Cyber Sincerity: Teens Turn the Tables on Online Bullying

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 @ 12:38 PM

When we think of teens and tweeting or teens and texting, we might tend towards an image that’s far from friendly. The discourse surrounding teens’ digital doings includes a significant strand related to the ways that teens often turn communication tools into ways to tease (to use a euphemism). Over the last few years, bullying has been elevated to the level of national youth crisis. Adults and teens alike acknowledge that social media of all sorts can amplify subtle snipes and can put personal conflicts on the public stage.

But three boys in Iowa City were recently caught in the act of using Twitter in a way that turns the tables on these simple notions of teen torment. 9d006ee4c6e8728d33b589f334f9f94bRecognizing that a tweet can carry great weight, they created a Twitter account from which they send messages meant to lift their classmates up, not tear them down. A tweet from the westsidebros might compliment one’s disposition, a recent achievement, or simply a new element of their style. The criteria that these crusaders hold themselves too is a simple one: the compliment must be sincere. And while three boys began this initiative, many more have paid it forward. Good works, or rather, words, have gone viral at this school, and this feel-good story has gotten noticed by media outlets across the country.

And what does this say about teens in general?

First, the fact that a good deed done digitally has received so much attention suggests that we might, as adults, be underestimating the altruistic tendencies of teens. Of course, we know that bullying or exclusionary behavior happens, and when it does, it hurts. But many more teens use technology to build rather than destroy. This story shows that kindness can be as viral as meanness, even among teens.

Second, teens transform their tools to fit their needs – not always the other way around. Teens are not mere victims of technology, but they are also active agents, influencing the way that technology affects their lives, and ultimately, ours.

Finally, teens aren’t only concerned with themselves, but feel connected to their communities, their classmates and the culture in which they live. Since the year began, we’ve come across a number of articles on teens and technology (good ones, in fact) that have, alas, reiterated the notion that teens are a narcissistic bunch. Of course, identity development (which can seem like a solo endeavor) is important during this life-stage. And friends can fuel this process by reflecting who they are, and allowing them to experiment with new self-concepts via “sampling” the many possible groups to which they might belong. But friends are far from simple props. Teens are on their way to creating relationships that might not always stand the test of time, but that are real and meaningful, regardless of whether technology takes a part in them.

For brands and organizations, it’s as critical to catch teens on good behavior as it is to bemoan the ways that some can abuse the tools they have.

Tags: internet, cyberbullying, bullying, digital drugs, culture

Parents to their Kids: Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Jan 14, 2011 @ 11:17 AM

It’s no surprise to anyone – youth aficionado or not – that social networking has captured the attention and imagination of young people. In the first half of 2010, in fact, 16% of kids, 43% of tweens and 71% of teens reported visiting at least one. And in addition to causing us all to grapple with fundamental questions about our private and public selves, social networking poses force parents to ask themselves a critical question related to online parenting etiquette: do you friend your child or not?Facebook

Today’s parents are no strangers to social networking themselves – 71% of parents with children 6-18 years of age report having a profile on a social networking site. But when it comes to parenting in the digital domain, this generation of parents is pioneering. And every day, new dilemmas surface.  As parents and their children’s play spaces begin to converge online, so have questions about what to do when they virtually bump into each other.

What we know about parents ”friending” children tells us a slightly unexpected story. 45% of parents who have profiles on social networking sites have friended their children. And we might even predict that younger kids are more likely to be friends with their parents than not. Many of the youngest users of these sites (which restrict usage to those over 13), have profiles established by parents, who often set up the accounts to enable their kids to keep in better touch with distant family members, or parents who don’t live with them or who sometimes travel without them. It might be safe to assume that teens would take offense to parental invasion into their “personal” (despite being very public) spaces. But in reality, 12% of parents of kids, 47% of parents of tweens and a full 75% of parents of teens report “friending” their children.

