Linden NJ EMTs Step Up For Autistic Bullying Victim

There’s a story out today that isn’t about digital citizenship, but it’s blowing up on Facebook and it deserves more attention. It’s about plain old kindness and community.

Autistic-boy-bulliedAt the center of the story is Jonathan Moran, a high-functioning autistic boy from Elizabeth New Jersey who attends Lincoln School, a special education institution in Cranford NJ. Jonathan was being bullied on the bus last Thursday and again later in the day. According to a Facebook post from one of the Linden Fire Department crew who responded to the call:

“Today we came across a kid that was being bullied and got into an altercation with a bunch of kids in a school bus. They were making fun of his sneakers and then proceeded to all beat him up. So when we showed up to assist him and heard the story we wanted to do something about it. Everyone at Linden Firehouse #1 chipped in and bought him a brand new pair of sneakers, a American flag, and a your mothers favorite fireman shirt to show him to stay strong and don’t let those bullies ruin his day.”

After stepping in and treating Jonathan’s bumps and bruises, the firefighters didn’t put him back on the bus but rather drove him home themselves. They then went out of their way to assemble the gifts and returned to his home later to deliver them.

Of course, it’s easier for a firefighter, or anyone in an official capacity, to stand up to bullies but let’s hope the message spreads. Anyone can stand up for victims and do something to help. Anyone can stand up to bullies and let them know what is going on is not right.

The posts from the Linden Firefighters above and the video that Jonathan’s mom posted to say thank you have almost 19,000 Likes between them.

I would like to take a moment to thank the Linden Fire Department for their generosity. Earlier today my son Jonathan Moran was assaulted on his school bus, he suffered minor injuries to his face, lips and mouth, it seemed to initiate with a he said she said type thing, that I am told Jonathan ignored, this apparently transpired on the morning bus ride to school. On the afternoon bus ride the student called Jonathan a “Cracker” and then proceeded to punch him in the face. For those of you that don’t know, Jonathan is high-functioning Autistic child. He struggles with self control and in the past would have not been able to maintain control in a situation of this type. He did, he did not retaliate, he did not say or do a thing and I could not be prouder! Linden Fire Department responded to the incident, and would not return Jonathan to the bus, and instead drove him home to me, as his injuries did not require an ER visit. During the ride the EMT’s were chatting with Jonathan and Jon shared his diagnosis with them and also some of his hopes and dreams for the future. Linden Fire Department just returned to my home and this happened. #bullying #autism #equality Thank You Brian Paster, Hilda N Jose Espinal and the entire Linden Fire Department for your generosity, and community service! You are truly heroes in my book! #WayToGoJonathan#AutismSpeaks All future information or changes to information will be posted on Jonathan Moran page.

Posted by Hope Moran on Thursday, October 8, 2015

Let’s hope they get 90,000 more.

 

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NJ Resolution Aims To Have “Upstander” Added to Dictionaries

A strange but positive story is developing in New Jersey this month related to the issue of bullying. It is perhaps the only positive development to come out of the Sayreville High School football hazing case, one which drew national attention and shut down a high profile high school football program.

During the investigation of the case, Sayreville Superintendent Richard Labbe used the term “upstander” to describe the teen who had come forward to report the bullying incidents. Of course the word upstander is the opposite of bystander, and being an upstander is a commendable act in the face of bullying, especially for teens. The problem is that the word does not appear in any official dictionary. One New Jersey politician wants to change that.

Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. has introduced a resolution in the State Assembly that urges Merriam Webster and Oxford to add the word upstander to their dictionaries. As of now, it appears that there is little opposition to the resolution. According to Diegnan:

“It is fitting and proper for this House to raise awareness of the word ‘upstander’ and to encourage not only citizens of the State of New Jersey, but of the entire United States of America to become ‘upstanders’ instead of bystanders”

Bullying, cyberbullying and harassment are too often ignored, particularly by teens, leaving the victims feeling helpless and distraught. We believe that greater awareness that there is an option – kids can and should stand up to bullies – can lead to a decrease in bullying over all.

