Maintaining a healthy balance between entertainment media and other activities in children’s lives has always been a challenge. The Internet has made this challenge even more difficult. This section explores how to recognize when excessive use has become problematic and how to address the issue.
This lesson focuses on put-down mentality in the media.
Educational games have had a troubled history. At their worst, they have been neither educational nor games; even at their best they have faced scepticism from educators, game designers and especially children. The standard response to being given an educational game – This is supposed to be fun? – might be compared to finding a Brussels sprout at the centre of a Tootsie Pop. Teachers, meanwhile, are rightly concerned that the educational content of these games might be outweighed by the entertainment value. Already loaded down with curriculum that has to be delivered, many educators feel they don’t have the time to spare on anything but direct instruction.
With all the recent attention focused on stories of teenagers charged with distributing child pornography for taking sexually suggestive pictures of themselves, jobs lost due to Facebook and MySpace entries, and libel suits over blog posts, people are justifiably concerned about the permanence of material posted to the Internet. Many a teacher or parent has had to carefully explain to children or teens that whatever they post online might be seen by people other than the intended audience, and might be out there for a very long time.
One of the most famous images of online life is the New Yorker cartoon captioned “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The cartoon, published in 1993, was hugely influential in fixing an image in the public imagination of the Internet as a place where anonymity reigned. It did not take long for that humorous view of anonymity to take on a darker cast, as parents began to fear that Internet predators would use this invisibility to lure their children in the guise of twelve-year-old girls. It’s instructive, though, to realize just how long ago this cartoon was published, and how much the Internet has changed since then.
Summer can feel very long sometimes. Heck, I’ve been there. I clearly remember the days when the kids seemed crazier than a pack of wild squirrels, leaving piles of household detritus in their wake while I followed them helplessly, longing for a hot cup of coffee and five minutes in the bathroom without someone knocking on the door.
Today is Safer Internet Day, an annual international event sponsored by Insafe to promote a safer Internet for children. Recent research on Internet life has shown that the greatest threat to kids online comes from kids themselves, both in the form of risky behaviour and online harassment, or cyber bullying. Cyber bullying can take forms such as harassing e-mails or text messages, social exclusion and spreading private photos and videos, among others, and presents a particular challenge for parents and teachers because it often happens outside the home or classroom. Because the Internet has become an essential part of kids’ social lives, cyber bullying can also have more devastating effects as youth feel they have no escape.
One of the biggest changes in our understanding of bullying has been an increased awareness of the important role witnesses play in any bullying situation. This has been partially because of cyberbullying, which makes it possible for witnesses to be invisible, to join in anonymously, to revictimize a target by forwarding bullying material – or to intervene, to offer support to the target and to bear witness to what they have seen. Just as we’re coming to realize how important witnesses to bullying are, though, we need to be careful to recognize how complex their role is.
It’s tempting for parents to act authoritatively and lay down the law on the number of hours their kids can spend on the computer. But in order to effectively address excessive use, there needs to be an active, voluntary commitment on the part of the young person to control their behaviour. Otherwise, kids will just find ways to work around their parents – and be left to their own devices once they’re old enough to leave the house.
For most youth, the Internet is all about socializing, and while most of these social interactions are positive, increasing numbers of kids are using the technology to intimidate and harass others – a phenomenon known as cyberbullying.