Cyberbullying: The view from behind a kids’ Web site

I read this amazing article by Anne Collier of NetFamilyNews.org and ConnectSafely.org and asked her if I could repost–I love this perspective.

As a parent or educator, have you ever wondered what bullying and harassment look like from the other side of your kids’ favorite online spaces – to the people who run them, moderate the action, and get those “abuse reports” users click on for all kinds of reasons? Moderators and community managers have an indispensable perspective to bring to the public discussion about cyberbullying, so I’m posting here key insights I’ve gained from leading experts in the moderation field.

Not all the negative behavior we see in kids’ online games and virtual worlds is cyberbullying. In fact, very little of it is. Moderators tell me about 90% of the abuse reports they get from kid users are “false positives” – testing the system, attention-seeking, acts of boredom, etc.

‘Abuse reports’ of all sorts

But it’s a mix of behaviors, whether or not they violate a site’s Terms of Service. Community management expert Izzy Neis wrote in an email that “the majority of reports we receive fall in these categories” (I’m both quoting her and folding in some things I’ve learned generally):

  • “Testing the ‘Report’ button” just to see if or how it works
  • Using the button to pick on “clueless kids” by reporting those who haven’t done anything wrong (typically these kids are only playing the victim, acting out of either boredom or social aggression)
  • Using the abuse report button to create drama (sometimes trying to distract the moderators, others maybe to do a bit of power-tripping or see how worked up peers or moderators might get)
  • Reporting peers with “different sensibilities” or values or just differences (“Hey she said omg – and g stands for god, and we’re not allowed to say that word! He’s using it wrong.” or “Crap is a bad word” or “I don’t like his avatar, it’s ugly.”)
  • Reporting trolls or spammers (“He won’t stop following me” or “She keeps saying moo and wont stop” or “She’s in my virtual house and won’t leave.”)

Izzy adds that “users reporting real issues, such as danger, abuse, or other users talking about suicide or truly harassing others come in very small spurts, and Moderators have to weed [through] all the false-positives to get to these.” But all the weeding is worth it because small problems can escalate in-world, escalating costs to both users and companies – and sometimes there are real-life dangers, at home or school, behind kids’ cries for attention.

The soil of in-world bullying

Here’s the ground from which the “bullying” (either claims of it or actual bullying) arises, and not just among young people:

  1. Misunderstanding“: where a user group still growing up and in the midst of social development is concerned. Kids act out when they don’t yet know how to articulate their feelings. Misunderstanding causes reactions out of context, and that in turn can create a hypersensitivity that causes reactions out of proportion. Avatars can be clunky – they can’t convey subtleties, like when an otherwise mean comment is meant as humor, the way humans’ facial expressions and body language can. So misunderstanding happens.
  2. Action and reaction“: In an online game, “you’re missing the physicality of sports, fights, and arguments,” Izzy wrote. “When one user ’causes’ something, the only ‘reaction’ they have is an animated reaction. I’d be very interested in the research between the brain acknowledging an action on the screen [without the option or cue of a] physical response [like a frown, gesture or sad expression], therefore having to add force in the text/words they choose to accompany the animated reaction. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a very interesting correlation there.”
  3. Energy spikes: Bored kids (i.e., the majority of those spending large amounts of time online in virtual worlds, etc.) want a spike in adrenaline [to lose] their boredom,” Izzy wrote. “In fact, I’d go as far as saying that – within the realm of online games and worlds – the majority of ‘jerks’ or ‘bullies’ are just really bored people (not just kids) that might have had a bad day or a boring day, and they’re looking for some sort of dramatic fix – something to get their socially developing brains challenged and fired up. And if they don’t get the fix they’re looking for, they keep pushing and pushing until something happens.
  4. Attention: A lot of the more ‘dangerous’ users who talk about abuse and suicide are often looking for attention, calling for help. But there are also a certain number of users who use these words ’suicide,’ ‘kill myself,’ ‘kill me,’ and other scary terms to get attention.” Izzy finds that “a lot of times hiding behind an online fantastical identity makes a person think such words don’t have the same ‘911′ effect that people outside of the community might associate with them if looking in from the outside. I remember a very popular kid broadcaster site that had a forum with tons of kids who competed in posts for who had the worst/most/extreme form of cancer. None of them had cancer – but it was a competition for attention within the small community” (which shows how important it is for moderators, parents – everybody – not to take what they see in online communities too literally, or at least not to react too reflexively).

