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on Sep 27, 2013
Mr. Vincent, this is a very thoughtful piece which I hope everyone will read.
It's particularly important because it comes from one of our teachers, which is refreshing in an atmosphere where everyone is looking for answers, and the answers might be there if we work together.
One way to look at this is the damage it has on learning. Youth in a state of siege on self-esteem is as major an interference as I can think of. The "messages" that belong on a bathroom wall are embellished, turned mainstream and respectable because they are on a device, everybody participates, and the harm is likely permanent. An emotional aggression at this age can sometimes change everything.
It's not just bullying, it's the culture of kids debasing themselves. Oddest thing is that kids don't want to miss any message, any story, any gossip, they are desperate to be connected, no matter how bad it is. SOmetimes it's good, but angst seems to rule.
Dreaming here: SInce nobody will be in favor of banning devices in schools, I wonder if there was technology that would cut off cell phone communication in the schools during the school day, except in designated areas where people would have to go to, to connect.
It would be a way to tell students, school is a safe place where nobody is connected. Nobody, so relax. A strong way to say, the stuff online is BS, enough already.
Even if it would be two days a week, an experiment.
Physically taking the devices hardly works, it would need some block out system. I know I can't use my cell phone from buildings or department stores, so the technology must be out there.
Marc, have you proposed Geo Listening to the school district yet? I believe that suggestion would go to Kathy Baker in a deeply ironic twist. Baker is very sophisticated so she might not see the need.
Nice op-ed. Good luck getting this district to take responsibility for anything.
As a first step in seeing if your kids are involved in some of these sites I suggest you google their name and the site name. For example, John Doe ask.fm or John Doe twitter
It's not enough to ask your kids if they are participating on these sites because frankly they are not going to tell you. They also think that you are not smart enough to look! If they are on the site, don't get angry, just talk to them about it and why it can be potentially so harmful.
Marc, exposing ones genitals can be innocent or it can be sexual aggression, that and never is it appropriate for our young teens to expose their genitals to other children or adults at a public school. Go ask Menlo or Castilleja if that is acceptable.
The streaking story was about two kids, one school, and not super consequential "in the grand scheme of things", but it generated near hysteria from adults.
Good point that the story on social media got virtual silence.
I'll take a stab about what it says about us. One is that maybe people are drawn to the standard set of no-nos, nudity. I recall posters on the streaking thread who insisted on repeating the naughty deeds, kind of weird. Nudity I guess draws adults to talk, and go on and on about it. Besides the part about breaking the law, it obviously personally offends many.
Social media as a weapon to tear away at youth self-esteem, in some cases so vicious it leads to teen suicide? It's not against the law, and it seems to offend less than real naughty stuff.
It would be interesting to see why cyber bullying doesn't matter that much to adults. Maybe our own self-esteem is so messed up, we think it's normal to tell somebody, "Can u die please? Maybe that's how some people talk at home.
Actually, there is some hope. Kids themselves are stepping up to say it's not ok.
There should be a site which rewards kids who turn in cyber bullies.
Very thought-provoking, heartfelt op-ed. Kudos Marc! Thanks so much for this community service. The social media issue is huge in its effects on our children, our grandchildren and our society. It demands adults' close attention and best efforts to gain deeper understanding and take responsibility for partnering with young people to encourage technology's best use. Gathering and focusing the sharp minds of high-tech Silicon Valley (including both adults and teens) is an important place to start. Marc's op-ed moves us in that direction.
Here's one way to handle it. Good on this coach!
The streaking story was about a tradition of nudity forced on willing and unwilling children, forced as in criminal intent. Nudity is a wonderful thing, it certainly isn't dirty between consenting partners, but it's 2013 and we are realizing that children, including teenagers, should not be flashing their genitals to other children, to school employees, or anyone else in public, just as assistant football coaches cannot innocently shower with teenagers at Penn State. Read the crime blotters in your local newspapers and monitor your reaction when you read about a young man, say 21 years old, flashes his genitals on one of the running trails. Doesn't seem so funny. As for cyber bullying, Palo Altans cherish this right and pass it on to their kids. The culture of our city is a hard, sick one. We thrive on the competition and love taking down fellow Palo Altans, whether they are superintendents, teachers, principals, city officials, or whomever. That's a we. If you read and participate in this forum, you are part of the problem, we, you and I. I certainly don't expect school officials to police the internet and teach civility to posters who claim hysteria to those who criticize his criticism. My teenagers do not have a Facebook or Twitter account, but they do have social media. I teach them how to use it responsibly and share the mistakes I have made. This is purposeful parenting, I hope it is successful, but life is no guaranteed thing.
Great story about the coach.
This age group, middle - to high school is actually wired to make mistakes, doing dumb stuff is expected. Adults publicly and unabashedly stepping in like the coach is rare, as is this Op-ed.
One problem with cyber bullying is the name itself has a connotation of a specific bullying incident. It sounds like it happened to others. But teenagers are blurting out their dumbest and darkest thoughts for immediate and massive dissemination 24/7.
If we have opinions about the books our kids read, the movies they watch, the video games they play, the friends they hang out with, it's likely because we want to know the messages that seep into their consciousness every day. With social media, we don't really know what they are tuned into.
I bet that most of the stuff that's flowing through their "social" ticker tapes is either dumb or dark (anyone seen a Tumblr page?).
