Saturday, November 28, 2015

Gone are the Days When Flirting Was Holding Hands or Passing Notes

Source: YouTube Mark Kelley on Amanda Todd, The Fifth Estate

Over and over again we have heard that, “The name of Amanda Todd became synonymous with cyber-bullying and loss after the B.C. teenager committed suicide.” Her story is tragic. It provides us with an example of all the bad things that can happen when kids connect online without parental understanding of what can happen in chat rooms. Her story also provides reasons as to why we all need to educate ourselves in how teens are connecting and to have open conversations about what kids are doing online and who they are socializing with. 

These conversations are not new ones. Growing up, I’m sure many of us experienced the pre-going out conversations with parents… “What are you doing? Who are you going out with? Who is driving? Who is going to be at this party? Will there be drinking?” Parents today are still having these conversations, it’s just the questions need a 21st Century upgrade to include… “Who are you chatting with? What are you talking about? What are your privacy settings set at? What is the nature of this chat? How does this relate to school? How long have you been online? Why is it important to keep your device on the kitchen counter at night?” … You get the idea.  Why have these conversations? It’s about parenting. Jeremy Black, in his post states that the Saskatchewan Digital Citizenship Continuum and Framework should include education for parents and that it’s not enough to say that they “cannot relate to their children’s digital immersion.” I totally agree with this statement. As a parent or even as a teacher, we can’t sit idly by. If we are going to help students navigate this world, we need to up our game too. This means being aware of apps that pose as calculators but are actually digital vaults for hiding images. Check out the Global News video, "What parents need to know about ghost apps". 

Amanda’s parents permitted the interview with CBC because they wanted to get her story out there. Yet is it enough? Are teens and pre-teens seeing the dangers? One can only wonder if the message is getting across.  On one website, No that explores cyberbullying and Amanda’s tragic story, there is a quote that caught my attention.

The truth remains that people who bullied and tormented Amanda still walk the streets everyday thinking their hate and actions mean nothing while in fact every comment they have made about her while she was alive or after her death, brings so much pain to the people who loved her. Remember that words do hurt and scar, sometimes beyond repair.”

Although the man who was responsible for her extortion and harassment was found, there are others who still walk the streets who also caused her harm. Individuals who left unchecked, un-reprimanded, who will continue to do so. Why? Maybe it’s because unfortunately the Internet can just be a place for people to hide behind a screen and disassociate themselves from the horrible things they say.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic LicenseRemixed by J.Stewart-Mitchell
from the work  by 

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic LicenseRemixed by J.Stewart-Mitchell 
from the work by  daniMU  
The Internet is not going to go away, so those stalkers and abusers will continue to lurk the digital highway, so as educators and parents we need to not just monitor kid’s online activities, we need to ensure that they learn how to be safe. Perhaps there needs to be a 21st Century Grimm’s Fairytale book (hey that’s an idea!), one where kids will learn to not trust the “Kind, young gentleman… as he is not who he appears to be… he might be the wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Maybe this sounds a little melodramatic, but as a teacher and a parent, I would want my daughters to learn that although the Internet can be a great space for learning, connecting and exploring new ideas, there are serious dangers in this enchanted forest that we need to avoid.

As a teacher I see the Internet and what it has to offer and yet my heart chilled as I watched,The Sextortion of Amanda Todd”. However even with the dangers that lurk, it is still more important to educate kids then take away computers. We need to teach kids how to be safe, set up environments and protocols for device use, ensure that we are connected to our kids, both technologically and emotionally.

After watching the original video, I decided to watch the other installment of this case from CBC,Stalking Amanda Todd: The Man in the Shadowsreleased a little over a year later. Of course Amanda Todd’s sad story garnered many comments from viewers wondering how this could happen. Most posts revolved around the importance of open communication and the importance of ensuring our students are aware of how to stay safe. For some reason, I like reading comments, particularly moderated ones for topics such as this. Comments provide multiple perspectives, furthering understanding or at least provide additional food-for-thought. One person commented,

“Social Media needs to increase the age of use from 13 to 16 and should require proof of age before an account is set up. Driver's license comes to mind... or Birth Certificate. Yes, some will still get through but if we try we may succeed to prevent some casualties. As well, parents should be held responsible for allowing their kids to violate social media rules (i.e. Facebook says age 13)... but there are children on Facebook.... very young children. There needs to be an online enforcement of age.”

