Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Proactive Strategies to Safeguard Young Adolescents in the Cyberage

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Proactive Strategies to Safeguard Young Adolescents in the Cyberage

Article excerpt

This is just one example of a MySpace burn book profile that a single student developed for a middle school. This burn book included photos, inappropriate language, threats, and even one student's home phone number. It had significant ramifications for the middle school students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Keeping kids safe in the era of technology can be complicated, but technology should not and cannot be avoided in the 21st century, when education must prepare students for success in an increasingly technologically centered world (Friedman, 2006; Tynes, 2007). Students, parents, teachers, and administrators need to be educated about a constantly changing technology environment that is simultaneously developing new ways to enhance education and creating new dangers for adolescents.

A wired culture

Teens today have extensive access to various technologies that keep them "connected" (Lenhart, Maddeen, & Hittlin; 2005), including computers, cell phones, and video consoles. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, approximately 87% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 use the Internet, 51% of whom use it on a daily basis (Lenhart, et al., 2005). The Pew study found seventh grade to be a critical point when Internet use surged from 60% among sixth graders to 82% among seventh graders (Lenhart, et al., 2005).

Teens are not just browsing the Internet for information, they are actively creating their own content, such as blogs or videos, and they sometimes include information that could be used by peers or predators to do them harm. Cellular telephones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), networked gaming consoles, and instant messaging are also widely used by young teens (Lenhart et al., 2005; Nielsen, 2006; Sachoff, 2007), and many of these programs allow users to communicate, post profiles, share photos or other files, and share videos with friends and strangers, alike.

Although students often use the Internet and other technologies for entertainment and social connection, they also use them as tools for academic purposes. The Pew study found that 78% of teens who use instant messaging use it to discuss schoolwork (Lenhart, et al., 2005). Teens also use social networking sites such as Facebook, chat rooms, and discussion boards to discuss academic subjects (Tynes, 2007). Researchers argue that online tools can assist students with learning traditional subject matter (Lang, 2007; Tynes, 2007), and many educators seem to agree. Increasingly, schools and teachers are distributing assignments and creating channels of communication that require the Internet (Lang, 2007). This significant level of Internet use in schools will likely increase, demanding that educators and administrators respond more robustly to cybersafety.

Dangers of technology

Many of the dangers of technology that threaten young adolescents are widely known and have drawn tremendous media attention in recent years. The tragic suicide of Megan Meier, who was harassed and embarrassed through MySpace, raised awareness about cyberbullying, and the NBC television show "To Catch a Predator" reminds viewers of the threats posed by predators, who often use tools of the cyberage to victimize youth. These dangers are real, but they should not discourage schools from using educational technology tools. In this section we, discuss the dangers of technology organized into three general categories: bullies and cliques, predators, and content. For the most part, these threats are not new, but the methods and means perpetrators now use in the cyberage have changed.

Bullies, cliques, and other threats to safety are not necessarily new dangers for adolescents, but in the cyberage these problems are no longer confined to schools and other physical spaces where youth congregate. Today, students may face these issues on a continual basis, and greater fear and tension is invoked because the identity of perpetrators is often unknown (Kowalski & Limber; Limber & Small, 2003). …

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