Some of those who have been critical of our internet and social media safety presentations have two primary issues that they have voiced:
- One-time presentations do not have any positive cause or effect specific to youth and their behaviour online, and
- Our internet safety presentation only produced a heavier work load for school counselors.
I wish to openly reply to these concerns via this blog posting.
I actually agree that one-shot presentations, when learning a new skill set, are less than desirable. In fact, as many educators are aware, there is an abundance of peer-reviewed research to support this fact.
I present to many students (digital citizens) grades 6-12, the majority of whom already possess the skill set and digital devices needed to use the internet and participate in social networking. The intent of our presentations is not to teach students a new skill, but rather, I am sharing with them how to refine their already possessed skill sets in a more desirable way via a “reflective learning” process. Our presentation is an effective method of improving performance (digital literacy) by using the outcome of reflection and empathy, using real-life examples of online youth in our presentation, to inform future practice. A one-shot presentation can accomplish this goal with great efficiency, especially if the instructor can connect with students at an emotional, psychological, and physical level. This is something we have spent years learning how to accomplish and I believe we do it extremely well. In relation to this discussion, just recently Dr. Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center published two articles on this very issue:
Furthermore, claiming that our presentation is a one-shot event is not accurate. We encourage students to stay connected with us through our Facebook page, Twitter account, and our internet safety blog. Through these three sources, we continue to share updated information on digital literacy, digital safety and security, and online privacy on a daily basis. To date, we have close to 20,000 students who follow and interact with us on a regular basis via our three web-based resource sites. We also have thousands of students who, although they may not officially follow us, also connect with us on an individual basis when needed. In fact, just recently a student who heard me speak two years ago reached out to us for help. We were able to bring this student’s issue to the attention of the school principal, who took swift positive action. This is not an uncommon occurrence.
Fact: Our presentation does change digital literacy. If you don’t believe us, then have a read of just some of the feedback from students, parents, teachers, counselors, and principals that can be located here,
We believe that it takes an iVillage when it comes to keeping our youth, tweens, and teens safer while online. I do believe that schools, teachers, and parents all have a part to play in this process, but so do outside experts like me. Often, I consider our presentation an updated “booster shot” to the messages that should be delivered by educators and parents. However, I have also found that many schools are not really delivering any kind of technology safety or digital literacy, and our presentations help to very effectively fill this desperate void.
Heavier Work Load For School Counselors:
Once again, I must agree with our critics who bring this forward as a challenge, BUT this is something that we bring to the attention of schools before and after we present. We also see this as a positive and not a negative.
As many who have seen our presentations first hand are aware, we speak in depth on the topic of digital peer aggression (cyberbullying) and its sometimes unintended consequences. This part of the presentation is directed at both the targets of this crime, and those who target. I am very clear in my presentation that bullying does not cause suicide; ”Mental health crises” cause suicide. I am also very clear, however, that bullying can trigger mental health crises, depression, and suicidal ideations.
Not only have I been faced with multiple youth suicides in my full time job in law enforcement, but also in our family (my cousin completed the act of suicide) as well as personally, where I considered suicide in grade 10. That’s right, me, been there done that, and something I share with the students! I share this, given that I know how important it is to convince youth that “Talking can often make it better.” Suicide prevention experts, with whom I have consulted, all agree that giving permission to students to talk about suicidal ideations is the first step towards hope and almost always helps to reduce the risk. These same experts also advise that talking to students about suicide does not put the idea in their head, it gives them the chance to let their fear out and talk about other options. Breaking the silence surrounding suicide increases realistic opportunities to save lives and to reduce suffering, and this is what we do. This is why to date we have had 99 successful interventions, working with schools and law enforcement, where students were self-harming or considering suicide as an option, given that they were being targeted for digital peer aggression or sexting gone wrong, and connected with us for help, considering my invitation to do so in our presentations.
I am also very aware of the research surrounding the “suicide contagion” and am very careful about the degree to which I share my message, especially at a school where a recent suicide of a student was in play. To date, there was only one school where I changed some of my messaging given the recency of a student suicide to account for this psychological effect.
I am very clear in my presentation that if a student is being targeted and/or are considering self-harm or suicide as an option because of digital peer aggression, I advise them to reach out to a parent, teacher, counselor, principal or even just to send me a message. Talking can make it better, talking is a sign of strength and not a sign of weakness, and I am a poster child for this fact.
I must also share with the reader, that the vast majority of school counselors and principals throughout North America have thanked us for this message and the fact that youth are coming forward to them to disclose things after they hear me speak. Disclosure is the first step in the recovery process, and school counselors play an important roll, that’s why they are counselors. So, do “some” school counselors see a spike in their services, yes, but this is a good and healthy thing for the students that they serve.
Remember though, giving permission to students to talk about suicidal ideations is the first step towards hope and it almost always helps to reduce the risk; I make no apologies in convincing students to do so. School counselors have an important roll to fulfill specific to this issue.
Digital Food For Thought
AKA “The White Hatter”