Of course moderators “still have to research the conversations and report the users’ claims to the parents or authorities” if they have identifying information and privacy law allows them to do so. The context of community incidents often gets trumped by the context of societal concerns, Izzy wrote (e.g., “saying ’suicide’ in a community can be like saying ‘bomb’ in an airport – it’s just as questionable and just as concerning!”).

Mirroring offline life

But let’s look at context a little more closely. What moderators see in games and virtual worlds is often “replicated behaviors experienced on the playground, during play dates, in school lunchrooms, etc.,” Izzy wrote. They are not unique to the online spaces. The values children absorb at home and school – but especially home – are replicated online too, for good or bad.

“For as much as we hear about cyberbullying and negative interactivity online, we see amazing [positive] interactivity as well,” Izzy pointed out, “kids sticking up for each other, bonding, kids learning how to socially navigate situations, and kids exploring social development in a fantastical environment (where they don’t have to hold their true identity responsible). Kids aren’t allowed to spend time roaming the neighborhood as they could decades ago, so now they often do their play-time role play online. Fights may happen – and the education needs to come from the conversation between the parent and child about Netiquette and self-protection and being able to forgive, understand, empathize, learn, move on, improve.” That work we do with our children simply can’t exclude their online activities and behavior, and these digital spaces provide great opportunities for them to practice respect and civility.

The industry’s piece

As for what social media companies can do: consumer education and product development based on research about child development, online risk, and social media use. But companies need to educate staff and develop tools, policies, and environmental conditions based on the research too – to provide products and services that help inform, educate, protect, and teach protection of self and peers. ”Context and understanding are two elements I try to instill in my moderation staff,” Izzy wrote. “Moderation’s goal is to stick to the [online game’s or world’s] Terms of Service/Code of Conduct, and provide a healthy experience overall, while doing our best to address minor issues and respect context and conduct.”

All these insights point to a new media reality: that safety is a shared proposition. It’s maintained collaboratively among users communicating and socializing in real time, companies creating the atmosphere, values, story line, and safety tools of online environments, and the influencers behind users in offline life: parents, educators, friends, co-workers, and anybody else who helps shape who users are offline as well as online.

This article is by: Anne Collier of NetFamilyNews.org and ConnectSafely.org and asked her if I could repost–I love this perspective.

Media Glamorizing Abusive Relationships?

Dana is a 15 year old from Hi-nella, NJ. She loves to write and enjoys reading, singing, and shopping. Her goal is to help others through her writing, and bring attention to important topics.

Media Glamorizing Abusive Relationship
When your kids were little, and a scary movie was playing, you never took them to see it because it would give them nightmares. You never let them ride their bike without a helmet and kneepads on. You never gave them sugary foods after a certain time because you knew they would be up all night and be tired in the morning. You’ve always taken care of your kids and did what was best for them by not allowing certain things. When their young it’s easy just to restrict something that’s potentially harmful in any way, shape or form. That’s the reason I believe it to be a major struggle for parents when their kids are teenagers; I mean, they are young adults now. You can’t stop them from seeing a scary movie, eating junk, riding a bike without kneepads, etc. The bottom line is, you can’t keep your kids little forever, or, for that matter, stop a little corruption from the world outside your door. Especially when it comes to the music we teenagers listen to.

Like every teenager, my life tends to revolve around my family, friends, and music, of course. Every time I have some extra cash you can bet I’m on iTunes. My iPod is constantly playing in my ears and I’m always downloading new songs and music videos. It never really hit me, though, how a lot of the songs I listen to influence me, or my thinking, rather. I may have underestimated their ability to cloud my judgment at times. Although I am a music advocate myself, I know that the messages some songs send out aren’t always right. I also know that I’m lucky enough to realize that; not all teenagers do.

You’re probably wondering what the attraction of abusive relationships is to some teenagers. The way the songs and movies portray them is that the love the two people share is so passionate it hurts– I’m not kidding, really hurts. If you ever really listen to lyrics there’s one line in a song that I could see drawing teens in to that kind of relationship; It’s so insane, cause when it’s going good, it’s going great. I’m Superman with the wind at his back, she’s Lois Lane. But when it’s bad it’s awful.” The best way I can explain it, is it may make some kids have a false perception that in an abusive relationship, you’re getting the very best side of the person your with most of the time, but paying the price by having the very worst side of them only sometimes.

