Social Networking on the Internet

Posted on Thu, Feb 28, 2008 @ 03:30 PM
Are there different rules for relationships in cyberspace?
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Details: Social  Networking on the Internet
Internet Etiquette

The Internet's veneer of anonymity sometimes lulls the unwary cyberspace traveler into releasing his or her alter-ego online: you knowthat impolite, self-righteous, sometimes even violent brute most of us try to restrain or even to completely root out of our "real" lives.

Unfortunately it's far too easy to forget there are human beings on the receiving end of all our communications, even the ones that leave our fingertips to go sailing out over the Web into the great, invisible unknown. When we do forget this important point, however, we place ourselves in danger of injuring all kinds of important relationships, and I don't mean just those casual internet acquaintances.

As tempting as it may be to assume we can safely maintain different personas on and offline, the reality is that we can't. A relationship habit formed online is sure to bleed over into our offline relationships eventually, becauseas human beingswe are creatures of habit.

But an online reputation is important for other reasons as well. Suppose a future employeror even that gorgeous girl next door—Googles your name one day. What past conversations might the search engine turn up for their eyes that would be better left unseen? 

Naturally, the best policy to adopt is the one that says "If I wouldn't do this face-to-face, I shouldn't do it online either."  But for those whose offline relationships also need help, perhaps some good sources of "netiquette" advice are warranted. 

Here are just a few:

The Art and Mystery of Online Etiquette by Dale Van Eck, Associate Producer Education Technology, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

A Parent's Guide to Etiquette on the Net by Maria Georgiou of Kids Domain.

There's an Angry Fire in Cyberspace This article by Andrew Campbell examines some internet behavior to be avoided at all costs.

Netiquette by Virginia Shea. The most comprehensive etiquette guide available on the Internet.

Tags: cyberspace relationships, Internet etiquette, online behavior

The Snowball Effect

Posted on Mon, Feb 25, 2008 @ 03:33 PM
When minor offenses have major consequences
Snowball Effect

On Sunday, 15-year-old Teven Rutledge was shot in the face as he played with friends on the front steps of a Philadelphia area rowhouse.  The reason for the shooting? A misdirected snowball.

It is still unclear whether the snowball was misdirected maliciously or not, and if so, who was hit by it. Some accounts say that it hit the adult, who then ran home for a gun and returned to exact vengeance.  Others say the snowball hit another boy who was not playing with the group on the steps, and that the child reported the incident to the adult shooter. It is not even clear whether Teven was the one who actually threw the offending snowball.

In any case, when the adult returned with the gun, he shot Teven in the face. Tragically, the boy died in the hospital the next day.

Obviously, the literal snowball wasn't the main problem in this appalling incident. It was the figurative snowball: the escalating actions and reactions, and the fact that there were several crossroads along the way that might have led to a different outcome.

What kind of person murders anotherfor any reason? The police have yet to find the suspect, but clearly this is not a rational person, and there is no excuse for his action. As the boy's father asked, "What grown man is going to shoot a kid over a snowball?"

Several published comments from those close to the incident also speak to the "butterfly effect" of other factors that add to the tragedy.

One resident of the area commented that the group of teens often congregated on the front steps of the same rowhouse to taunt those who passed. Another neighbor said that when the snowball hit its target, the man threw snow backand that this led to an exchange of words. The man then reportedly left, threatening to return with a gun. The boys, apparently not taking his threat seriously, remained on the porch. There is no indication that police were called at that time, or that the teens considered relocating, although one parent did instruct Teven to remain inside. He did not, however.

Police are still looking for the suspect, who is believed to be a resident of the neighborhood where Teven was shot.

That the boy was murdered is a horrible tragedy. That it was over a snowball fight, and possibly ongoing relationship problems that should have been avoidable makes it doubly tragic.

Tags: snowball fight, Teen murder, Teven Rutledge

Youth Violence: One Last Word

Posted on Fri, Feb 22, 2008 @ 03:35 PM
What do teen violence statistics mean? Is it all just media hype?
Image by Jeffrey Schwartz

For those who have been following this blog's series on youth violence, there may still be some lingering questions: Even if it has increased in other nations, hasn't youth violence actually decreased overall in America since 1970? Isn't the focus on violent teens simply media-hype that mischaracterizes young people, and "blames" them for world violence?

In case these questions do not seem rhetorical to some, we'll consider them in today's final post on this topic.

First: Hasn't youth violence in the U.S. actually decreased since 1970?  No. Since 1960, the rate of arrests for violent crimes has steadily increased. There were significant spikes in the mid-70s and mid-to-late-90s, but even without these spikes the trend has been a steady upward climb.  The 2006 figures continue to show an increase in comparison to the preceding five years. 