 

 

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New Lawsuit May Challenge New Jersey’s Bullying Policies

The debate over enforcing statues that attempt to limit bullying versus First Amendment rights and free speech concerns will likely continue for a while, including the question of how schools should be required to handle issues. In New Jersey, a new free speech lawsuit will push the envelope on just that.

question-markThe case, based on an incident at a school in Tenafly, is a strange one indeed.

In the case, fourth grade parents were informed via a letter from school officials that there was at least one incident of head lice in class. Apparently it was generally known who the student with head lice was.

In class, while students were working in groups, one student asked another (apparently the one who had contracted head lice) why she had dyed her hair. A third student spoke up and said she had dyed her hair because she was the one who had head lice.

New Jersey’s Harassment, Bullying and Intimidation (HIB) protocols for schools are very strict, and the case above ended up being treated by the school as a bullying incident. The third student who made the comments about the girl having lice was then put through the HIB wringer. According to the article at The Daily Signal:

“The incident was reported to the Tenafly, N.J., school’s bullying specialist, who “launched a formal investigation and had [the accused bully]. removed from class so she could proceed to question him about the incident,” according to the lawsuit. The specialist also interviewed other students and required [the accused bully] to complete a sensitivity assignment.”

This is a tough situation. No doubt, the girl with the lice had her feelings hurt. There is no way to tell from the article and other available media commentary whether the boy who outed the girl with lice intended to hurt her feelings, which is relevant in our opinion. We think it is unlikely that the boy accused of bullying has been sufficiently wronged to warrant a lawsuit, but there may be details left out.

The schools are in a tough position when required to investigate and act on HIB incidents, and current protocols are far from perfect. It’s a work in process that hopefully will get better.

 

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Social Media School Confession Pages – What Parents Need to Know

twitter confession pageMajor news outlets have been busy lately reporting on social media confession pages, usually on Facebook or Twitter, that air the dirty laundry of students at a given school, district or region. These pages aren’t all that easy to find – schools and parents do their best to have the pages taken down as soon as they start causing a disruption in school, often spurred by a cyberbullying complaint.

How students use the pages vary. Some posts have kids venting about school-related topics or engaging other students humorously, but in some cases the page is an outright cyberbullying forum. Whether the page is harmless or toxic seems to depend on how the anonymous moderators solicit content.

We took a look at one of the more negative Twitter confession accounts that is still active, @YoCoFessions from the York County School District in Pennsylvania, to shed some light on what is really going on and what teens are posting.

Of the harmless variety:

innocent confession

Not so harmless:

twitter-confession-bully

Calling out a student by name in this manner is definitely not appropriate. As you can see, this is more of an allegation than a confession.

twitter-confession-high-school

Again, totally inappropriate. Also, not a confession.

The moderators of confession pages remain anonymous by using a dummy account on Google, Ask.fm or a similar outlet to solicit content and generally go undiscovered until the police or school administrators appeal to the social network to take the account down. Even after an account is taken down, the person running the account is almost never brought to justice. In the case of the @YoCoFessions account, the operator feels that what he (she?) is doing is legal. We doubt it, but are not experts on Pennsylvania law.

confession page defense

The fact that confession pages exist speaks to one of the unfortunate truths of cyberbullying – when kids are anonymous they feel free to do things that they wouldn’t do face to face, or if there was risk of being found out. We have no doubt that some kids posting bullying comments or negative allegations are just trying to be funny and part of the “in crowd”. That doesn’t lessen the negative effect on those being bullied.

What can parents do? If your child is being bullied on an anonymous forum, you can report it to the school or the police. If your child is submitting “confessions”, there is not way for you to find out unless you are monitoring his every keystroke. If you are worried that your child is participating in the bullying, or may do so in the future, communication is the only way to ensure appropriate behavior. What is wrong in real life is wrong online, but online it often has a much broader audience and the evidence may be permanent.

Let’s hope this account gets shut down soon.

