Technology used to cyberbully

Food for Thought

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The Internet, the World Wide Web, SMART phones, texting, the Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter all offer the opportunity for humans to be "connected" 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Is all of this connection, disconnecting us as humans?

Kids use technology to say things to and about other kids that they would never say in person. I often wonder what a world without technology might look like; no television, no computers, no phones. To solve a problem in my technology-free world, people will have to sit and ponder. To resolve a conflict, people have to look each other in the eyes and talk.

Imagine if children of today behave as if they live in The Age of Enlightenment where kids are rewarded for thoughtful exploration of ideas through intellectual exchange which honors skepticism and respectful challenges instead of hurtful bullying through cowardly texts and Facebook posts. Imagine a world of critically thinking, hard-working children who weigh cause and effect before making decisions and examine how they might change the world for the better. This is a world I wish to live in.

Maybe children are too psychologically immature to have a cell phone and Facebook account and should be forced to talk to other children without the aid of technology. Taking this argument further, I believe technological communication between kids is psychologically damaging creating a culture of relational avoidance and emotional absence.

For a child's brain to mature completely the child needs to examine and experience others' facial expressions, vocal tonality and body position while angry, happy, sad and frustrated. Without this body language experience, children struggle to develop an understanding of human behavior. Without understanding human emotion, children will struggle as adults predicting an employer's job satisfaction, a spouse's frustration or friend's anger. Technology is damaging the minds and emotions of our children culminating in a world where Cyberbullying is expected and condoned. The madness needs to stop.

Completing my conversation on Cyberbullying, we continue the conversation from last week with Hannah Masters, a parent focused on ensuring children are safe when using technology.

Hannah continues, "It is important for every family to have the digital talk. Establish rules for conduct, acceptable "friends," and consequences for breaking the house rules. Let kids know that you are going to be a moderator of their digital life, like you are in their real life. In order to moderate their digital life you must have all user names and passwords for their social networking sites.

In our house we view technology as a privilege, their Dad and I pay the Internet and cell phone bills so they are actually our phones, etc. They are borrowing them, kind of like when they borrow our car. So if my son asked me to borrow the car and our house rule is to be home at 10 p.m., if he said to me "No Mom I won't be home at 10 p.m.," I wouldn't hand him the keys.

Many kids tell their parents "No" when asked for their user names and passwords, I say change the Wi-Fi code and ask for your cell phones back. It is impossible for you to moderate their digital life, and keep them safe if you don't have a window into that world.

In my house we use a service provided by www.aBeanstalk.com. It allows parents to be notified only when their kids are falling into harm's way. This is a compromise giving the kids the privacy they want, while we have the peace of mind knowing that if my child is in danger, we are the first to know, not the last. They have a free version available to all parents. I have used the service for the past three years, and it has allowed me to moderate their digital lives in a noninvasive way. We have hundreds of conversations we would not have had without this window."

If you wish to have more information on Cyberbullying, please join Hannah and me on May 22, at the Kroc Center in Coeur d'Alene. Bring your kids. Every family will receive information and a free tool valued at $100 for attending. Check out the Kroc Center website for the time and location. This is not a sales pitch, I promise. It is just people getting together to help kids remain safe while using technology.

If you wish to comment or offer suggestions, please email me at bprutherford@hotmail.com.

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