As any parent knows, a large portion of our kids’ social lives has moved online. Like their over-the-phone chats, most of teens’ electronic conversations are innocuous. But some digital interactions, including when kids are the victims or perpetrators of cyberbullying, can be dangerous. But while most cases do not, thankfully, end tragically, they are all distressing because kids suffer tremendously – and silently.
Preventing cyberbullying is complicated because text, email and social media conversations between our children and others are a closed loop. An increased dependence on mobile phones has also made it difficult for young people to avoid a cyber bully. Adults are actively blocked from finding out what’s being said. Unlike phone conversations, parents can’t overhear digital communication. And unless parents have a degree in digital forensics, most don’t electronically spy. All this makes it tougher to protect kids from a problem now globally recognized as a threat.
How big is the problem of cyberbullying?
· Pew Internet Research Center (PDF) reports that “95 percent of social media-using teens who have witnessed cruel behavior on the sites say they have seen others ignoring the mean behavior; 55 percent witness this frequently.”
· In a survey (PDF) by Harris Interactive, 43 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds said they had experienced cyberbullying in the past year.
Statistics such as these persuaded my office’s Youth Internet Safety Task Force to confront the problem. That effort steps up Thursday as educators, experts and activists gather in Redmond for a day-long summit devoted to development of a youth cyberbullying prevention campaign. We’ve posted the agenda (PDF) and hope to make video of the event – which is already booked to capacity – available next week.
We are grateful to Microsoft – which has a long history of utilizing the latest technology to protect kids online – for hosting today’s summit. One of our distinguished presenters will be Jacqueline Beauchere, of Microsoft Trustworthy Computing.
Giving kids the tools and encouragement to prevent cyberbullying will require a collaborative effort by educators, parents, activists and business leaders, such as those leading the way at Microsoft. In coming weeks, we’ll report back on the ideas generated by this week’s summit. In the meantime, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has posted a comprehensive list of background and resource material at http://www.k12.wa.us/SafetyCenter/InternetSafety/default.aspx.
Cyberbullying is a big problem affecting millions of kids around the world. But working together, we’ll empower kids to speak up on behalf of themselves and others.