 

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Even Teens Are Getting Tired of Bad Behavior on Social Media

Stage of Life writing Are cyberbulllying, online harassment and and generally bad behavior on social media going to be fixtures in society forever? Over the last couple of months, writing website Stage of Life conducted a survey of 5,500 junior high, high school and college students on civility, etiquette and manners and published the report Teen Trends: Where has the Civility Gone?

The group broke out the data for U.S. teens only, and took a look at the results as they pertain to online behavior. The summary confirms some things that we were already thinking, and raises some questions about possible future trends, including one that could be very positive.

The highlights:

  • 91% of teens say civility, etiquette and manners are either important or very important in their lives
  • 20% of respondents said that they most frequently observe uncivil behavior on social media
  • 92% said that social media is making us a less civil society

Many other survey results have previously confirmed that people are less polite on social media than they are in person. Anonymity is one factor. The fact that the aggressor is not at risk of being slapped across the face is another. Is it always going to be like this?

One might conclude from the data above that the extent to which people are uncivil on social media may be due for a change. If the statistics above are accurate – 9 out of ten teens both care about civility AND view social media as a significant negative influence, behavior on the margin is likely to change.

The problem could be rectified either by teens spending less time and energy on social media, or by behaving better when they’re there. I am not delusional enough to believe the former is going to happen, so let’s hope for the latter.

Have a great day.

 

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Are Anonymous Websites Safe For Teens?

If a teen is using a social media network or website where anonymity is allowed, or is the default, there is a perception that there is less risk than if the teen were online using his or her real name. I know that my kids believed this to be true, at least before I explained things to them. Parents should understand that this is not necessarily the case.

AnonymousLet’s take a look at a number of reasons why being anonymous, or thinking you are, can either lead to risky behavior or put an internet user at risk:

Nobody knows who you are – Let’s face it – the only thing that keeps some impulsive teens from doing or posting inappropriate things online is the fear of getting caught. If a teen “knows” that he is anonymous, bad or riskier behavior could become the norm.

Cyberbullying – Similar to the point above, cyberbullies are bolder when the fear of being found out is zero. If your teen is on an anonymous site, even if she is a great kid not likely to be a bully, she is vulnerable to being targeted by bullies herself.

Other inappropriate conduct – The number of incidents involving cyberbullying and other inappropriate conduct that we see on anonymous sites and networks is much higher than on “real name” networks. If your teen frequents these sites day in and day out, he may learn that this inappropriate behavior is normal, or may join in just to seem cool.

Doxing – Short for document tracing, doxing is the process of internet users exposing the true identity of another user, even though that user had been posting anonymously. If your teen has been acting inappropriately online, and gets outed, there could be serious repercussions.

Predator risk – If your teen is anonymous, then so are the predators, making it easier to craft an online identity that may seem like a friend-able type of person to your teen. Beware as not all internet users are who they appear to be.

Now let’s take a look at the places online that teens frequent where anonymity is either common or the default identity.

Ask.fm – Ask.fm is a question and answer site designed to allow users to post questions and receive answers from friends and strangers. It is a forum frequented by teen cyberbullies, and has been linked to numerous teen suicides. Anonymity is optional on Ask.fm, and from what we’ve seen, victims are often users with their real name as a handle while the bullies choose to remain anonymous. We caution parents that teens should proceed with caution when using Ask.fm.

Reddit – Reddit is a news, general interest and commenting website designed to allow users to post and vote on content. Reddit is mostly anonymous, and commenters can be extremely cruel. There is a lot of great content on Reddit (100 million unique users last month), but users need to have a thick skin to engage here.

4chan – 4chan is a fully/mostly anonymous image posting and discussion forum, organized by topic. All users are anonymous on 4chan and the content is totally unmoderated. Teens should avoid it.

Whisper App – Whisper App is a photo and group-messaging app designed to allow users to post stock or personal pictures along with comments – usually secrets or confessions. While mostly harmless, Whisper has recently been used for anonymous cyberbullying. Fortunately, the app does offer a relatively easy way to report bullying.