It's interesting to note that while violent crimes are increasing, overall arrests (including for non-violent and minor crimes) are not much different now in youth populations than they were in 1960. Does this indicate that now when crimes are committed they tend to have elements of violence more often than in the past?  Or does it simply mean that law enforcement has less time on their hands to make arrests for minor infractions? In fact, both may be factors.

Next: Isn't the focus on violent teens simply media-hype that mischaracterizes young people, and "blames" them for world violence?

It seems highly doubtful that anyone believes teens are responsible for world violence. Rather, such news reports are usually intended as a wake-up call for parents to spend more time developing quality relationships with their children. As adults are made aware of the consequences of ignoring the potential of this important next generation, young people are honored, not denigrated.

Today's youth grow up in a violent world. It is hardly surprising that they learn violence. Especially when parents abdicate the privilege to love and guide these amazing gifts that are their children.

Tags: violent teens, world violence, youth violence statistics

Youth Violence: Reversing the Trend

Posted on Thu, Feb 21, 2008 @ 03:36 PM
Online sources of information, statistics and tips for parents
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Details: Youth  Violence: Reversing the Trend
Youth Violence

There are several helpful and informative Web sites that cover the issue of Youth Violence. If knowledge is power, parents may want to spend at least some time on these pages.

The United States Government provides extensive information through its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site.

This interesting site from the UK, Calling the Shots, says of itself: "Calling the Shots is a multi-media education and information resource designed to engage young people and stimulate discussion about their attitudes towards guns."

The Australian Institute of Criminology has an extensive library of research on aspects of youth violence ranging from bullying to adolescent violence toward parents. A rich resource for those interested in prevention programs.

Tags: youth violence, prevention, statistics

Teen Suicide Clusters

Posted on Mon, Feb 18, 2008 @ 03:38 PM
Can the Internet be blamed?
Megan Soh

Yesterday the Telegraph reported two new teen suicides in the town of Bridgend, South Wales. Cousins Nathaniel Pritchard and Kelly Stephenson hanged themselves within a day of each other, the 15th and 16th in Bridgend's year-long cluster of self-hangings.

Despite speculations of suicide pacts or "cult" activity, authorities have been unable to find a traceable connection between the deaths. 

In the absence of another explanation for the rash of suicides among the area's teens, detectives offered the suggestion that popular social networking Web sites such as Bebo or Facebook might be responsible.

The Telegraph explains, "As well as the deaths during the last 12 months, several more have attempted suicide and police fear they are being driven by a desire to achieve prestige by having a memorial Web site set up in their name."

Would a happy teen really kill himself just to get a memorial page on Bebo? It seems unlikely.

"I think that to even imply that people kill themselves to get a death page is frankly pathetic, and its an outrageous insult," was one teen's comment to the Telegraph piece. "People don't kill themselves to get attention, they kill themselves because they honestly feel life is not going to get any better. I'm seventeen, I use social networking sites and I suffer bouts of depression. Getting a death page just isn't even tempting, its the welcome relief of not living that is." 

The teen concluded, "I'm afraid this news story will be seen as another example of how many older adults not only don't understand younger adults, but also underestimate them. This isn't going to make anyone at risk of suicide want to talk to someone who could actually help."

This teen's point is well taken. Presumably teens who are not already depressed and leaning toward suicide are not going to see glamour in a memorial page.

But if the problem isn't social networking sites alone, what is it?

According to Columbia University's Madelyn S. Gould, "Suicide contagion is not a new phenomenon. Evidence of suicide clusters and imitative deaths has been reported in accounts from ancient times through the twentieth century. Concern about suicide contagion has increased due to a number of highly publicized suicide outbreaks among teenagers and young adults in recent years and to new evidence that a significant number of suicides appear to be associated with suicide stories in the mass media."

Police and other public safety experts have long known that suicide rates tend to rise when famous suicides are highly publicized. They also recognize that those at highest risk for imitating suicide are those who have a record of previous suicide attempts, depression and highly-charged emotional states.

Because of the intense hormonal changes they undergo, it should not be surprising that teens may fall into one or more of these high-risk categories. What can parents do to minimize their child's risk?

First, make sure lines of communication are open. Teens should know their parents will listen to their feelings without ridiculing or minimizing them.

Learn to use the Internetit isn't likely to go away in the near future, and it is, after all, the most massive of the mass media. Parents need to know where their teens are getting their news and should ideally be able to discuss it with them.

