Thursday, June 20, 2013

Prepare or Protect? A Question About

What is it with parents and the knee jerk reaction to technology?

Here’s an example… someone is mean to our child on _______________ (fill in the blank with today’s most popular app/social networking site). We response by either,

a) taking the device away, or
b) demanding they delete the offending app and/or social networking site from their device.

Problem solved.

But is it, really?

This all-too-common scenario played out in our Cyber Civics class last week. The offending site was In case you aren’t familiar with it, is a service that lets users pose and answer questions anonymously. It’s integrated with other popular social networking sites like Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, which means responses are posted on those sites too. What kids like about is its anonymity. However it’s this very feature that potentially makes it fertile ground for cyberbullies. In fact, has fallen under a lot of scrutiny recently due to allegations that activity on the site has led to a half dozen teenage suicides. Meanwhile, the number of people who use the service has swelled to 50 million in just a short period of time.

Just the thought that this site might be responsible for teen suicide is enough to make us want to protect our children from it. However, when it comes to technology, or anything for that matter, it’s our job not just to protect, but also to prepare our kids.

A student in our class was the recipient of a cruel post on In this case, the victim was smart, and shared this information with a trusted adult. Their teacher turned this unfortunate situation into a terrific learning opportunity by addressing the situation in class, and also alerted the parents. Parents responded largely by advising one another to have their kids drop the site. While this is certainly a valid option — part of being a digital citizen is realizing we have choices, and those choices influence what survives in the marketplace — it might not be the wisest long-term solution.

This is best explained by’s news Ann Collier:

So there’s always going to be a site that everybody’s going to love to hate, and we’re not helping children develop the self-respect, empathy and resilience that will truly protect them by getting caught up in an endless frustrating game of whack-a-mole. It also doesn’t help our credibility with our kids and – even when sites show little or no corporate responsibility – the sites aren’t the root problem.

If it’s not today, then it’s going to be something else tomorrow (or yesterday, like Vine). It’s time for us to face the fact that technology isn’t going anywhere. In order to be resilient digital citizens our kids need be prepared with strategies that enable them to thrive in the digital world.

That’s what our Cyber Civics classes are intended to do — prepare kids to be wise and capable users of the tools. Asking them to shoot the messenger, so to speak, doesn’t achieve this goal.

This unfortunate incident provided an excellent opportunity to investigate how to use the site wisely.  For example:

  • Users can choose to prevent anonymous questions by going to their privacy settings and selecting, “Do not allow anonymous questions.” 
  • In the event you observe someone violating the “Terms” of the site (you and your child can read these together), such as the rule prohibiting “pornographic, obscene, offensive, threatening, harassing, libelous, hate-oriented, harmful, defamatory, racist, illegal or other wise objectionable material or content,” you can (and should) do something about it. Report the incident by clicking on “report as” which appears below every question, answer and comment. On mobile apps you can tap the flag button.
  • Or you can directly contact a guy named Eric, whose link is found on the site.

Although leaving the site is certainly a respectable option, learning (and teaching) how to be a proactive user might be a better solution. Or writing about what you don’t like about on other social networks, as many of the victim’s classmates did, is also a terrific way to demonstrate proactive behavior. Bad conduct happens online and off.  Doing something about it instills, in the words of Ann, “ self-respect, empathy and resilience.” 

Now that’s a lesson worth learning.