Tag Archives: cyber bullying

The Kids are Alright: The Internet is NOT Destroying a Generation

When I tell people what I do for a living, I get a mix of responses. Some people think that it’s great others share their thoughts or concerns. After all, everyone seems to have an opinion on education: how it runs (or they think it runs) and how they believe it should run. Also, everyone seems to have an opinion on “kids these days.” The opinions on both (education & kids) tend to lean heavily negative… or at least concerned. So much so that my friend Carl Hooker published an article “When did Millennial-Bashing Become a Sport?” Like Carl, as an educator, I find it necessary to defend this generation of young people. The reality is, these kids are alright. While new technologies and connectivity may be changing the way the world engages, it is not destroying this generation.

Kids These Days…

Whenever I hear this phrase come out of someone’s mouth, I have the same reaction that I did when I was 15 and Gen X was the whipping boy du jour. I have to resist the urge to roll my eyes and groan… All generations lament the one that comes next. As an ancient historian by training, I can tell you of the Egyptian Papyri from 1500 BCE that complained that “kids these days” don’t respect their elders or worship the gods. Let’s not forget that Sokrates was condemned and put to death for “corrupting the youth of Athens.” Even the Roman poet Horace wrote:

“Our sires’ age was worse than our grandsires’. We, their sons, are more
worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more
corrupt.” Odes III

There are numerous examples of writers, authors, politicians, and scholars complaining that the youth of the day are self-involved, narcissistic, lazy, and corrupt. When I hear my friends or peers begin a complaint with “kids these days” I want to kindly suggest that they are now officially old and there is nothing left to do but get a rocking chair, sit on their porch, and yell at kids to get off their lawn! Of course, I jest. The reality is that as we age, we become nostalgic of our own youth and critique those coming up. Perhaps a realistic look back on our own follies, challenges, and quirks can give us a boost of humility.

But Technology is Different…

While engaging in one of these conversations, a friend of mine commented “Kids these days… they don’t even watch tv anymore!” I was a little taken aback. After all, we were the generation raised by the “idiot box.” Television was supposed to be dumbing down our generation at an alarming rate. Yet, we still produced functioning adults that today complaint about teenagers. Adults often argue (without any type of evidence other than perceived anecdotal experiences) that teenagers are eschewing social interaction for life behind a screen where they are engaging in harmful and morally defunct activities.


Rebel Without a Cause, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

However, new devices are not really any different than technologies of past when it came to fears of corrupting youth. For example, the introduction of “car culture” in the 1950’s and 1960’s spurred fears of juvenile delinquency, extra-marital sex, and other forms of laziness and depravity. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, scientists, politicians, and others were concerned that too much exposure to books might physically harm women and hinder their abilities to be effective wives and mothers. New technologies have often spurred fears of their negative impact on adults and (especially) adolescents.

But Technology is DANGEROUS (especially for girls), due to Predators & Crime!

Picture1As a woman in technology, I hear and see this a lot. Whenever I watch an “educational video” meant to warn students and parents about the dangers of the internet, the victim is often a young girl. Is it a wonder that young women steer away from technology fields in the middle school years? Stranger Danger is a fear often perpetuated when it comes to teens (especially girls) online. However, we live in a time that it has never been safer to be a child… especially in America. The reality is, crime has never been lower. However, our perception of crime has never been higher. Am I saying that children in this country or around the world are never abused? Of course not. Unfortunately, children are still the victims of crime, most often by a relative of a friend. However, our fear of the internet predator is so skewed from reality that it impacts what we think children do, or should do, online. Nothing contradicts this reality more than our relationship with ride sharing services.

Due to tools (remember that idiot box Gen Xers?) such as the 24 hour news cycle, we are inundated with stories of crime. The more horrific and random, the more common it will show up in our news feed. The mundane doesn’t sell ad space.


But the Internet is Different – Teens are Addicted to Social Media!

This is another refrain that I hear from adults. Teenagers are addicted to their devices. Addiction is a loaded term. If you have an addict in your life, then you know the power of this disease. Also, adults commonly put their own relationships and experiences onto
their children. In my experience as an educator, I have found that teenagers often have a healthier relationship with their devices than their parents. Be honest, how many of you have criticized your children/nieces/nephews or other adolescents for behavior you engage in? Do you check your phone at the dinner table or respond to texts while out with friends? What about while driving (which you should never… ever do!)?

teens on screens

Courtesy of at the Speed of Creativity in? 

