust.”
Jason and Kelli Krafsky, a Maple Valley couple who are experts on social media and relationships, wrote in an email interview “if your kid is on Facebook, you’re on Facebook.”
“The number one question people asked when the news stories hit about the kids cyber bullying other kids was ‘Where were the parents?,’” Jason Krafsky wrote. “Just because Facebook seems too confusing or takes too much time, you are your child’s first line of defense to protect them from outsiders, and in some cases, from themselves. We’ve heard some parents say, ‘I don’t have time for Facebook.’ If your teen is on Facebook, you don’t have time not to be on Facebook. Believe us, the kids whose parents are not on Facebook is very apparent by what they are posting.”
Additionally, Jason Krafsky wrote, parents must have full access to their kids profile as well as have login and password information for their child’s profile.
“This is not for spying purposes,” he wrote. “It is so you can periodically login to their account and view the private messaging and make sure bad things aren’t happening in private.”
Parents should also have regular conversations with their kids about what’s happening on Facebook and off on topics ranging from the latest virus spreading on the social media site to discussing a post made by a friend you have in common.
“This keeps the Facebook topic safe, healthy and open so if and when something bad happens, it is already a natural topic you talk about,” Jason Krafsky wrote.
Kelli Krafsky added kids don’t need to have 800 friends on Facebook but for many there is status enhancement as a result of the number of friends one has and it becomes an unofficial competition.
“The first thing kids can do to avoid cyber bullying is make sure their Facebook friends are really friends or associations they can trust,” Kelli Krafsky wrote. “Friending the ‘popular kids’ or the ‘in crowd’ or everyone at school only makes a kid more susceptible for online and real time teasing or worse.”
Finally, she wrote, kids need to be comfortable talking to their parents offline about online issues.
“If a teen suspects any kind of threat or intimidation or bullying, even teasing that makes them uncomfortable, they should share it with a parent,” Kelli Krafsky wrote. “Things can happen quickly on Facebook. The sooner a parent knows what is occurring, the sooner it can be nipped from escalating out of control.”
Diane Fox, assistant principal at Tahoma High, has plenty of advice for her students when it comes to Facebook.
She urges them to avoid using obscenities on Facebook and with her own kids they must be friends with her on the social media site because it’s “non-negotiable.”
“I have cautioned students to put your Facebook under complete lockdown, hide your friends list and allow your parents to be your friend,” Fox said. “Kids don’t like that which means you have something to hide. That’s an important rule so when you have inappropriate activity you can go, ‘Hey my mom is my friend.’ It kind of establishes a boundary.”
Fox also encourages teens to “defriend, defriend, defriend.”
“If someone is mean to you, they shouldn’t have the privilege of seeing your life in cyberspace,” she said. “And most important, if you see it, say it, call it out, report. If it feels ugly it is. If it seems mean, it is.”
In addition, the Tahoma School District worked throughout the last school year to develop policies and procedures on how to report as well as investigate cyberbullying incidents.
“Tahoma School District takes very seriously any kind of bullying incidents in our schools and we’re supportive of students coming to school equipped to learn,” Fox said. “Dealing with cyberbullying is another thing we have to do.”
THINK BEFORE YOU SEND
There’s a saying floating around about the permanence of cyberspace: posting something to the web is like writing it on a wall in pen.
Michelle Bennett, Maple Valley police chief, did her doctoral dissertation on cyberbullying.
“The Internet is permanent,” Bennett wrote in an email interview. “There are archive websites who take a sort of ‘screenshot’ of web and data media sites and warehouse store every image and post. Careful what you post on your Facebook or MySpace or other social media site.”
Future employers, college admissions officers and other influential decision makers do view Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts, Bennett stated.
“Kids should know that future employers and college admission folks do look at your MySpace or Facebook page,” she wrote. “If a youth is posting pictures of himself underage with a bunch of beer cans, illegal drugs, partying – they will probably not be the first to be hired.”
Instead, use social media as the ultimate public relations profile, to create a brand for yourself and develop a positive image.
