Sunday, September 15, 2013

While Adult Experts in Cyberbullying are Important - the answer has to come from the students themselves

This past week I was one of the panelists for a Safer Online Microsoft event in Washington DC. Jacqueline Beauchere (Microsoft's new Chief Internet Safety Officer) was on the panel, as was Jack McArtney from Verizon and Amanda Lenhart from Pew Internet Life.

We have all spoken together on panels and all have been participants at one of my events. I consider them all friends, an in many cases, close friends. Yet, I learned something new.

Amanda has done some amazing research. I was fortunate enough to help her frame the issues for one of her more recent studies about young people and social media and cyberbullying. I was surprised with the results, though, as a much smaller percentage of teens polled admitted to having been cyberbullied than in our less scholarly surveys.

When addressing a question from our moderator, Amanda explained that most of the respondents to her survey admitted that harassment and meanness was going on. They just didn't call it "cyberbullying." They called it "drama" or, as I have often said, "life." Those who admitted to having been cyberbullied, defined the "drama" differently.

When we conduct our presentations or do surveys, we have learned not to define "cyberbullying." As Jacqueline said, "you know it when you see it." But it is less important that we know it, as adults, and more important that the young people know it. Too often, desensitized by the digital drama frequency, young people think they have to put up with it. And they don't know when to reach out for help, or step up and help others.

Perhaps the word "cyberbullying" is so misused and overused that it has now lost its meaning. But a rose by any other name smells just as sweet and cyberbullying by any other name hurts just as much.

On Nov 9th in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada (Anne of Green Gables country), we are hosting the first International StopCyberbullying Youth Summit. We hosted the world's first StopCyberbullying Summit in 2008 in NY. Now, five years later, young people will run the show with the assistance of invited experts and adult stakeholders. They will examine the laws and legal principles. They will study victims' rights and sexual violence involving digital media and actions. They will learn about bias, hate and radicalization groups and find ways to promote respect for themselves and others.

Through four tracks: criminal justice, health and wellness, industry and educational best practices and youth empowerment and leadership, the participants will use social media to help frame the issues, refine them and create a framework in advance of the summit and from early morning to evening, work together to create an action plan to bring their strategies to life.

The speakers are stellar for an international event anywhere, but the fact that they are willing to fly to little PEI to learn from and share with Canadian students, as well as video-conferenced students form around the world, is applaudable.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Barbara Coloroso, Sharon Rosenfedlt, First Nation students from across Canada, Bonnie Bracey Sutton, Teenangels from NY, WiredSafety's Deputy Executive Director and it's Chief Communications Officer, the RCMP, the Canadian Victims Ombudsman, Rehtaeh Parsons parents, Ministers of Health and Wellness, Finance, Innovation and Advanced Learning, Education and Justice have been invited and, subject to scheduling, will be joining us. There are more amazing speakers joining the students, but until confirmed we'll keep everyone guessing.

Hopefully, we will spot what is working and what isn't. Hopefully, young people (10 - 18) will help define the issues, the terms and the solutions. Because until solutions and strategies are adopted with their guidance, approval and support, we're wasting our time.