Sunday, December 05, 2010

Big NYTimes story slams enormous problems controlling cyberbullying

Here’s a big front-page story in the New York Times on Sunday, December 5, “As bullies go digital, parents play catch-up”, by Jan Hoffman, link here.

The story gives a horrific account of a teen’s impersonation of someone else on Facebook in order to besmirch his reputation. The parent who tried to get it stopped herself became a target of cyber bullying.

Parents face challenges in not being savvy enough to intercept the threats even if they do monitor their kids online, and schools in many states seem legally challenged to deal with behavior that takes place “off campus.”

The article also depicted kids’ cell phones as “mobile computers” rather than as communications devices for reaching parents when needed.

Many of the incidents in this article are appalling, and some kids have no business on the Web. Many teens are unable to grasp the long term consequences of behavior or have no really understanding of acceptable forms of social competition. As Dr. Phil says “they don’t see around corners.”

Yet, when I was substitute teaching, I heard of few or no instances of cyber bullying myself in northern Virginia schools.

Generally, kids of a certain level of maturity (the kind able to get on “It’s Academic”) understand appropriate Internet use. Even so, there are tragic incidents. The college kid who webcammed Tyler Clementi had been an AP student in high school.

The tone of the long article suggests that adults, for their own communications purposes, have let kids in on a technical infrastructure that they may be incapable of using without unacceptable risk to everyone.

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