Bennett suggests posting photos of yourself doing good things and involved in activities.
Heidi Maurer, principal at Cedar Heights Middle School in Covington, is bringing in an anti-bullying expert to her school, Stu Cabe, on Sept. 12.
In her second year at the middle school, Maurer is working to change the culture there among students, and something that is crucial from the first day of class to deal with bullying both online and in real life.
During the first month of school, Maurer said, Cedar Heights won’t be on its usual schedule. One day a week students will be immersed in lessons about the school’s core values while the rest of the week there will be discussion about technology.
“We’re going to do technology lessons so we can develop a common foundation about technology and we’re going to go over what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate,” she said. “We’re going to teach them basic skills that we assume they already know.”
An important lesson, Maurer said, is for her students to learn to think before they send an email, a message on Facebook or a text.
Even with the problems that have come from the ability to communicate electronically, it’s not all bad, Maurer said.
“In that increased communication there’s an upside,” she said. “Students feel like they can share things they otherwise wouldn’t share.”
Kush, of wiredsafety.org, said the most effective program his organization has come across is its Teen Angels group.
“It’s a peer to peer type of thing where teenagers... they set up chapters much like you would any school based group,” Kush said. “They have what we call den mothers, adult leaders, and they work to impart this information in their schools. We’ve found for the most part kids are more receptive if they have one of their own giving them this information than if we have school assembly and some gray hair like me gets up and harangues them about how stupid they can be online.”
He encourages kids to remember the Golden Rule.
“Don’t post something online about somebody that you wouldn’t want to have posted about yourself,” Kush said. “If you’re mad at somebody think about it for a day before you post.... think before you post anything.”
He also urges parents to limit their kids use of technology, which while he knows it may not be popular, it is the best way because just monitoring a child’s Facebook profile and Twitter account is only scratching the surface of their virtual lives.
Jason Krafsky said there is some basic etiquette parents and kids should be aware of when interacting with one another.
“Parents and kids should have common respect for one another on Facebook,” he wrote. “Don’t embarrass one another, don’t comment often on each others posts, and don’t deal with family issues on Facebook. For kids and non-related adults – we think more responsibility falls on the adult to determine if a Facebook friendship is appropriate.”
Kelli Krafsky, for example, will only accept friend requests from the friends of their teenage children but she doesn’t seek them out. Meanwhile Jason Krafsky is not friends with his kids’ friends on Facebook, explaining, “It’s a personal and professional choice.”
And most importantly, don’t forget the potential impact of what is posted online, Jason Krafsky said.
“If a student is living by the old adage, ‘What happens on Facebook, stays on Facebook,’ they are fooling themselves,” he wrote. “Employers, colleges, military and parents of future love interests are all checking your Facebook profile. We have heard about teens getting kicked off sports teams, school clubs and student leadership because of what they posted on Facebook. We talked with someone from a summer camp who told us about a high school girl who wanted to be a camp counselor. Her resume was impressive. Her references checked out. Her interview went well. Her Facebook however, showed a very different person. They couldn’t take the risk of which girl would show up at the camp. They didn’t hire her.”
CYBER SAFETY TIPS
And with all that, young people should avoid other kinds of danger lurking in cyberspace.
“Do not friend people you don’t really know,” Kelli Krafsky wrote. “Even if you ‘met them’ online or through a game on Facebook, don’t open the door for them to know more about you. Do not post personal information like home address, phone number or full birthday (including year) on your Facebook profile. If someone needs it, they can message you. This is an added measure of security to avoid cyber crimes and real crimes.”
Bennett has similar suggestions.
“Don’t talk to a person online you don’t know in real life,” Bennett wrote. “Never ever agree to meet with someone you meet online that you don’t know. Don’t become the cyber-bully by bullying back when someone bullies you. Never send inappropriate pictures of yourself to anyone, you lose control of the image the moment you do.”
Contact Covington Reporter Assisitant Editor Kris Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or (425) 432-1209, ext. 5054.