Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Becoming an Everyday Scholar

This project has made me realize how easy learning is nowadays. I mean, all I have to do is use Google Reader to follow some good blogs, Diigo to bookmark resources, and follow interesting people on Twitter. A variety of information comes directly to me--I hardly even have to try! Researching like this will help me become an everyday scholar--I can track my own interests and read short articles or tweets or blogs that are interesting to me and then I can share them with others. It's an exciting time in the digital realm and I'm glad I've learned how to use the resources available to me. I think I will truly be able to set myself up for "excellence for life."

Friday, February 1, 2013

Teen Cyberbullying

The Story of my Search
            Being a teenager is no easy task and I think it may actually be a bit more difficult today. I remember seeing people point and laugh at me when I was in high school (or walking in on a conversation and having everyone suddenly go silent); however, it didn’t bother me very long. There was no reminder of my humiliation or my mistake, but the same cannot be said with the strong presence of the internet and social networking that exists today. Comments, photos, and videos can be forever saved in cyberspace, haunting the victims for years. While my humiliation could be forgotten after a few days or weeks, now cyberbullying has made humiliation last much longer. Photos and videos can be uploaded on websites and shared with the world, too, so the audience of those who are humiliating you increases; there could be someone in China laughing at your epic wipeout during the school pep rally. I know cyberbullying has taken bullying to a completely new level of bullying.
            Since I am a teacher and deal with teenagers daily, I wanted to know what bullying looks like today and if I can help in some way. I came up with the research question: What is cyberbullying and how can it be prevented? Through my research I found the answer: Cyberbullying is using the internet or other technology to harasses, threaten, or embarrass people. With proper supervision and knowledge, cyberbullying may not be prevented but the number of incidents should decrease.
            I had two weeks to research about cyberbullying. I chose the topic because of a news story I heard on NPR called “Online ‘Shaming’ A New Level of Cyberbullying for Girls.” It was the story that piqued my interest into this problem, so I began by doing a simple Google search of cyberbullying. I found many websites, but was intrigued by the ones that explained what to do when you are cyberbullied because I think that is something I should know and tell my students so that they can protect themselves.
I also used EBSCO, the school’s library subscription service, and I found two very different articles--one was about a boy who was using Twitter to praise people instead of put them down and the other was about Amanda Todd, a Canadian girl who was cyberbullied so badly that she took her own life. I think the Amanda Todd story is important because it’s a sort of cautionary tale for people. Likewise, the Twitter story is equally important because it shows another way to combat cyberbullying.
Throughout my research my focus remained the same; however, I began to focus more on what people can do about cyberbullying because I began to realize that that information is more important, especially after reading about Amanda Todd. She didn’t know what to do or where to go, so I knew I needed to research about that and share my research.

