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 NYTimes.com)

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

How to Speak Facebook: Snark

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, May 25, 2010 @ 04:34 PM
According to YouthBeat data, Facebook is on the rise. In the second half of 2009, the number of kids, tweens and teens on Facebook surpassed that of predecessor, MySpace, for the first time - and we think these numbers will increase until a formidable competitor replaces it.

Much has been made about the way that the latest generation of youth communicate. Just between us BFFs, the way they talk makes me LOL. But as anthropologists and linguists have long understood, the language we use is layered with meaning. And so it is for today's youth's brand of banter...

On the surface, it seems that the shortened speech employed by today's youth shows just how impromptu their elocutions are. It's clear that efficiency competes with eloquence for tweens' and teens' attention. And it also shows that informality rules when it comes to the etiquette of conversation. But if you read between the lines, we think it speaks to a need for insider status that is more important than ever to today's tweens and teens.

In a world where everyone is friends, and all spaces are public, privacy and membership can feel elusive. While Facebook may allow youth to express ideas with unprecedented ease and comfort, it also steals a timeless tool of tween and teen relationship building: the secret.

Enter snark. 

Snark is, by definition, "rudely sarcastic or disrespectful." There's no doubt that sarcasm, wit, and one-upmanship prevail on the homepages of most tweens Thought Bubbleand teens we know. But snark only works when you're talking to a group who gets the joke. Snark isn't often expressed to its target, but to those who agree. And for teens, snark is often a way of sharing with, not shunning, others. Snark is a way to cement connections, as in using the "children" tool to list the names of your unrelated best friends. Or creating groups that require little commitment to join (like "People who don't care if you need a cow to complete your Farmville collection," or "Women who know that a good man is hard to find"). Or simply infusing your status updates with irony...

What does this tell us about tweens and teens besides their Facebook behavior? It tells us that it's more about them than about us. Teen talk isn't trying to taunt us - it's trying to show others they're worthy of those ever-elusive secrets. And while language can certainly exclude, most tweens and teens use language to show that they belong - and that others belong with them.

Tags: MySpace, Youth, Teens, tweens, Facebook, speaking