Somebody should start a twitter, and FB account which blows out only positive messages, and parents could force their kids to "friend" and follow that friend. This friend would throw in occasional public service reminders - hey guys, much of the stuff we're seeing here may be dumb or dark, the real world is not in this little electronic box, let's go out and do something better for ourselves and others today.
Great piece, Marc. I'd like to add some opinions of my own. I'm afraid I'm going to get long winded.
1. As far as I can tell, in this piece, you did not make the mistake that so many writers on this topic seem to make: that somehow we're bumbling adults who can't keep up with this ostensible high-tech stuff, so what are we to do? I don't know why, but that cute fallacy is used far too often. Tumblr, twitter, and all the rest (even IRC) are ridiculously easy to use. If they weren't, the corporations behind the services and interfaces wouldn't be acting optimally, and another company would take their place. So it's a given: this stuff is super easy to use.
2. Then why don't adults pay more attention? I speculate the answer is simple. These online sites are really boring and stupid if your brain has gotten past all the raw insecurities and stuff that are part of being a teenager. I mean, sign up for a few and see how long you can take it before you throw up your hands and go (in the parlance): "wtf?" And then do something good and heartwarming like walk your dog or baking cookies or whatever to shake off all the awful feelings.
3. Social media amplifies the painful parts of being a teenager, and those painful parts have an obsessive quality to them, so teenagers can't let go. That's the bottom line, in my opinion. So you have to figure that any teenager on the internet is drawn to this stuff like moths to a light, and neither the internet nor the light is particularly salutary.
4. So what to do? I think we need to be aggressive. I think we need to stop letting these corporations (many our neighbors!) use teenage angst and obsession as marketing tools (in the form of page views and link hits that drive up ad pricing). We need to call corporations out on their stuff. Social media companies like to brag comfortably how twitter helps in an earthquake or whatever, and they hope nobody notices (at least at a level that generates action) how it daily enables hurt feelings. We need to call them out, every time, when it does hurt feelings. If they want to be praised for disaster communication, then they have to take responsibility for the daily tragedies, minor and major, that they also enable.
Employees at a corporation: every time you go to a social media page your company enabled and see a mean comment, know you helped to hurt someone's feelings.
5. We also need to do positive things. Not every teenager is part of a church group or the boy scouts or whatever. Some are on their own. Maybe they feel awkward, unable to make friends. What can we do to make every kid feel s/he has a place to go where s/he'll be liked and can experience positive feelings?
I did not comment on the original bullying story because I am still struggling to figure out what to do with the horrifying information. I have talked to my teens and they seem to get how dangerous the online environment can be, but they still crave the contact. I try to monitor what they are posting but they are good at hiding from adults. So, I am left with a big terrible problem and no clear workable solutions. Not sure what to say.
On the other hand the streaking is pretty fixable. Define clear boundaries, enforce the law, put the genitals away. Easier to speak up when there is a clear action plan to advocate.
I DO think our district needs to hire the third party monitoring co to keep an ear out for major trouble online.
Wish there were easier answers.
What if your child was going somewhere off campus every day, in secret, talking to people you don't know? This is what they are doing when they are online: and it's not Facebook any more, it's Tumblr (blogs) and other sites, and passwords to their accounts are a 1% solution. Wouldn't you take any step to make sure they are safe?
Install screen-capture software on every computer in your house that your child uses, which creates a file comprised of screenshots taken every 30sec (can be adjusted). You can then educate yourself on the content your child is getting exposed to.
It's shocking at first to see what they are dealing with, most of it from the ~1000 friends they amass in 7th and 8th grade. They WILL experience edgy material online; Elvis has left the building on this one, and parents can't stop it.
So don't freak out, but DO educate yourself as to what your child is getting exposed to online, then use that information to talk to them in the same way you've always talked to them when they were exposed to questionable subjects (on TV, in books, "jokes" from friend, etc.). Every family's approach is different; do whatever works for you and your child.
Phones are harder, especially iPhones. But since the goal is just to educate yourself (NOT entrap your child), tracking the computer use is a good-enough parenting tool. After the initial shock, FIRST calm yourself by realizing: this is a learning experience for your child (just like high school, yikes) and they will eventually be ok. When you're calm, THEN you're available; to offer perspectives and support as your child finds their way through this part of their world which is here to stay....
We're good parents and we do a great job the first 11-12 years that they're "dogs": they hunger for our advice and we are able to endow them with self-esteem. But when puberty hits, they become "cats" that have a relationship with us on THEIR terms. So stay open, available, and trust that those values they absorbed in their first 11 years, WILL get them through the next 8 years. And so, just...educate yourself as to what they are seeing.
Teens and pre-teens, having been the center of their parents' lives for so long, are self-centered and thoughtless of others. They have not yet developed a sense of empathy, even though they are beginning to possess, and realize it, great social power( which they proceed to abuse, mostly on others).
This is a dangerous combination, and needs to be monitored by parents, when the kids are with them, and other adults, such as teachers, friends' parents, etc, when the kids are in their presence. It takes more than just parents and teachers to raise a responsible adult.
It's been an age-old challenge to teach empathy and etiquette to pubescent teens asserting their individuality. Introducing social media and mobile technology during this timeframe simply adds gas to a force of nature.
What if parents could teach online etiquette to kids at an earlier age? Start earlier so technology doesn't seem so novel down the road. I'm not talking about letting kids play apps on their own, but having parents interact with kids and walk the walk, together. Just as in the physical world, kids learn an awful lot by interacting and observing their parents. Why not empower parents as online role models, in a time period when what they say and do is more likely to be emulated?
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