The Results of my Search
Author Emma Teitel wrote, “A recent comprehensive study determined that one out of every five adolescents has at some point cyberbullied someone else” (68). It’s clear that cyberbullying is a growing issue, especially as the use of technology continues to grow and the world continues to “flatten” (Friedman). Teitel also cited another study by Consumer Reports that found there were 7.5 million children under the age of 13 who have Facebook accounts despite Facebook’s terms of service that states users must be 13 years old (68). Cyberbullying is an issue for anyone who uses the internet, but especially for those who use social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Formspring, 9Gag or any other site that allows one to post videos, pictures, or comments.
A very sad example of the extremes of cyberbullying is the case of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old Canadian girl who was cyberbullied so badly that she fell into a deep depression and took her own life. Todd had exposed herself online and her harasser shared the topless photo (Teitel 68). Teitel reported, “The public consensus about Amanda Todd is that she made a mistake by exposing her breasts on the Internet. What isn’t being said, however, and what should be said, is that Todd’s mistake is an extremely common one...” (68). And that is perhaps the more frightening part of Todd’s story--she isn’t a unique case.
So how can we prevent incidents like Amanda Todd’s? The answer may begin with more parental supervision. Teitel wrote, “...despite Internet parental controls, and increased awareness, most parents still do not monitor their kids as closely online as they do offline” (68). Parents need to supervise their children to know what they are doing online and educate them about appropriate online behaviors (Hinduja and Patchin “Preventing Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Parents”). University professors Dr. Sameer Hinduja and Dr. Justin Patchin suggest to “establish that all rules for interacting with people in real life also apply for interacting online or through cell phones” (“Preventing Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Parents”). Modeling appropriate behavior would also influence children’s behavior and help them to more clearly understand what is expected of them. Dr. Hinduja and Dr. Patchin also wrote that parents should “cultivate and maintain an open, candid line of communication with your children, so that they are ready and willing to come to you whenever they experience something unpleasant or distressing in cyberspace” (“Preventing Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Parents”). Hinduja and Patchin also suggest having an “Internet Use Contract” and a “Cell Phone Use Contract” (“Preventing Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Parents”).
However, supervision alone cannot help prevent cyberbullying; knowledge is power so teenagers need to be informed and aware of cyberbullying as well as know how to protect themselves. Stopbullying.gov recommends following these steps immediately after being bullied:
1. Don’t respond to and don’t forward cyberbullying messages.
2. Keep evidence of cyberbullying. Record the dates, times, and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying has occurred. Save and print screenshots, emails, and text messages. Use this evidence to report cyberbullying to web and cell phone service providers.
3. Block the person who is cyberbullying. (“Report Cyberbullying”)
Hinduja and Patchin, however, suggest being proactive by safeguarding your passwords--don’t give them out, don’t save them on public computers, and always log out when you’re finished (“Preventing Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Teens”). Likewise they advise against opening messages from people you don’t know or even from known bullies (Hinduja and Patchin “Preventing Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Teens”). You also don’t want to click on unknown links because they can be tied to viruses that will leak your personal information.
Another great piece of advice is what I call “The Grandma Rule.” Hinduja and Patchin explain it this way: “Before posting or sending that sexy image of yourself, consider if it’s something you would want your parents, grandparents, and the rest of the world to see” (“Preventing Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Teens”). Similarly, you should “Google” yourself occasionally to ensure that your identity and information is safe and private.
Lastly, Laura Modigliani, a Scholastic News editor, perhaps found the best example of the golden rule (treat others as you would like to be treated). Modigliani wrote about Kevin Curwick, a senior at Osseo, MN, who is also the football team captain. Curwick is using Twitter to help stop bullying by praising his schoolmates (Modigliani 24). Curwick said, “There was some nasty tweeting going on saying negative things about people at my school. So I created a nice page to help the kids who were being attacked, as well as random people--just to give them a boost in confidence” (Modigliani 24). Curwick has “made cyberbullying uncool” and taken the attention away from the bullies by posting encouraging tweets and pointing out people’s strengths (Modigliani 24). It’s the perfect example of Hinduja and Patchin’s final tip for teenagers: “Treat others how you would want to be treated. By being a jerk to others online, you are reinforcing the idea that the behavior is acceptable” (“Preventing Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Teens”). Curwick’s story should be an inspiration for all teenagers and it is something to aspire to do. If more people thought that way, cyberbullying wouldn’t be a problem anymore.
Nevertheless, cyberbullying is a problem. However, there are many ways parents can help protect teenagers and there are many ways teenagers can protect themselves. My only hope is that teenagers and their parents educate themselves and learn how to properly protect their information by using the security settings available to them.

Reflections on my Search
I do wish I would have had more time to research, but I know my search does not have to stop here. I have been becoming better about arranging my social media accounts to connect me to this topic. For example, I have been bookmarking important websites and tagging them in my Diigo account. Similarly, I follow important educators and tech people on Twitter and I read cyberbullying-specific blogs with my Google Reader. As technology changes, so will cyberbullying, and I think I have set myself up to stay current with the issue. I hope I will be able to stay prepared and informed for not only my sake but my students’ as well.
Works Cited
Friedman, Thomas L. "It's a Flat World, After All." The New York Times. 3 Apr. 2005. Web. 25 Jan. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/03/magazine/03DOMINANCE.html?_r=0>.
Hinduja, Sameer, Ph.D., and Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D. "Preventing Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Parents." Cyberbullying Research Center, 2009. Web. 16 Jan. 2013. <http://www.cyberbullying.us/Top_Ten_Tips_Parents_Cyberbullying_Prevention.pdf>.
 Hinduja, Sameer, Ph.D., and Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D. "Preventing Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Teens." Cyberbullying Research Center, 2012. Web. 17 Jan. 2013. <http://www.cyberbullying.us/Top_Ten_Tips_Teens_Prevention.pdf>.
Modigliani, Laura. "Tweeting Nice #Truestory." Scholastic Choices 28.3 (2012): 24. MAS Ultra - School Edition. Web. 17 Jan. 2013.
"Report Cyberbullying." Report Cyberbullying | StopBullying.gov. Stopbullying.gov, n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2013. <http://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/how-to-report/index.html>.
Teitel, Emma. "Bullied To Death." Maclean's 125.42 (2012): 68. MAS Ultra - School Edition. Web. 17 Jan. 2013.