Cyber Safety: Every Kid Needs A Tribe

I participated in an Influencer Activation Program on behalf of Mom Central Consulting for BGCA. I received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

I can’t begin to describe my happiness and pride as I watched my daughter walk across the stage on May 28, celebrating her graduation from high school.

Celebrating Graduation!  Photo Credit: Stacy Carlton

Celebrating Graduation!
Photo Credit: Stacy Carlton

As happy as that evening was, I will never forget the difficult times on the path to graduation night, including bullying in 8th and 9th grade, both in person and online. Arguably, those experiences made her a stronger person, but she paid a heavy price. They also made me as a parent keenly attuned to cyber safety issues.

I wish she had had access to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America’s Cyber Safe Futures Initiative and been able to share her hard questions with peers via the CyberTribe Q&A. (Note, Sprint is a partner in this initiative – thanks, Sprint!)

I agree with the Boys and Girls Club (BGCA) Cyber Safe project that talking to our kids about online safety is critical. Do you struggle with where to begin? Do you think to yourself, “how harmful can Facebook or [insert social media app of choice here] be?” “What damage can one text do?” “My child would know how to tell me when things shift from innocent to dangerous.”

Cyberbullying Two

If so, a good way to get a handle on your level of preparedness to discuss online safety is to take the “Are you a cyber smart parent?” quiz. It’s quick! Here’s the link.  Go ahead, answer the eight questions. I’ll wait …

……………………………………Paula waits patiently…………………………………….

Were you surprised? Reassured? Aware of new questions, apps, and issues for which you are not prepared?

Fortunately, the Cyber Safe initiative has lots of resources to help you and your child get a grip on online safety. Here are some of the options:

Discussion Cards that can be used to facilitate chats about cyber safety topics, such as this one:

A Discussion Card to be used as part of a group activity related to cyber safety.

A Discussion Card to be used as part of a group activity related to cyber safety.

Tips for Parents, such as these tips that are specific to cyberbullying.

Links to Resources, such as these resources about mobile technologies.

The CyberTribe is also available to answer your questions (parents AND kids)! The cool news is that you can ask your questions and be entered to win an iPad mini as well as a $500 donation to be directed to the Boys and Girls Club of your choice (I would love for my local BGCA (the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Bend) to get this!).

To ask a question of the CyberTribe Q&A Team, visit this link.

So often, our children encounter hostility and bullying on the other end of the screen. Why not check out the BGCA Cyber Safe Initiative and show them a place where they will always find support and the kind of friendship we want for every child?

cyber survivor

“Nothing” (A Blog About Bullying)

I watched it all unfold on Facebook. A comment by a teenager, directed at another teenager, that generated 22 comments and 8 “likes.” Once I deduced the target wasn’t my child (that’s happened before), I realized the target was another child I know. A status of “Delete me off of facebook all you want honey, but try doing that in real life and you’ll find out that I’ll always keep showing up in your news feed” led to six other teenagers talking around the identity of the target. The comments included:

“she hides in a tree and swings from friend to friend w/no real home to go”

“Shes gay”

“dumb hoeee”

“she can’t be gay if she likes bananas”

but the one that grieved me the most was this one:

“her name is [insert name here] absolutely nobody(:” (this comment was “liked” by two people)

This started b/c the target teen put a picture of herself taken with a tree as background as her Facebook profile, and two girls made snide comments about it, leading to the “monkey girl” designation and the theme of this string. The target then deleted the “friends” who had made the comment off of Facebook, leading to the “take me off all you want” status.

(One of the challenges of cyberbullying is that even if a teen “blocks” another teen or removes them as a friend, so many mutual acquaintances will be aware of what was said about them that it will be almost impossible for them to escape the knowledge that a negative message is being spread about them.)

My daughter had been one of a close foursome in eigth grade (she’s in ninth now). She was the first one to leave the group, weary of being pressured to leave other people out. As such, she experienced similar treatment firsthand. When a second member of the foursome “left,” and started experiencing the nastiness, that young woman said she understood now how horrific it feels to be the target (compared to the “power” of being a perpetrator). That leaves two of the original foursome and some upperclassmen siblings/friends who are functioning, to some degree, as the equivalent of puppeteers.

When the parent of the “target” child asked me to be involved, I agreed. We met with an MSW whose agency does some work with the school. We met with the principal, the school resource officer, and another staff member. The other staff member said, “Well, we don’t let the kids use Facebook at school.” I pointed out that with smartphones they do. In the bathrooms, wherever they can grab a moment. And that’s not the point. 

It was important to me to impress upon the school administration that this isn’t just about a couple of students getting their feelings hurt. (Everyone knows that the freshman year of high school is not a cakewalk; I don’t expect it to be.) It is about a threat to school climate; it is about students who are engaging in behavior that goes beyond “name calling.” It is name calling on hyperspeed – the “cyber” part of it is anonymous, spreads exponentially, and costs the perpetrator nothing while the target often descends an emotional and psychological downward spiral until they can develop the strength to “not let it matter.”

