As I posted yesterday, I am down at a conference in Monterey for middle and high school educators. This morning I attended probably the best session to date for any conference I’ve attended (and I go to a few of them) dealing with cyber bullying. The session was on the film Adina’s Deck. This film was developed for Debbie Heimowitz’s Master’s thesis at Stanford. She had help from Jason Azicri, still a student in southern California, as a writer and the co-director of the film. Still being students themselves, they were able to put their fingers directly on the pulse of this issue.
I’m going to show my age here and say that when I was a kid the ABC After School Specials were a staple of my TV viewing habits. The After School Specials were relevant TV shows that aired in the afternoon and tackled sensitive issues that were affecting the kids of the day (did I say 1970’s?, ouch I’m getting old). When I watched this video I got the same feeling I did when watching those After School Specials so long ago.
Working in a school district, and having three teens myself, I would say that Debbie captured the current teen scene perfectly (at least for a Silicon Valley high school). Being a first effort, I would say that Debbie and team are on the threshold of a very rewarding career if they keep this up with future projects.
This topic is of critical relevance to today’s teens, and yes even tweens. The production values and acting in this student film far surpass a lot of what is out there being shoveled on kids in this age demographic. The actresses were perfect for their roles and pulled in most of those who were in attendance at this morning’s session. The video runs 30 minutes and is intended to be shown in conjunction with a discussion afterwards. I am not sure if this video would be more effective in a classroom setting, or in a school assembly. I am frankly amazed that she has not been picked up by MTV, or some other major network by now. This is the sort of stuff I want my kids watching.
This is definitely an area where we need to be doing a lot more in educating not only our students, but their teachers, parents and administrators as well. I am on the High Tech Crimes Investigation Association (HTCIA) for Stanislaus County and I have been involved in more than a few of these types of incidents in my district. I have yet to meet a parent in any of these instances that has any clue about what their children are doing online, and how their online relationships are affecting their daily lives and mental health. The case of the student MySpace suicide last week only drives home this point with a chilling story of harassment from an adult neighbor of a teenage girl.
Bullying has been around since the first cave kid threw a rock at his Neanderthal neighbor, this is not a new problem. The fact that cyber bullying is being done today through cell phones, IM, SMS, email, social networks, and yes in virtual worlds, causes parents and other adults to shy away from getting involved. As with any technology issue, most adults would rather not get involved if there is any chance they might come across looking stupid for being out of touch with technology. One person in the session this morning even made the point (which I strongly disagree with) that showing kids this sort of video would only teach them how to do this, and add to the problem<?!?!>. Add to this the fact that far too many parents and teachers will reflexively take away ALL electronics if they suspect their kids/students are involved in anything online and we have a very dangerous cycle that will spin out of control if not addressed. Students need help in resolving these issues. They need adults to listen and to act rationally in addressing their needs and concerns. And what adult can’t sympathize with the issue of bullying (I was a nerd, were you a nerd too?)? Far too many kids fear talking to their parents and teachers for fear of losing access to their electronic devices they use to communicate with their friends.
We absolutely MUST take action, long overdue action, to turn this terrible tide. Schools can no longer keep their heads buried in the sand and have informal programs that try to educate students on the dangers of their online lives. Parents need to wake up out of their slumber, sit down next to their kids, and get involved in what they are doing online. And I don’t mean from a “Big Brother” perspective, hawking over the shoulder trying to catch them “in the act”. Not looking stupid in front of your kids means that you need to learn about something new, it will not happen through osmosis.
Shows like Dateline’s “To Catch A Predator” make for sensational TV viewing (if not repetitive and sickening), but they do absolutely nothing in bridging the chasm that exists between parents and their kids with their online activities. These shows only serve to frighten uninformed parents and cause them to take irrational actions when dealing with their kid’s problems. An honest dialog needs to be established with our children and students to give them the tools and support they need for navigating these online worlds. Neglecting to do this will only result in more children becoming powerless victims and possibly casualties of their online lives.
There is a website up for Adina’s Deck that gives a lot of background information on this project. If you are an educator I strongly recommend hitting the link and taking a look at what they are doing with this:
Debbie and Jason talked about at least three more videos they are working on now. With some professional backing and capital, I can’t imagine where this project might go. Thankfully there are people like Debbie and Jason out trying to reach our students in a way that is relevant and meaningful to them. If there are any TV people reading this post, hit the link, take a look at this project, preview the DVD and get this on the air. It’s going to take far too long to get this message out one DVD at a time. There’s got to be some crappy reality TV show that can be bumped off the air for something like this. And air it in prime time, not in the after school time slot. This is something that parents need to view with their children. And the kids of today are far too busy to be home in the afternoons watching TV.
Everyone has something to learn here, and it’s our kids’ safety that’s at stake.