If a teen knows how to build a page on a social networking site, there's no reason for a parent to be ignorant about how to visit that page. As veteran teacher Vicki Davis says, "We would never dream of going days at a time without speaking to our family. Well, children are speaking all of the time but adults who ignore their Internet presence are ignoring their children."  She also advises, "If your kids are on the Internet, you should be too. If your kids are on MySpace, get your own MySpace account and be added to their friends list. Is this invasion? No. Is it raising your kids? Yes."

Once upon a time, television used to take the blame for every evil that befell children. Now it's the Internet. Perhaps someday there will be a new medium for society to cast as the source of all sorrows. But what if the source actually lies elsewherein human nature, let's say. If that's the case, in every era, no matter what the popular medium, parents will always have a role to play in protecting their children.

Tags: parenting, Bridgend, internet safety, suicide clusters, teen suicide

Teens At Risk

Posted on Sun, Feb 10, 2008 @ 03:40 PM
Getting to the heart of youth violence
BCTV News on Youth Violence

Continuing with the subject of youth violence, it's clear that neither boys nor girls are exempt from violent behavior. Leaving aside the question of whether boys are more agressive than girls for the moment, the primary question is whether violent behavior should be tolerated from either gender.

If not, what can families and communities do to minimize these outcomes for children? The study group for the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention identifies 27 risk factors that predict violence in children. These findings are echoed in studies across national boundaries. Distributed into five categories, the highest risk for violent behavior stems from: individual factors, family factors, school factors, peer related factors and community and neighborhood factors.

Running down the list of characteristics under each of the five headings, one is struck by how fundamental family factors are to all other categories. For instance, the school factors predicting youth violence are: academic failure, low bonding to school, truancy and dropping out of school, and frequent school transitioneffects which have been shown in multiple independent studies to be minimized when parents are bonded, involved and vigilant in their children's lives.

The remaining categories are similarly connected to family stability.

Maria Lynn Wiley: Booking Photo

Clearly, the trail between weak family structure and teen violence is not hard to follow in many real-life cases. Take, for instance, a 14-year-old girl from Cushing, Oklahoma, who was recently ordered to Juvenile Court for the fatal stabbing of her cousin's 23-year-old fiancée.

According to a local news agency, the young girl "has a long history of being a runaway, has a fifth-grade education and began living on the street at about age 10, according to court documents. She started having sex at age 11 with men in their 20's to get drugs, court records show."

Even this minimal information, reported objectively as it is, says something about the lack of positive relationships and role models in this child's life.

The OJJDP study mentioned earlier identifies stable family relationships as protective factors against children becoming violent juvenile offenders.

"Family management practices such as failure to set clear expectations for children's behavior, poor monitoring and supervision, and severe and inconsistent discipline consistently predict later delinquency and substance abuse," say the study authors. "Parents' poor supervision and aggressive discipline predicted their children's convictions for person crimes well into their forties."

Discipline practices are known to be most effective when they are consistent and balanced. In a 1988 study published in the journal Criminology, Edward Wells and Joseph Rankin found that "direct parental controls are significantly related to various measures of delinquency," but that "either too much or too little control leads to greater frequency of delinquent behavior." In other words, very strict and punitive parenting is not any more useful for achieving the desired results as very permissive, erratic and neglectful parenting.

Wells and Rankin suggest that monitoring and regulating a child's behavior through the consistent use of known consequences can have as great an impact in preventing delinquency as that of "indirect controls" such as parental attachment. In fact, as other studies show, it is when attachment between parent and child is secure that parental controls are most effective.

While many of the initial studies about youth violence focused on boys, the same factors affect girls. The effects may be manifested through slightly different behaviors, but the need for attachment and behavioral controls is not gender-specific. Rather, it is a universal requirement of all children from their earliest days.

Tags: youth violence, delinquency, discipline, parental controls, teens

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice?

Posted on Thu, Feb 07, 2008 @ 03:41 PM
Is violent behavior a particularly male phenomenon?
Girl fight

Apparently not anymore. According to American FBI figures, between 1966 and 1996 the percentage of juvenile girls arrested for violent offenses doubled, but still remained at only 10% of all juvenile arrests. By 2002, however, females accounted for 24% of juvenile arrests for aggravated assault, and 32% of other levels of assaults.

But does this mean girls are abandoning their passive nature and becoming violent like boys? Lyn Mikel Brown, Meda Chesney-Lind and Nan Stein propose in the journal, Violence Against Women (Vol 13, No. 12; 2007) that "steep increases in girls' arrests are not the product of girls becoming more like boys. Instead, forms of girls' minor violence that were once ignored are now being criminalized."

While girls may not be completely abandoning their naturewhatever one might consider that to beit's hard to believe that the increase in female juvenile arrests is entirely attributable to "minor violence" suddenly becoming criminalized. 

When in the past would the following incidents have been considered "minor" violence?