The response to the comment was as follows,

 “The internet is not a physical place you can enforce with state control. This is a parenting issue. Failing to warn and prepare children for the digital world is no different than leaving your infant child alone in the middle of a busy intersection and hoping they crawl to safety. Society must stop being naive and hoping someone else will protect you and yours from harm. It’s naive and part of the problem. This man who did this is no genius he just chose not to be ignorant to the tools he used and was able to evade detection. This is no different than a rapist who hides in the shadows….”

I agreed with some of what the responder shared. Why isn’t it possible to control the Internet better? After meeting and planning presentations with the Internet Child Exploitation Officers here in Regina, and watching their part of the presentation when they share how much Child Internet Porn is traded by individuals here in our province, I felt chilled, immobilized… sick. My first gut reaction as a parent is that my kids will never use Social Media. I am going to control all the privacy settings on all devices, I am going to monitor and do whatever I can do to keep my child safe. I am going ensure that this will never happen to my kids. But then I remember the nature of teens. You can’t just control or police. You need to educate. These words were echoed by Cory, one of the ICE officers. It’s about equipping our kids with online savvy and confidence to avoid situations where their privacy and security is compromised. It is also about ensuring that they have the “Cyber Smarts” to know that the Internet can really be a Digital Fun House – everything is not as it appears, and when the smoke and mirrors disappear, things are not as they seem. It also means as parents and teachers, we need to have Cyber Smarts. Keeping one’s head in the sand and assuming that everything is okay, will not help keep our kids safe. Parents need to ensure they understand the issues that are associated with apps such as SnapChat and YikYak and talk to their kids about these issues. Even if a parent is not Social Media savvy, they need to get savvy or at least become friends or follow their kids on Social Media.

Other comments,
“Sad story, but someone can't be cyber bullied if they stay off Facebook and Twidder [actual spelling] --- plus those things are a colossal waste of time anyway.”

The response,
“I understand what you are saying. However, you need to realize that the youth of today are wired in. Technology is an extremely important aspect of our culture today, especially with youth. Not being on social medial is very difficult to achieve for our kids, because that's the forum for socializing now. That's where youth get their news and information, share ideas and network with their friends.”

After watching this CBC story, I too initially wondered, why Amanda’s parents did not keep her off devices? During the documentary it was said that she had ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. (Genna Rodriguez and Gloria Uluqsi also noted problems that can arise with the challenges of this disorder, so I won’t go too far into this in my blog post). The interviewers also paint a picture of a person who due to her condition, not only had issues with impulsivity, she also sometimes felt socially rejected or made fun of by the kids because of things she would say. After finding her online friends, she found the acceptance that she would have been craving. Being online was her social life, which would have become all the more important when she was rejected at school. As stated in one of the comments above regarding the youth of today being wired in. Amanda’s wasn’t just wired in. Everything that made her feel like she belonged was online. So if kids are so wired in, how can we help them keep perspective? How can we ensure that they interact online, but are still connected offline or face to face. I’m not saying reject technology Sherry Turkle-style, but ensure that there is that degree of separation so that it’s not a person’s life

So where do we go from here? How can we protect kids from the dangers that lurk online? How do we parent the digital generation?  Communication. It all comes down to communication and honest conversations about what can happen and how to protect one’s identity and dignity online. It also means ensuring that kids have many circles of friends. Circles that may include friends at school, sports, dance or family friends. 

Source: Common Sense Media Tips for Digital Generation Parents

Other resources that connect to this topic for parents: Common Sense Media - "Overexposed Sexting and Relationships"

Video from Global News on Ghost apps and what parents need to be aware of.

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