I would argue that adolescents are not addicted to their devices so much as adolescents are driven to be social! When I was an adolescent, I literally spent hours on the phone… when it was connected to a cord to the wall. I would extend it to the pantry on the other side of the room so that I could close the door and talk in relative privacy. It drove my parents so nuts they got me and my brother our own lines! That led to some robust fights over phone squatters rights… We also spent hours and hours walking around the mall (without adults and well before cell phones) talking to one another or other teens that we met while out. Were we expounding on detente or our latest interpretation of Tolstoy? Perhaps going over our homework? Of course not! We were teenagers. We talked about boys we liked, the latest episode of 90210, or gossiped about other kids in school. That is what adolescents do. This is how adolescents learn valuable social skills that they build on as adults.

What is different in this technological age is that, because of our perceived concept of crime and dangerous for adolescents, they have little to no unstructured and unsupervised social time. One of my favorite books in the last few years has been danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked TeensIf you have not read danah’s work, you definitely should. She delves into the relationship that teenagers have with their devices and one another, arguing that because we as a society have removed their physical social spaces (when was the last time you saw children biking or playing at the park unsupervised), they have delved into Social Media and technology to extend their social circles and engage with friends in an unstructured way, outside of adult’s prying eyes. In fact, this level of helicopter parenting has led to a movement: free-range parenting. If you read their website, you will find that it advocates what many of us viewed simply as “being a kid.”

But I’ve Seen Stories of Kids Being Hurt or Engaging is Online Bullying!

Of course you have. As I’ve said, while we have made great strides in protecting children in this country and the world as a whole, children still get hurt by adults and by other children. While our conversation on Bullying could likely use a re-examination (check out the book Bully Nation by Susan Evaporter), we certainly do need to help children engage online safely and more effectively. The answer to helping children that are acting out online is not to condemn the tool or ban its access (prohibition never works to begin with), but engage children and adolescents with empathy. Technology is not the cause of adolescent misbehavior, but rather an amplifier. The adolescent that is arranging to meet strangers online for trysts is clearly troubled and in need of adult intervention and help. A student discussing their depression or contemplating self-harm needs medical and social support. In fact, there are numerous examples of peers intervening to help one another when they see something online.

Benefits of Teens Engaging Online

Rather than lamenting the fact that teenagers are being corrupted by devices, I think it’s important to highlight what they can do more effectively because they are engaged. For one, children and adolescents are writing now more than ever. And no, they are not handing in essays in emoji and textese, they know the difference of context. Just as none of us were Shakespeare at 15 (not even Shakespeare), their writing still needs to grow. However, between social media, online forums, and other digital spaces, they write more than the average adolescent of our generation.

They are also creating meaningful connections online. For example, students in a Chinese class can engage another class in China. Learning to text in another language is a great form of cultural immersion as well as a means to grow language skills in context! Students are building (and even selling) apps, creating online YouTube sensations, and are even more up to date on current events than their parents (they’re also less likely to fall for Fake News than their more mature counterparts, aka US).

The reality is, technology and the internet is not ruining this generation. The kids… the kids are alright.

School rule-breakers to hand over Facebook and Twitter passwords

These policies are becoming more prevalent. They draw legitimate concerns about student privacy rights and are reminiscent of “locker searches” but on a much broader scale. Are these practices legal? Are they ethical? Do the ends justify the means?

3 Quick Tips for Building Digital Citizenship

This is reblogged from my post at Edudemic.

Digital Citizenship is one of the hot educational buzz terms this year. But what is Digital Citizenship really? In short, it covers topics such as how to conduct yourself online civilly, refrain from inappropriate behavior (like cyberbullying), engage in meaningful discourse, and build a positivedigital footprint for yourself and your institution. Just like we teach students how to behave in the schoolyard, we must do the same in cyberspace.

Schools have a tendency to shy away from actively teaching digital citizenship due to time constraints in the curriculum, concerns about student-teacher interaction online, as well as anxiety over students having ready access to social media (like Facebook and Twitter). However, there are some ways that you can build Digital Citizenship into daily interactions as well as components of dynamic lesson plans in a safe and constructive way!

