Maintaining a balanced perspective on cyber bullying and internet safety.
Article supplied by Karen Lederer from Dominican University’s Masters degree in education.
Is the threat of cyber bullying as bad as the media makes it out to be? How much are children truly at risk when they check their email or send a text to a friend about after school plans? When it comes to education, many school systems place extreme restrictions on the internet in order to protect children from potentially dangerous interactions. Not only do these blocks keep out the undesirable sites, they also prevent access to sites that promote learning and creativity.
News outlets would have us believe that the problem of cyber safety – bullying, stalking, predatory behavior and more – is so prevalent that if we don’t see it happening in our homes something must be wrong. But is this picture an accurate one? Recent studies and polls indicate that while cyber safety certainly is a valid concern, we may not need to worry as much as we are told we should. The stories in the news are the exception, and at times quite sensational. While we should not diminish the impact of these tragedies, the reality is that they are not everyday occurrences.
There are definitely misconceptions about internet safety and cyber bullying, one of them being that it is more common than it is. The truth is that most kids are not bullies, most adults are not prone to predatory behavior, and most computer users are responsible and respectful when it comes to online interactions. Unfortunately, as is often the case, it’s the rotten eggs that get the attention, causing many people to believe that there is more bad than good in this world.
The issue with this overblown culture of fear is that the attention these issues are getting may actually lead to more of the behavior we don’t want to see happening. If young people believe that cyber bullying is as rampant and common as it’s portrayed to be, they may feel that it’s something okay to do.
This is where the idea of “positive norming” can be helpful. Positive norming, simply put, is alternative to all the fear-based messages we receive about cyber bullying, internet safety, and so much more. The actual facts are presented about what the majority of people do, and the majority does NOT participate in bullying or risky behavior. By placing an emphasis on the behavior that is not the norm, people believe that it is much more common than it really is.
In order to succeed in school, college and work, children need to learn computer and internet skills from an early age. The best approach with youth is to adopt positive images, messages and role models. It’s just as easy and effective to create a culture of responsibility and respect than it is to instill fear. By sending the message that being respectful is normal, and the most kids do not bully, then a positive online environment should naturally occur.
As Anne Frank wrote, “Despite everything, I believe people are really good at heart.” If parents and educators are willing to adopt this approach with their children and students, perhaps the media outlets bent on scaring us into believing that evil is always just around the corner might just get the message, too.
Karen Lederer is a writer and educator “interested in finding and sharing information relating to the education world.”
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