Last Monday, at a bus station in Chelles, France about twenty 15- and 16-year-old girls met for a rumble. They carried an assortment of weapons that included screwdrivers, bedboards, iron bars and steak knives. Warned by school staff, authorities intervened shortly after the first blows were delivered and arrested eight of the ringleaders. But fellow students say a rematch has already been planned.

The same day in Halifax, Nova Scotia, two teenage girls were sentenced for a crime they had committed the previous summer. Apparentlyusing metal table legs as clubsthe girls had waylaid a 66-year-old woman as she walked through Halifax Common and beat her repeatedly, leaving her with a broken rib and severe bruising.

Last month in West Philadelphia, 10 girls attacked two other female teens who were waiting for a school bus. Using what was either a box cutter or a straight-edge razor, the attackers slashed 15-year-old Shakia West, severely wounding her in the face.

Last autumn in Des Moines, Iowa, a 15-year-old girl plunged a knife repeatedly into the neck of a 16-year-old acquaintance who died at the hospital soon after the stabbing. When the Judge asked what had provoked the killing, the girl answered, “I stabbed him after I lost my temper and he called me disrespectful names.”

If Brown, Chesney-Lind and Stein are correct and girls have always been this way, one can only muse that it's about time such behavior became criminalized. But however long this state of affairs may have existed, surely it's appropriate now to explore what can be done in the lives of young girls to prevent this kind of outcome.

Tags: violence, female juveniles, teen girls

Youth Violence On the Rise

Posted on Sun, Feb 03, 2008 @ 03:42 PM
Is there a violence gene, or is society failing its children?
Youth Violence in the United Kingdom: Garry Newlove

“Violent Youth Crime up a Third,” asserts a January headline in the online U.K. Telegraph. Beneath this header, correspondent Ben Leapman explains that between 2003 and 2006 the number of violent crimes committed by British youth (between the ages of 10-17) rose by 6,512 cases—a 37% increase.

The figure seems a little hard to believe. However, the assertion does appear to be borne out in news reports. Here are a few stories dug up just in the first week of this year:

January 2, 2008: “A dad of two [52-year-old Ron Sharples] died after being assaulted by a group of youths when he want to look for the family dog.”

January 3, 2008: “A dad suffered horrific injuries at the hands of a gang who hit him over the head with a paving slab. Eric Mitchell, 43, was knocked unconscious and believes he was then beaten as he lay on the ground in Trowbridge, Cardiff.”

January 4, 2008: "A father [47-year-old Garry Newlove] died after having his head kicked "like a football" when he dared to stand up to five drunken teenagers, a court heard yesterday."

American statistics also give pause. According to Department of Justice figures, juvenile arrests between 2002 and 2006 increased by nearly 5,000 actual cases there, an 8% increase. 

“Almost every day the news carries a story about a stabbing or shooting perpetrated by the young on those more vulnerable,” says Vision publisher David Hulme in a recent article titled “Rediscovering the Language of Values.”  He adds, “It seems obvious that an increasingly materialistic, self-absorbed and morally ambivalent society is failing its children.”

On the other hand, wonders the APA (American Psychological Association) on their Web site, “Is youth violence just another fact of life? Are some children just prone to violence?”

Image by  Sebastien BertrandTo rephrase: Is society really failing its children, or can we place the blame on genetics or simply immaturity?

As the APA answers its own rhetorical question, Hulme gains an ally. “There is no gene for violence,” say these experts, “violence is a learned behavior, and it is often learned in the home or the community from parents, family members, or friends.”

Children learn best from people with whom they have secure emotional connections. Neuroscience now confirms what psychologists, parents, theologians and teachers have known all along: strong family relationships and good role models contribute to the formation of the brain, mind, personality and character.

Mirroring is one of the first teaching tools available to children. From infancy, we imitate others around us, and each “mirroring” episode makes a particular neural connection that much stronger. If our role models are compassionate caretakers, we learn compassion and empathy.

But when children experience negligence or witness violent acts, they are more likely to become aggressive and to consider violence an appropriate response when they are angry. As the APA puts it, “The home is the most fertile breeding place for this situation.”

In other words, what a child hears, observes and learns in the home is of critical importance.

Hulme writes that among other factors missing in this arena are the building blocks of moral teaching: what he calls the language of values and the terms of ethical discourse.

The APA concurs. “The process by which violence is taught is circular,” it says. “It begins in the family, expanding through the culture of the larger society in which a child grows and matures and then again is reinforced or discouraged in the family.”

Because we know there is no gene for violence, a society with a violent youth culture must therefore ask some searching questions. For if a society fails its children, it fails itself.

Tags: values, ethics, youth violence, family relationships, juvenile crime, society & culture