Investigating and Preventing Cyberbullying 6: Trust and Parental Monitoring

As the panelists move towards the end of the discussion, they are raising the issue of parent approach to their kids’ activities online.

David Kirkpatrick: You know, this is a room full of people whose business is solving problems that happen online, basically. It is very interesting, and I think it’s a fascinating question, whether technology can be employed to try to – I know there’s definitely a lot of people thinking about it and non-profits and others working on projects about this – to help kids learn. They have empathy and they have a very hard time even knowing the degree to which they’re inflicting pain on others. Anybody who wants to comment on anything?

Jaana Juvonen: Well, again, I would make a distinction: there are kids who do these bad things because they don’t think, it just happens, and they do it occasionally. And then there are more than hardcore bullies, who are very cognizant of how they are causing harm.

Sameer Hinduja: That’s a smaller proportion. So, again, we’re thinking about the big picture, we’re thinking about the critical masses, which are those who do it and they weren’t thinking. They’re very harmful, they get caught up in the digital drama, they want to protect their reputation, and so they go off on somebody else.

Parental control should go hand in hand with trust

Parental control should go hand in hand with trust

David Kirkpatrick: Let’s talk more about technologies. We don’t have tons of time remaining, but I’m sure there are people in the audience, perhaps quite a few of them, who have done work on products intended for parents to monitor their kids, and such things. What do you guys think, for example, about these products that allow parents to basically spy on their kids? I’d like each of you to just briefly say what you think about that.

Sameer Hinduja: I feel like my panel will share my perspective. I’m not a parent, so please, be gracious towards me. I feel like when we’re trying to raise kids, we’re trying to, over the course of time, build this candid, open, trustful relationship with them. And I feel like the quickest way to violate that trust is to go and surreptitiously install some sort of, again, third party app on their smartphone or software on their laptop, which could be a keystroke logger, could be monitoring their behavior in social networking sites or chat rooms and so forth.

And I feel like, again, what’s more important, rather than this reactive measure of software is, again, education, and having communication with our kids – much as the stuff that we learned in Parenting 101, I’m told, applies to cyber space; we’ve just got to tweak it a little bit. I feel like this addresses the fundamental problems, because it is a technology problem, but sometimes it’s not as well, because it’s peer conflict issues, it’s how to deal with relational struggle, all these other elements that come together that then lead to online issues.

David Kirkpatrick: Mark, what about you?

Mark Krause: I don’t have a problem with a tool; I think the problem with the issue is how you use it. If there’s no engagement, if parents are relying that at the end all be all without really understanding what’s going on, understanding their child’s role in these relationships, then they’re going to be in for a trouble.

David Kirkpatrick: Joe?

Joe Sullivan: I think that you can’t lump all youth in one category. When you’re looking at what are the solutions, there are different solutions for different ages. And so, as a parent of a 10-year-old, I imagine I will think very differently about how I engage with her when she’s 15, and the things that I can do to oversee her behavior will vary dramatically in years.

And so I don’t think there is a single product out there that works for every situation, and I don’t think it’s good to sell parents on the idea that if you buy X and then install it, your problems are solved. We need a lot more parental education about technology. I think that the best thing parents can do is use the products that their kids are using and find ways to have communication with them about it.

David Kirkpatrick: We just talk about not even becoming their friend on Facebook necessarily, but just being able to talk about the existence of it and how it works.

Joe Sullivan: I’ve seen a great number of examples of the most effective parent approach to get their teen to open up about Facebook was the parent who asks their teen to teach them how to use Facebook. And by asking the teen and making the teen feel like they’re the leader, they were the one who were comfortable saying: “No, here is how your privacy settings work; here is how I hide from you, what I share with the rest of my friends.” And by changing the dynamic and recognizing it, like you said earlier on, I think that the teen knows a lot more about technology sometimes than the parent.

David Kirkpatrick: Jaana, what do you think?

Jaana Juvonen: Absolutely. So, parent education: you can’t protect your kids if you don’t know how it works. Prevention is much more effective than any reactive strategy – absolutely, so what does this mean in the context of cyber behavior? I think it’s not unlike: all the sensitive topics that we have hard time talking to our kids about – drugs, sex; you should not have one talk. You need to bring this up repeatedly, you need to ask what’s going on, you need to try the technology yourself. And that gives you those sort of “teachable moments” if you will. So you can then talk about: “Well, if this were to happen to you, what do you do? When you see this happening to somebody else, what do you do?”

So, that parent communication is absolutely critical, and you don’t want to lose that trust. And when you put these spy pieces in, whether it’s on the computer, whether it’s on the cell phone, whatever – I mean, basically, what you are telling your kid is you don’t trust them. And there’s actually a research showing that we think that parental monitoring, typically, for most kids, is a proactive strategy: you know what your kid is doing at any one time; that prevents them from getting into trouble. But there’s also research showing that for some kids it actually works the other way. That is, when the parents are monitoring, it is a sign that they don’t trust their kid.

Mark Krause: Yeah, and don’t fool yourself: they’re just going over to a friend’s house; he’s there – the same thing with drug dealers.

Joe Sullivan: I had this great experience with my daughter. She came home from school one day and she said: “I’m addicted to G-chat”, and I was like: “But you don’t have a G-chat account”, and she said: “Well, we use it at school.” And then I talked to the folks at the school and they said: “You know, that grade level does not have access to the chat products”, and I asked my daughter, and she said: “We use Google Docs for our collaborative projects in class, and if you create a document, the members who have access to the document can chat inside the document.”

The school rule was you can only chat in the document for the topic of the document, so the 4th grade girls had created a document called Random. So you have the 4th grade girls all meeting in the Random.doc, while we all think they’re doing their homework, and there’s no oversight.

David Kirkpatrick: Well, you know, there’s a lot more to say about – you now, I wanted to get into keyword filtering, and you talk about maybe this stuff should be built in OS. I think there’s a lot more work for everyone in this room to do. I want to thank the panel very much; it was, I think, a really interesting conversation, so I appreciate having you here. Just to wrap up: RSA has produced a short video with some ideas about things that can be done. We exit the stage, check out what RSA’s put together to give you a little action idea. So, thanks again to my panelists.

Read previous: Investigating and Preventing Cyberbullying 5: Insight into Social Reporting

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