When looking back on 2011 and all the speakers I've heard on the issue of bullying and Internet Safety, a couple of them stand out. They happen to be related and were on the same panel at this year's International Bullying Prevention Association (IBPA) Conference in New Orleans.
Father and son duo, Gary and Aidan McDaniel, kept the crowd of nearly 500 riveted as they talked about their two perspectives on the issues of Internet Safety and Cyberbullying. At the age of 14, Aidan was one of the best speakers I've ever heard. He basically said what I've been thinking for a long time: there is no online world and offline world. It is now all one world and as adults, we have to understand that the culture we nurture offline is the same culture that develops online.
In other words, if a home and/or a school nurtures kindness and basic decensy, then you can expect that online, the same kind of courtesies will be there. As Aidan said, "A plant can't grow in the climate that doesn't support it." Aidan described that although he was homeschooled for part of his education, he is now in a high school that values how students treat each other.
Aidan doesn't have an online issue because his friends are his friends online and off. As a way to demonstrate how the attitude of the school spills over, he described an outreach effort that he's involved with in school and as he put it, it's goal is to "launch people into the friend zone." When someone new comes into the school or if a fellow student is having a rough time socially, they are befriended until that person is comfortable.
That school is obviously growing a lot of healthy plants.
Where are we, as adults, going wrong in this whole Internet Safety equation?
Our Problem and Your SolutionThis is one of those tangled strings that Aidan just skillfully untangled in one short sentence. As adults we are taking on a teen issue that we don't fully grasp.
We don't really understand a world where the cell phone is as important as seeing someone in the hall or that facebook is simply an extension of your day. So how can we solve anything when this is not the way we, as adults, live? But if we concentrate on our main job of nurturing good citizens, then good citizens will be good citizens whether they're texting from the mall or sitting in the lunchroom.
In other words, Aidan says, "It's everyone's problem and everyone's solution."
Next up was his Dad, Gary, a clinical social worker for the Morgan County, West Virginia schools. Gary supports the 7 schools in their county in their efforts to meet the psycho-social needs of the students. That ranges from developing bullying prevention programming to suicide prevention, to family work, to crisis management, to reconciliation work, training faculty and staff, coordinating counselors, and providing direct care to students. Needless to say, Gary is up close and personal to what's going on in the lives of students and schools.
As soon as he started to speak, the light bulb went on. No wonder Aidan is so cool, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. At his son's request, Gary threw out his formal talking points and spoke from the heart. He talked about two simple equations:
Citizenship = Relationship
Digital Citizenship = Relationship Amplified
That's it!!! It's not different. It's just amplified....so if it's a good relationship offline then the communications online will most probably be fine or even better than fine, but if it's a bad relationship, watch out. Technology can make it much worse.
Why is this important? Because as parents and teachers, we have to understand that the good behavior, attitude and respect that we instill in our children will be amplified. Or if we turn our backs and don't pay attention to our children's every day peer to peer relationships and we don't stop bullying in it's tracks, it will also be amplified.
Thanks, Gary and Aidan. You both just told us like it is...and my gratitude is amplified.