There are many sites and networks where, wile most users operate under their real name, but many are anonymous, such as Twitter, Snapchat and other messaging apps, Instagram, Tumblr and online gaming platforms. We advise teens to use good judgment when interacting with users whose true identity is not known.

 

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How Do Bullies Get Started?

Are bullies born that way or is it learned behavior? We’re not 100% sure, but we do know that it can start early. And it can at least to some extent be learned.

Last month when I was discussing recent cyberbullying statistics I offered up the possibility that maybe young girls are more mean-spirited than young boys, since the data I was looking at showed a higher incidence of bullying among girls than boys. There is nothing for us to gain making broad generalizations, but parents need to see events clearly and deal honestly with what is going on.

basketballI took my 6-year-old daughter to her basketball game this weekend – it was the 3rd Saturday of the program but due to Christmas vacations, the first where my daughter would be together with her team, The Maryland Terrapins.

We picked up her uniform from the coach and got her changed, and then we were milling about waiting for the team photo to be taken. There were two teammates standing nearby but neither of them spoke to or approached my daughter. I asked Kara about the girls, hoping to get some interaction going. This is what followed:

Me: “Do you know those two girls?”

Daughter: “Yes, that one was in my acting class and I know that one from school.”

Me to the girls: “Hi girls, do you know my daughter Kara?”

One of the girls: “We’re in second grade and she is in first grade.” The girls then turned away and continued talking between themselves.

That was just plain mean, and had no real point to it, which I guess is the gist of most bullying. I didn’t say anything to the rude girls, unsure of how to best handle it. When I told the story to my wife later, she said she definitely would have said something. I did talk to my daughter later to make sure she didn’t feel too badly, and thankfully she is a real trooper.

Comfortable that my daughter’s feelings were not damaged, I went to work on a little teaching moment. I explained to her that what the other girl said and how she acted was wrong, and asked her never to treat anyone in such a way. I also assured her that she could talk to her parents any time she had her feelings hurt by another person.

I didn’t think that a first grade/second grade rivalry was even a thing, and I’m not sure whether my choice to not address the other girls was correct – please leave a comment if you feel strongly one way or another. I do feel that after having witnessed this incident first hand and talked to my daughter about it, chances are she’s less likely to be a bully herself. I hope.

 

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A Closer Look at Youth Bullying Statistics

I’m not sure whether the timing is significant, but this week the New York City Department of Health came out with a report and a raft of new statistics around youth bullying. While being a bit dated (the study uses data from 2011), the results, which examine both real world bullying and cyberbullying, offer some insight as to what is going on both in the school yard and online. The headline number is that nearly one in five NYC students are victims of some form of bullying.

A couple of highlights that were a surprise to us:

  1. NYC students are less likely to be bullied (18%) vs. students nationwide (27%)
  2. Girls were more likely to be cyberbullied (13%) vs. boys (9%)

Regarding #1 above, the results were extracted from two different studies, and the gap may be explained by the difference between the two studies. Regarding #2, we don’t want to state across the board that girls’ interactions are more mean-spirited than boys’, but the data tell us that there is something about the online medium that has girls acting more adversarial than boys, or at least reporting it differently.

A couple of highlights that are not so surprising:

  • LGBT students are more likely to be bullied (29%) than heterosexual students (17%)
  • Bullying victims are more than twice as likely (13%) to use prescription pain medication than non-bullied students (5%)
  • Bullying victims are more likely to engage in tobacco, marijuana and alcohol use
  • Bullying victims are more than twice and likely to attempt suicide (15% vs. 6%) and self harm (32% vs. 13%) than non-victims

The last one is a doozy. Parents need to be on guard whether their kids are a victim of bullying or doing the bullying themselves. Even “good” kids can be sucked into the bullying culture in an effort to be cool or popular.

 

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Is Minecraft Safe for 9 Year Olds?

The following is a guest post by Robert Kaufman, founder of Memoriis (more information below).

 

Minecraft is an award winning computer game that is likely to be a topic of dinner table conversation if you have a 7 to 10 year old. Many of us would agree that understanding and using technology are critical skills for today’s youth and tomorrow’s leaders.