There is a song called “I love the way you lie”. The song talks about the emotion and all the feelings that usually ping pong back and forth in abusive relationships. Honestly, I’d be lying to you if I told you that I didn’t love this song and listen to it on repeat. Although I adore the song, some of the lyrics can make you wince at their brutality. Although I get wrapped up in the rhythm myself, I’m still clear on what the song is saying to people in my age group. I don’t think you can fully understand how though without further explanation, so, here it goes.

When teens put in their headphones and blast a song, it’s like they are making their sweet escape from whatever is going on in their life. They sit calm and are slowly drifted into the world of music and empowerment, a world where they have control. I love the song “I love the way you lie”, but each lyric comes bolting at you carrying such momentum and persuasion, convincing you that the reason there hurting each other so bad in the song, is because they love each other so much; and in that moment, and only for a split second, some are jealous.  Some want to understand such an intense, passionate, crazy, unstable love. Then the earphones are taken out, and people are snapped back to reality, and absolutely mortified at the thought of desiring such a form of “love”. Basically what I’m saying is sometimes songs like these unintentionally glamorize abusive relationships.

Let me make this clear: I am definitely not recommending charging into your child’s room and raiding their iTunes library. I just want teenagers to be aware that despite the media’s fabulous job of promoting them, abusive relationships are not cool! They are not fun, wild, or worth your time or life on any level. Abusive relationships are dangerous. Letting your significant other smack you around can quickly lead to your body being discovered on channel 10. Sorry for that gruesome image, but it’s just reality. Listen teens, don’t be weak and melt like butter on toast when the person who laid hands on you comes apologizing. When someone enjoys paining you, or does it at all, it’s time to walk away. Once you’ve put your hands on each other, it’s not love anymore. You may be staying with the person your with because they’re more of a safety net for you, which is ironic because nothing about them is safe. If you have teenager in an abusive relationship, or are a teenager in an abusive relationship, I hope this article helps and please get out while you can. You can also visit a helpful website I found specializing on this topic,  go to loveisrespect.org for some helpful info and support.

 

Teens and Animal Rights

Alekxa is a 16-year-old from Los Angeles, CA. She enjoys running, eating, volunteering, and being with her friends.

Far too many teens are oblivious to all the animal cruelty in the world. In our very own societies, people do not realize the injustices that occur right in front of us. Animal rights needs to be discussed more within the school systems and in the media as this problem progresses. Everyone must be informed if there is any hope of this getting better. We must all work together in order to fight against this appalling problem and teens can be the perfect advocates, as this generation can pave the way for the future.

There are a myriad of different cruelties each and everyday which most people are completely unaware of or indifferent to as they do not feel personally affected by this. Animal hoarding, chaining and tethering, equine, and farmanimal cruelty to name a few. These animals inhumane living conditions often result in short, painful lives.

Other forms of abuse which are called to the public more often include: blood sports, (such as dog and cockfighting), animals in entertainment (such as circus, greyhound racing, and rodeo cruelty), and exotic pet trade. Keeping wild animals as pets can be particularly risky as this poses a threat to public health and safety, disrupting ecosystems and driving species to endangerment and extinction. You will single handedly be contributing to the suffering of millions of animals, as well as the poor housing and nutrition the animals more times than not receive.

There is good news though! In the world, there are just as many decent people who care and are willing to aid the fight against animal abuse and neglect. Although it is great how adults and senior citizens alike take the time to act caring and appreciative of animalsteens need to step it up and become more proactive. There are a multitude of things to do to help, so we all need to find the pursuit that interests us and makes us feel the most fulfilled.

Teenagers must first educate themselves and become aware of all the inhumane practices. Animal welfare is key, as most people tend to forget-we share the Earth with other living things. Donating to organizations like, “ASPCA” and “PETA” are great ways to support the cause. PETA is an organization, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, which can be intense and outrageous trying to get their point heard, so doing your own research becomes essential to how comfortable you feel participating.