What’s behind these numbers? Perhaps teens fear not “friending” their parents because they’re savvy to the privacy settings on Facebook. (Mom and dad might think they’re seeing all their child’s activities, but are getting a highly edited version). Have today’s tweens and teens begun to realize that they shouldn’t say anything online that they wouldn’t want their parents to see? Probably not. It could be that teens actually don’t mind when their parents know what’s going on with them. Today’s youth seem to crave connection with their families more than ever. When time with them is limited because of busy work and activity schedules, meeting up online might be more of a treat than a trial. Or maybe teens don’t mind just a tad bit of supervision – or even the insinuation of supervision – in a space where bullying and aggression can spread like wildfire, and where even the most confident teen might be willing to admit that a little guidance couldn’t hurt.

What do you think? Should parents friend their children or leave them to their own devices when they’re in these online lounges?

Tags: kids, parents, cyberbullying, mom, family, Youth, Facebook

One Kid We're Really Thankful for This Year...

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Nov 23, 2010 @ 03:51 PM

In this season of giving thanks, we at YouthBeat admit that we're thankful for all kids, tweens and teens! But we couldn't help singling this one 14 year old boy out...Graeme Taylor, an openly gay 14 year old, seems to have the spirit of giving in mind when he puts himself on the line to defend a teacher who was recently suspended after kicking a student out of his classroom who had made homophobic remarks. In this profound and moving speech, Taylor lays out the issue of gay bullying better than anyone we've heard to date. So give this a look, get inspired, and give a little thanks that there are kids, tweens and teens like this out there! 

Tags: boys, cyberbullying, bullying, Youth, culture

Cyberbullying: Too Much Emphasis on the Cyber?

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Jun 28, 2010 @ 11:56 AM

In this morning’s New York Times, Jan Hoffman pens a thoughtful piece on Cyberbullying- an issue we’ve been hearing about on a daily basis since it first began hitting our collective radars right around 2003. With legislation pending in numerous states (see a paper by Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet on the legal ins and outs of this issue), we’ve seen an uptick of outrage and an increase in the interest of this topic.

In the article, Hoffman reveals the quandary schools find themselves in when faced with allegations of cyberbullying – particularly when it occurs off campus, and outside of school hours. And we know that these issues are complex to say the least. Tweens are still learning how to navigate the amoeba-like groups that seem to form, swarm and break up as quickly as a tweet...Throw in the ability and the opportunity to broadcast your every thought – positive or negative – to your whole group and beyond; it’s not surprising that tweens stumble as often as they succeed. Cyberbullying

But we were most struck by one pervasive attitude about cyberbullying that seems to seep through in the article, but isn’t addressed explicitly. The article appears on the NYTimes website under the sub-head, “Poisoned Web” (leading one to believe that this might be a section, alongside “Arts” and “Real Estate”). In her article, she exposes an email (that had already received attention from across the country) from a NJ middle school principle that read, “There is absolutely NO reason for any middle school student to be part of a social networking site.” And haven’t we all heard “those kids today and their Internet” from even the most progressive of our friends and relatives? In fact, I caught myself talking about teen relationships inappropriately publicized on Facebook just this past weekend…

It’s not that we deny the influence that social networking, texting and even AIM have on the way middle schoolers act. But instead of looking to technology as the cause of tween torment, and getting rid of it or forbidding it as the solution, maybe we need to say “thanks” to Facebook and Twitter for getting an evergreen issue on our radars once again. Middle school is hard. Ask any tween. Or rather, watch them and listen to the way they talk about their lives have changed. We place high expectations on them and sometimes forget to give them the scaffolding they need when it comes to social skills. The speed with which damage occurs is the change – but tweens excluding others, gossiping, name-calling, lying and manipulating? Not new. These things are likely to stand the test of time – and will remain as hurdles to growing up with a sense of self-efficacy intact – as long as we have tweens and middle schools.

But how do we protect our tweens from the emotional and sometimes, physical effects of bullying? We may not have the answer, but we do know that any solution must take into account the way that tweens really interact and truly talk. This means seeking to understand why they crave Facebook, Twitter, and inevitably, the next version of each of those communities, versus dismissing them as the bullies themselves.

(photo from

Tags: kids, parents, cyberbullying, MySpace, Youth, tweens, school, Facebook