(Although this blog focuses on cyberbullying, in my experience the ugliness isn’t limited to social media; there is frequently in-person aggressive behavior as well.)

My MSW contact said her research unearthed a lot of ways to help the victim, but not so much on working with the perpetrator.

Here’s what I would do. Tell the perpetrator that there is an exercise today about leadership, that as someone with a lot of social “pull” at the school they are needed to help make the school better. Hand them the transcript of one of these ugly threads (it’s not hard to find one). Have the perpetrator role play the role of the kid saying the nasty comments TO ANOTHER KIDS’ FACE. Reverse the roles and have the perpetrator be the “target” of THEIR OWN COMMENTS. I’d bet it feels a lot different in person than via keyboard.

I recently watched a Karmatube video about a man who took over a decrepit, forgotten, trash-filled wedge of Manhattan waterfront and made it a sanctuary for birds. He said, “people stopped dumping garbage here when they saw people had started to care.”

Whatever emotional “garbage” leads teens to bully, I want them know people care. As a parent, I want these students who are engaging in such destructive behavior to have something positive happen in their lives to fill up whatever void causes them to perpetuate cruelty and meanness. I know them; they are attractive, talented, potential-filled young women (90% of relational aggression issues occur in females) who have so much to give.

The target kids are all special to me, likewise the bullies are, to me, anything but “nothing.”

But the “monkeying around” has to stop.

Bullying Resources:

Cruel’s Not Cool

Jodee Blanco (Jodee is a bullying survivor and author of “Please Stop Laughing at Me”)

Article: How to Help a Bully: Recommendations for Counseling the Proactive Aggressor

ArticleWorking With Young People Who Bully Others

Resource: Facebook’s New Bullying Report Tool (note: this is very new to me; I don’t know anyone who has used it yet)

A “Hard” Book For Me Please (A Mama Kat Writing Workshop Prompt)

First of all, a hearty “welcome back” to Kat, who has been on a well-deserved blog break. During her break, I used prompts from the #Reverb10 project to do a bit of processing about the year 2010 and set the stage for 2011.  When Kat’s prompts arrived in my in-box yesterday, I did my usual routine – use‘s random number generator to “assign” myself one of the five prompts. Then, after seeing the first prompt I was assigned:

What happened in 2010 that you’d rather not repeat?
I thought, “I’ve already done enough of that through #Reverb10,” and tried to manipulate a little order into the randomness by running the random number generator again. I ended up with:
Read and Respond: “If you want to make your dreams come true, the first thing you have to do is wake up.” ~J.M. Power
For a while, I thought I would go with the “dreams come true” quote (it’s a pretty cool and true quote, don’t you think?), but I kept thinking “surely there is something about 2010 that I don’t want to repeat).  Quite a few things come to mind:
  • My mother-in-law’s breast cancer diagnosis
  • My husband’s job loss
  • Sitting in a judge’s chamber as a defendant
  • A protracted “cyber bullying” situation that my daughter was embroiled in
  • My 11 year old’s apparent aversion to sleeping in his own bed …. still
  • The deaths of people my age, especially Jarrod Heierman and Missy Reeves

To reflect on a less dramatic moment, but one that spoke volumes about the choices I make every moment, I turn to a comment my daughter made early in the school year. Apparently now it is a “bonus” to actually get a textbook that is made out of paper (as opposed to a cd or an online version); in Tenley’s math class, students have to request a “paper” book in order to receive one from the limited supply. She said, “Yeah, I told my teacher that you do a lot of freelance work on the computer which is why I couldn’t get on to access my textbook. I didn’t want to say, ‘My mom’s on Facebook all the time.”

Dan Perez touches on some of the same feelings I have about the intersection of family commitment (the kind where you actually touch each other and look each other in the eyes) and social media in his blog The Klout Myth and Living Above the Influence. He talks about how his wife and daughter each suggested that one of his three New Year’s Resolutions be “stop spending so much time on the computer,” which he translated to “start spending more time with us.”
Between the time I drafted this blog Wednesday morning and now, when I am completing it, I read Alexandra Samuels’s Harvard Business Review Blog article Social Media in 2011: Six Choices You Need to Make. It was the perfect article to read on a day when I was contemplating the content for this blog. Should I completely ditch social media to make amends with my child who is usually behind something herself: her bedroom door, her earbuds, her teenaged independence? In the section of her article headed “Who Am I Choosing to be Online?” Samuels says this:
“since the persona you create for yourself online inevitably bleeds over to your life offline, creating the best version of yourself online will invariably help you become the person you want to be, online and off”

I like social media for many reasons, including the fact that I like to write and heck, put together all the statuses, comments and tweets I have pecked out through 2010 and there would probably be enough for a small book (not a good book but a book-sized book!).
I don’t know exactly what I would change about the mix of family time and social media in 2011. Maybe Tenley’s comment was a lot more fleeting than I interpreted it to be. But it has stayed with me since she first said it in August. I suppose what I hope for 2011 is that she won’t be compelled to say I get on Facebook too much, even if she is saying it in jest. I hope this:

Mama's Losin' It