In your own communities, volunteering is essential to truly make a difference and have self-worth. Working at a humane shelter, and pet stores are amazing ways to experience working with animals first hand and really realizing how big an impact we can all make daily. Also, not buying products tested on animals and not supporting games and/or races that exploit animals in an intense or stressful environment. Above all, spreading the word is key to stop the abuse and stand up for animal rights. Telling family, friends, and your whole community will end up making the greatest difference in the long run, as we need everyone working together in order to end animal abuse once and for all.

One Teen’s Learning Curve: Finding the Silver Lining [Teen Article]

Renae is a 16-year-old from Lowell, MI. She is a creative individual who spends a lot of her time reading and learning Japanese because she would like to become a Journalist in Japan. Finding the Silver Lining

As a kid, I had the world in my hands. I had loving parents and two older sisters who I was very close with. Every night as a little girl my mother would come into my room and sing to me until I fell asleep. One night I stayed awake waiting for her. Waiting and waiting…and waiting. My mom never came home that night. My mom never came home that week.

I am a 16 year old teenager who loves life and everything it brings. If you had a conversation with me now, you’d never know that I was raised by parents who were claimed by drug addictions and a motorcycle club. By the smile I’m constantly wearing, you could never tell that I had been through abuse and neglect. By the way I talk about how much I love living, you’d never know that my mother never came home that night because getting her fix was more important than taking care of her kids.

I realized I was in a rut when I failed the 9th grade. Nobody in the the house could get along and it really affected my grades. I wasn’t motivated because I felt like I had nothing to look forward to and there wasn’t a lot I could do about it. Living in the house with my parents felt like being in a war.

My parents kept fighting and fighting until the house I lived in for almost 15 years was abandoned and the whole family separated. Nothing could get done without constant fighting and the consistent stream of threats and words to hurt each other. I was being pulled back and forth from parent to parent, wishing they wouldn’t try to make me choose between them anymore. The only person who could save me from this broken family did.

Soon after my parents split up my oldest sister, Rachel, asked me to live with her. Away from my mom and dad, away from my other sister, and away from the town I grew up in. I had no car and my only means of communication were the internet and my cell phone, but the time I had spent there really began to change me. I wasn’t at the bloodthirsty threshold of Armageddon any longer and I could be neutral when it came to my parents. Living with my sister gave me a new best friend, a new father, and a new life.

Rachel had just started a new job when I first moved into her house and was working 70 hours a week which gave me and her husband, Mike, a lot of bonding time. He became the older brother I had always wanted and the best friend I needed to help me adapt to my new school. Mike was always there for me and soon became not just a best friend but also my breathing diary.

Getting out of the house and away from my dad gave me a different perspective of him. After his family separated he realized that if he didn’t patch up our relationship, it’d be gone forever. My father started putting me ahead of everything else in his life and really stepped up to the plate. He went from being addicted to drugs and neglecting his family to being super dad. I was amazed by the change that brought my father and I close together after being so far apart. I wished every time I saw him, that things would remain that way.

The second biggest change in my life occurred while I was attending Unity Alternative High School. My grades immediately improved, I felt happier, and I loved all the people who I went to school with. My attitude on life and school made a complete 180 degree turn. I started seeing past all of the stress I had felt before and was finally able to relax and enjoy life. School became tolerable and I became someone who liked going to school and liked being around people. I began getting A’s and B’s instead of D’s. My attendance tremendously improved and I evolved into a bubbly girl who was constantly happy and constantly smiling.

The people I met at Unity have left foot prints on my heart that will never fade away. The students, as well as the teachers, really touched me. My school was more like a family. We all worked together like one single unit and we all helped to motivate one another. The people at Unity became some of the most important people in my life.

The teachers really helped me get on track. I felt like I could do all the things I had wanted to do before but had always been told no. I thought I wasn’t going to graduate at first, but at Unity they really helped me and I felt like I wanted to work hard to impress the teachers who meant so much to me. Being in the learning environment that Unity provided, I could get caught up in time for graduation. That seemed to make life more bearable.

After my first year at Unity ended, I moved in with my grandmother and my mom. Three generations in one house caused a bit of a problem at first, but we’ve learned a lot from each other and we’ve all become more open minded and accepting.