Always Model Appropriate Behavior

studentsStudents always watch adults – whether we know it or not. They watch how we treat one another and engage with the world. Teenagers are often inundated with conflicting messages: their parents will check their own phone at the dinner table yet scold them for the same behavior, a teacher will be on their iPad during an assembly, and yet students are reprimanded for being on their devices in class, and adults chastise them for being rude online yet will launch into angry diatribes on a political forum. Edutopia highlighted this issue in their article, The Digital Lives of Teens: Turning ‘Do as I say’ into ‘Do as I do’.

So it is our job as educators to model appropriate online behavior for them. For example, if you have a Twitter account or a blog (even if it’s not for professional topics), you can use it to be constructive and engaging online. Don’t just tell students to be civil or constructive online, show them how to do just that. Your actions can help to demonstrate why refraining from harmful comments makes it a better experience. Let your online behavior reveal to them how powerful online communities can be for positive, communal engagement.

Openly Discuss Online Etiquette

mathsocialIt can be easy to shy away from the topic if it is brought up. However, remember that students engage online every day, often without effective adult supervision. In her article From Smoke Signals to TweetsShawn McCusker points out that throughout history, those who have been able to successfully navigate new means of communication have become the innovative leaders of their time. Social Media, believe it or not, is the telegraph of today. You can try to discuss with them the importance of safety, civility, and digital footprints. This is a great topic for home rooms or advisory periods. If you have students that flock to your room during break, I’m sure that online behavior comes up in discussion.

It is easy to find examples from students’ real lives to foster these conversations. For example, I had a group of young ladies that would often eat lunch in my classroom. One day, they began discussing the fact that they would keep track of their ex’s on Facebook, and that watching them with a new girlfriend was often very hurtful and painful, but they could not stop looking. I suggested that they un-friend their ex’s so that they would be unable to view their pages. After initially balking at the idea, one girl decided to do just that. A few weeks later she told me that her experience on Facebook had become so much more positive now that she was no longer inundated with updates about her ex and his new girlfriend. Having positive, yet frank, conversations about how students engage online can be key to tapping into their experience.

Another way to promote these conversations is to openly talk about celebrities and other high profile figures that have gotten themselves into trouble using social media. In her article, “What do ClimateGate, Tiger Woods, and Michael Phelps have in Common?” Beth Holland highlights the role that social media played in the very public scandals of these prominent and respected celebrities. The news media is rife with examples: Anthony Weiner, Amanda Bynes, and Charlie Sheen are constantly in the news for their missteps online. These are great ways to get students talking about how social media blunders can lead to some serious consequences.

Still, it’s easy to get caught up in the negative and these conversations become scare tactics. At the same time, there are a number of positive examples out there that you can discuss. For example, teenager Jeremiah Anthony started a twitter feed West High Bro’s. Currently at over 5,000 followers, the teen and his friends regularly post compliments and praise their fellow students, teachers, and members of their community. I know that I love to ask students about their positive social media experiences and encourage them to keep up these types of activities!

Incorporate Social Media into Your Lessons

Hand showing social networking concept made with white chalk on a blackboardAnother great way to bring digital citizenship into your classroom is to incorporate social media into your lesson plans. This can provide a great avenue to model behavior, discuss online actions, and provide a safe environment for students to learn and explore. There are many ways to bring digital tools into traditional curricula and established frameworks.
For example, you can establish a blog for students to post work, comment on topics, and engage in online discussions. Edublogs and KidBlog allow you to set the parameters for your classroom – blogs can be open to the public, open to your school network, or just available for your class. You control the privacy settings and thus the environment. This is a perfect opportunity for you to model online engagement as well as provide them a safe environment in which to play. It is also a great way to start those discussions about online behavior early!

And don’t fret if you’re uncomfortable with social media yourself. There are a lot of ways that teachers have engaged students in tweeting and comments without the use of any technology. My good friend and former colleague, Karen Arrington, does a great lesson with her students using only pen and paper. You can read about this project in her article, “Paper Blogging with Students.” This is a great way to prep students for online engagement without having to set up a blog or online community!

Hopefully, as the school year progresses and the more you establish an open dialogue about Digital Citizenship, model behavior, and enable open discussion, the more students will understand the expectations we have of them. At the same time, they will learn the power that comes with with positive Digital Citizenship – engagement, learning, and a good Digital Footprint that follows them through their academic and professional careers!

To learn more about Digital Citizenship, EdTechTeacher will be offering a FREE webinar on October 15th at 7:00pm EST. Registration is open.