Minecraft
Minecraft

Minecraft does educate as well as entertain but we as parents need to be aware of questionable content and bad habits and not leave our children to their own devices.

A former colleague of mine recently launched a web service called ThirdParent, that deals with online safety for children and teens, an area that I am passionate about.  A recent post Time To Have “The Internet Talk” With Your Kids, prompted me to share my thoughts on the Minecraft phenomenon.

The Good 

Creative – Your child will build and create worlds, acquire resources and be challenged to use those resources effectively. Creative play is limited only by your child’s imagination.

Social – It seems the real fun of the game is that it’s social. Gamers build custom avatars, create worlds and battle collaboratively. There are rules of behavior, a social hierarchy and real time chat pushing players to enhance vocabulary and typing skills.

Educational – It’s a complex game and it takes time to master forcing greater comfort with computers.  Interestingly, it’s common for gamers to watch and create YouTube videos to learn and teach about gameplay.

The Bad

Lack of Parental Controls – Many of the servers or virtual worlds are not age appropriate and can lack administrators to monitor activity.

Addictive – As with anything, especially computer games, too much of a good thing is problematic. Setting limits is important.

CyberbullyingMinecraft has a social hierarchy and bad behavior occurs.   Players can gang up on others, there can be theft of game resources and of course there can be verbal tormenting.

Inappropriate Content and Social Themes – While gameplay includes violence, battles and monsters, they are highly stylized and don’t seem worse than average TV. What’s most disturbing is cursing and sexual content in some servers’ chat area. There are also virtual worlds that contain bars and believe it or not, sex rooms and a marriage feature.  I have also seen players ask other users to Skype, which of course for counterparts who are not real world friends, is a no no.

I am sure my friends at ThirdParent would agree you should:

  • Be involved and try to sit with your child while they play to share time and experience;
  • Learn the language, what are they chatting, creating and who they are interacting with;
  • And as always, place limits on technology playtime.

Overall, Minecraft can be a great learning tool, but as always, too much of a good thing can be destructive. In the interest of shielding your child from inappropriate content and guiding responsible behavior, your involvement in your child’s Minecraft play is important to fostering a safe and productive experience for your child and household.

 

Robert Kaufman is the founder of Memoriis.com, a private and secure family cloud storage and sharing service for documents, photos and videos. Robert lives in NYC, is a proud father of a 9 year old Minecraft expert and is a 25 year veteran of the technology and finance industries. 

 

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Ray Rice and Maryland Mayor Team Up Against Cyberbullying

Ray Rice Facebook BullyingTwo Maryland high schools are in the news for high profile stands that are being taken against cyberbullying.

Baltimore Ravens football star Ray Rice, who has been making the rounds of high schools speaking our against cyberbullying, took to Facebook this week after getting messages from students at Maryland’s Dundalk High School that cyberbullying was rampant at their school:

I want to know exactly what is going on at Dundalk High School. NOT happy about all the messages I am getting from students about a boy being bullied so bad he is attempting to hurt himself repeatedly. NOT happy that many of the messages involve the staff not acting or taking written reports which they are required to do. Don’t be a bystander and let this happen! What the heck is going on??

Rice’s post did not go unnoticed, and as of this writing the post has 11,138 Likes and 1,342 comments. According to a story in the Baltimore Sun, among those standing up with Rice is Aberdeen, Maryland Mayor Mike Bennett, whose own Harford High School is in the middle of a lawsuit filed by parents of a special-needs child who has allegedly been bullied for years.

Clearly, the Mayor of Aberdeen is not in charge of the schools, but the fact that he is joining in the anti bullying message is important:

“The school is in our community and so things that are going on affect our citizens, and I felt like it was just time to step up and bring attention to some of things that are going on,” he explained.

We need fewer bystanders, both among kids and adults, and more people taking a stand against bullying. Of course, a more effective resolution by the schools would be great, but bullying is not just the responsibility of the schools. The louder the conversation, the more likely that parents will join in and deal with their kids head-on, whether that are being bullied, doing the bullying or standing by and letting it happen.

 

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