Cyber good or cyber bad – a teen perspective

Teen blogger Tom Wood says cyber good far outweight cyber bad.

At a glance

  • Cyberbullying is bullying using technology.

  • The internet and mobile phones have also brought a lot of positive change to kids' lives.

  • The majority of kids don't get cyberbullied.

  • Ask your child if they have been teased or  abused online – cyberbullying may not be a word they relate to.

Teen blogger and social media consultant Tom Wood gives the MySpace generation's perspective of cyberbullying and how to speak to your child about it.

It's great to hear so much conversation around 'good cyber-citizenship', and it's just as important to remind people of all the positives that technology brings, too.  

Courtney Martin, a columnist for The American Prospect Online, wrote an interesting article about how humans, not technology, cause most 'cyber problems' and how we can do a lot of 'cyber good' as well. Courtney says:

"As with all technology, we must recognise that it is not the tool that produces the mistreatment, it's the wounded humans using that tool. And just as so many have managed to manipulate the internet, many can also be inspired to use it for good."

She argues we should put effort into promoting 'cyber compassion'.

Courtney cites some examples of cyber compassion and pleads "we must resist the inclination to brand all of the internet as dangerous, evil, or dissident, and instead recognise it for what it is – one more communication revolution in need of intentional and inspired leadership."

Current research suggests in Australia about 10 per cent of teens have experienced online bullying. On the surface that sounds pretty bad, until you realise a massive 90 per cent of teens haven't had those bad experiences. Their time online has been fine – and that can only be a good thing. It really is important that technology isn't demonised in efforts of goodwill – rather accepted as an overwhelming force for good – with a few bad elements.

Whatever you want to call it, the key message here is about not dwelling on negativity – it's about recognising and harnessing the positivity of the cyber world.

Speak the right language

Another thing parents need to know is kids don't actually use the word 'cyberbullying'.

It is an adult-created word, and like everything aimed at kids but created without their consultation, the word falls short.

A lot of teenagers, especially older boys, tend to disregard online abuse when the term cyberbullying is used. Bullying isn't funny. Cyber isn't funny. But when cyber is used in conjunction with something else, like bullying, for some unexplainable reason, it has a quality that is amusing to many kids. It's not because kids think bullying people over the internet is funny – it's just something to do with the word.

Maybe not 'funny' for some – but silly. It's not perceived like this because kids are bad – it's just a general thing to do with youth humour.

This is further evidenced by reports from researchers that when kids are asked behaviour–specific questions, such as "have you ever been sent an abusive text message?" or "have you been treated meanly on msn?", the prevalence is much higher than if they're asked "have you been cyberbullied?"

Also, because a lot of teenagers aren't sensitive, and it mightn't have affected them, they tend to fob it off as a non-problem – usually the top of the social crop, and subsequently the collective school attitude follows.

It's an important distinction too because if they don't take the concept seriously, advice on the subject is less likely to achieve any traction in their minds. And any attempt to encourage cyber bystanders to act will also fall flat.

Other words that don't have the same trivialising effect, which may be more suitable in use with kids, include 'online harassment' and 'internet bullying', but it needs to be researched with kids.

Educators, researchers and the community should remember this as they consider how to make cyberspace friendlier for all.


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