By Jessica Branco

       During the week of November 8-10, our Mediated Communication Theory class took on the topic of cyber-safety with the children of Davis Commons, in Brockton, Mass.  We thought this topic was important, and had to be addressed considering the amount of time children and adolescents spend on the internet.  According to a 2005 study by the Pew Foundation, those in the age range of 12 to 17 had the highest (87%) number of users online (Strasburger).  This particular age group uses the internet differently than adults.  They prefer playing games, instant messaging, and social media sites, like Facebook and Myspace.  We broke our cyber-safety week into three lessons:  cyber-safety, cyber-bullying, and online marketing.

        The first group visited Davis Commons on Tuesday, Nov. 8.  They introduced the general topic of cyber-safety, discussed cyber-safety tips, and offered a hand-out for the children to take home and use the next time they surf the web.  Tips included preferred privacy settings on Facebook, and what information is acceptable to display on the internet.  For example, a child shouldn’t put their age on their on-line social media pages.  This makes them more vulnerable to be targeted by others.  During the discussion, the group found that most of the children are already somewhat safe on the web.  Common responses were, “We already do this,” or “My Facebook is super private.”  The Stonehill students were surprised, but it was great news to receive in such a technologically-savvy world where kids are constantly on the web.

The following day, the second group tackled the topic of cyber-bullying.  The group stressed to the students that cyber-bullying can be done through various forms of media, including posting a threatening status about someone on Facebook, or texting gossip about a peer through a mobile phone.  Much to the group’s surprise, many students at Davis Commons admitted to cyber-bullying someone in the past.  The most popular form of cyber-bullying was posting a vague status on Facebook directed towards someone, but not mentioning their name in it.  However, their initials would be capitalized in the status, so they could easily figure out it was directed towards them.  An example would be if John Smith was cyber-bullied, and a status was posted saying, “Just watch your back, don’t Sleep tonight.”  The J and S would be capitalized, since it targets John Smith.  We were amazed to find out this tactic, and couldn’t believe it happens among most of the Davis Commons students.  We had the children each write down anonymously a time when they were cyber-bullied, or when they cyber-bullied someone else, and then read the responses out loud.  Names remained anonymous, since cyber-bullying is often anonymous, as well.  Some of the responses we heard were surprising.  One child got suspended for three days because of cyber-bullying.  We hoped that after our lesson with them, the children will walk away wanting to think twice before they post something about one of their peers. 

At the end of our week-long lesson on cyber-bullying, we thought the children had a better understanding of the matter at hand.  However, many of them still may not realize how much cyber-bullying can affect someone, or how much cyber-safety matters in a world where predators lurk online.  In the future, we hope these kids will alter their privacy settings if they’re not already highly private, and make an effort to stop the vicious cycle of cyber-bullying.  Our lessons were a start, and now the students must carry on the responsibilities and actions themselves.