Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Expert talks to parents about cyberbullying

by Jade Bolack

September 20, 2012

WALWORTH — Taking technology away from teens is not the answer to reducing cyberbullying, according to Justin Patchin, an expert in adolescent Internet use.

“The vast majority of teens are using these things safely, responsibly, appropriately,” he said. “We shouldn’t discourage or limit the opportunities of the 99 percent because of the 1 percent that misuses them.”

Patchin talked to fifth through 12th grade students in the Big Foot Area School Association about safe use of technology, and he shared the information with parents during an evening session Sept. 17.

In the parent presentation, Patchin related teen use of technology to driving.

“Car accidents are the number one cause of death for teens,” he said. “Yet, we don’t take all the cars away. Look at the way we teach them to deal with driving. We force them to wait for a certain age. We make them sit in a classroom for hours, learning the rules of driving. Then they have to take a test to demonstrate competency. Then we get them behind the wheel.”

Even after they’re allowed to drive, Patchin said teens still have restrictions.

“How do we handle technology?” he said. “We just toss them a cell phone and tell them not to do anything stupid. The instruction we provide is lacking to say the least.”

Instead, Patchin suggests that parents keep an open dialogue with their kids about technology use.

“Very few victims of cyberbullying actually tell an adult,” he said. “If that communication is open, they’re more likely to seek help.”

Parents aren’t the only line of defense against cyberbullying.

“Everybody has an obligation to do something to prevent this,” Patchin said. “I think we’re getting a little bit better at handling it. It’s a really difficult tight rope that administration has to walk to fix these situations. We can’t assume that all educators are lawyers, and even a district lawyer can’t always know about these matters.”

Digital divide

“The vast majority of the time, teens are communicating with the same people online as they communicate with offline,” Patchin said. “That’s foreign to us as ‘digital immigrants.’”

Teens, he said, are “digital natives” because they have always had access to technology. “Digital immigrants,” like parents and teachers, use technology in different ways because it wasn’t always available.

“For most of us, we remember a time when technology wasn’t everywhere,” Patchin said. “It’s amazing, we’ve lived a certain part of our lives without that technology. We survived. We’re very task orientated when it comes to technology. Teens are more integrated with using the technology constantly.”

Because of this divide, parents often don’t know what their children are doing online or on a cell phone.

“They go to bed with their iPhones on the pillow next to them,” Patchin said. “There is this desire to be in the know all the time, to be connected. They want to share their experiences with their friends.”

Cyber security

“Isn’t bullying bullying, no matter where it happens?” Patchin said. “Yes, and I agree with that. But technology creates some additional challenges for us, parents, educators and law enforcement.”

The difference, he said, is that when online, teens lack supervision.

“We do everything we can,” Patchin said. “It used to be, when I was growing up, my parents, especially my mom, always knew what I was getting into. I’d be out with my friends in the town doing whatever. By the time I got home, my mom already knew what trouble I’d gotten into.”

There aren’t as many public conversations that parents can overhear anymore, he said.

“Nowadays, those conversations between teens are hidden,” Patchin said. “I’m here to tell you that if your child wants private access to technology, they’re going to find it. They’re going to a friend’s house. They’re going to the library.”

Because they have access to technology in unsupervised settings, cyberbullying occurs.

“Yes, you can put web filters on your computer,” Patchin said. “You can limit access to certain sites. But what we’ve really got to do is look at the filtering between the ears. We have to teach our kids to make good decisions. As parents, we have to encourage them to do the right thing.”

That “filter between the ears” is the logic and reasoning teens need to keep themselves safe online, he said.

“They need to know that it’s not private if it’s online,” Patchin said. “Don’t post things you wouldn’t want everyone to know. They need to know how to filter their own online interactions.”

If a student is being cyberbullied, he said parents and teachers need to do certain things.

“Keep the evidence,” Patchin said. “Have the student keep a diary about what happened and when, especially if it’s both cyberbullying and physical (bullying).”

If the suspected bully is also a student, he said parents should talk to the school administration.

“That fact that I’m here should show you that this school is a little more proactive than other schools,” Patchin said.

Principal Michael Hinske said he’s happy with the way Patchin presents to the students.

“He’s able to get it out in a way that’s meaningful,” Hinske said. “He does a really nice job with the kids. He doesn’t come at it from the standpoint of saying ‘no, don’t you (use that).’ He preaches responsible use. That’s an important message.”

Hinske said it’s still the goal of the school to keep kids safe.

“There are tons of responsible uses for technology,” he said. “We have to make sure our kids use it responsibly. We have to do our best to safeguard them from making decisions that are counter productive to their health, safety and well-being.”