While living with my grandmother, my mom and I had a chance to become more acquainted. At first, we just stayed away from each other because we would always fight and then we couldn’t avoid each other, living in the same house, so were forced to talk. We talked everything out and forgave each other. Sometimes, something as simple as time can patch up a broken relationship. My mom and I started spending more time together and things seemed to get even better when my second year at Unity came around.

Everything just fell into place. My outlook on life and school was still amazingly positive and my negative outlook hasn’t been seen for miles. My grades were sky high and my optimistic energy spread to everyone in school. I was spending most of my time during the day with the people I loved and school work was really easy with the carefree attitude I developed. I started seeing life in a different way.

Without the rough times that came with the divorce I would have never gotten closer to my mom and dad. I wouldn’t have a brother for a new best friend. I wouldn’t be where I am now. I would most likely still be failing school and I wouldn’t have earned as many friends without my newfound uplifting, friendly personality.

I view life like everything happens for a reason, but a lot of people just say I have the mind of an optimist. I believe in both. Once I had a positive outlook on life, things just went better for me. I could accomplish more when my head wasn’t clouded with the stress and I wasn’t worrying so much. Divorce, the thing that gave me such a hard time and made my life crazy and uncertain, gave me a brand new outlook. Divorce ended up being the best thing for my family. There’s a silver lining in every sky, you just have to be able to spot it and point it out.

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What Do Teens Today Really Worry About? The Top 5 Issues Revealed

Lincoln Memorial/Washington Monument, Aug 2009 - 04
Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon

This article has been deemed Radical by our teen team.  Check out the rest of our Radical Articles if you like this one!

(This is the accompanying post to the previous one about how to talk to teens.)

Teens love to talk: they love to talk online, on aim, on the phone, at school, after-school, at the mall, in the car, behind their friends back–what on earth are they talking about?…and why does sudden lock-jaw occur when parents are within a five foot radius?

I decided to see what the most popular calls were at a hotline called Teenline (where teens call in to get help from other teenagers) So what are the most popular issues? What do teens today really worry about? And why aren’t these issues brought up more with parents, counselors and teachers who can actually give advice and seek help?

1. Relationships
Teens frequently want to talk to other teens about relationships with parents, siblings, friends and teachers. This is a broad topic I know, but interactions, building relationships and friendships are extremely important to teenagers.

2. Abuse
This includes sexual, physical, verbal and neglect as types of abuse. Many teens call in for ‘friends’ or people they know who are being abused to talk about what abuse actually means. Frequently, teens want to know where is the line between parents who are yelling and verbal abuse? What are the laws on spanking children?

3. Sex
Despite the attempts of many school health classes, teens have lots of questions about pregnancy, condoms, abstinence and oral sex.

4. Drugs and Alcohol
Issues with addiction and parties come up for teens when they know of friends who might be dealing or using drugs.

5. Suicide
Unfortunately, a great number of teens think, worry about or know someone who is considering suicide. Many times teens feel isolated and alone and need someone to talk to, but do not know where to turn when they might get in trouble or have to divulge secrets they are not ready to tell.

Surprisingly, Teenline gets an equal number of male and female callers. All kinds of teens today are dealing with these issues, not just girls, not just poor kids, not just rich kids, not just kids in private school…everyone is dealing with these important, and sometimes very serious issues.

For parents, maybe you are wondering—why your teen does not talk to you about these issues. Teens feel uncomfortable talking to adults because they feel they will not understand what is going on for them today, they are afraid they will get in trouble and worry that they will be judged.

Therefore, it is important for adults to be aware that even though teens might not act like drugs or sex is a big deal to them, they do actually worry about these issues.

Be sure to check out the accompanying post to this one “Three Ways Parents Can Get Teens to Talk”, to get your teens to feel comfortable talking to you about these issues.

If you like this article, read our other Radical Parenting Articles.  If you are really inspired, think about taking the Radical Parenting Pledge..are you radical enough?

Supporters

Substance abuse can be dealt with through drug addiction treatment provided in rehab centers; though often at a large expense to parents.

A teen drug rehab center specializes in helping adolescents overcome their drug addiction.

If you liked this article you might also like…

Radical Family Workbook

Human Lie Detection and Body Language 101

Why Teens Stress

Tags: Communication, Health, Relationships, School, and Teens