Posts Tagged ‘Youth’

Lady Gaga On Right Track With Youth Empowerment and Kindness

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

This post is adapted and expanded from one that appeard in the San Jose Mercury News on March 5, 2012

by Larry Magid

There has been a lot of work over the past few years to combat online and offline bullying. Olweus Bullying Prevention Program has been providing great resources for years. The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network has helped raise awareness around bullying, and the White House last year hosted an anti-bullying summit attended, by both the President and the First Lady.

But Michele Obama isn’t the only famous “lady” working to combat bullying. At Harvard University, Lady Gaga last week launched a foundation to encourage kindness, empower youth and inspire bravery.

Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, launched the Born This Way Foundation with help from Oprah Winfrey, who conducted one of her TV-style interviews with Gaga.

It would be easy to dismiss Lady Gaga as yet another celebrity embracing a cause, — after all combating bullying has become quite popular lately.  But after watching her dive deeply into the issues, it’s clear that she brings a lot more to the party than just her fame, influence and wealth. She knows what it means to be different and to be ridiculed by peers. Before she became a superstar, she was a geeky teenaged musician amongst a peer group who thought her odd and out-of-place.  When she first started speaking publicly about bullying last year some of her messaging was out of touch with recommendations of many experts. But, as I explain later, she’s now paying attention to the research.

To her credit, Oprah was upbeat and positive and avoided some of the fear messages that she sometimes used on her syndicated TV show to punctuate a point. Fear and exaggeration almost never inspire people to make lasting or meaningful changes and, as Lady Gaga knows from her own fans, most kids don’t bully. She may call her young fans “little monsters,” but it’s a term of endearment. She knows that they’re mostly great kids.

The launch was less about bullying and more about empowering young people to be kind and brave and to support each other.

Not blaming tech

I was pleased that in addition to refraining from exaggerating the prevalence of bullying or overdramatizing the results, no one perpetuated the myth that technology is severely endangering young people. Gaga commented that “people think that cyberbullying is like the major thing that’s happening right now and truthfully it’s really not. It’s the most visible because you can copy and past something and view it. But the worst bullying that you can experience is face to face on the street, in school.”

She’s right. A recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that in-person bullying is more common than any form of cyberbullying. Besides, cyberbullying is simply bullying that takes place on phones and online. Research shows that kids who are cyberbullied are often bullied by the same kids at school. Technology is no longer something special — it’s woven into the fabric of young people’s lives, so it’s pretty much impossible to separate “cyber’ bullying from school-based aggression and meanness.

She brought a village

Also on stage were the mind-body healing guru Deepack Chopra, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen G. Sebelius, University of Nebraska Psychology Professor Susan Swearer , high school student Alyssa Rodemeyer, reporter and gay parent David Burtka and Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, who all interviewed Lady Gaga in what amounted to a mock trial, which was fitting in that it took place in an auditorium that reminded me of the classroom from the movie “Paper Chase.”

The launch followed a day-long symposium at the Harvard Law School, where about 90 of the world’s best minds on bullying, youth risk, media and education addressed a variety of issues. I participated in the session on school culture and climate. There were also sessions on law and policy, evaluation and assessment, classroom-based curricula and media campaigns.

My co-director Anne Collier co-led a session on peer driven initiatives that featured young people whose voices are too often left out of these discussions. Each of the working groups made specific recommendations, including action items, for the foundation to consider.  Experts working with the Berkman Center put together some useful working papers ahead of the launch to provide an overview on bullying and meanness along with some excellent tips. Harvard also hosted a youth conference were Lady Gaga made an appearance.

It helps that Lady Gaga is paying attention to experts, including  danah boyd of Microsoft Research who provided her team with research materials in advance of the launch. Boyd and Berkman Center co-director John Palfrey, serve as advisers to Gaga’s foundation.

Minor quibbles

I do have a couple of minor quibbles. I disagreed with her response to Swearer, who said educators need to get involved in combating bullying. “I don’t think that works,” responded Lady Gaga, adding “I don’t think teachers give a shit a lot of the time.” She thinks the solution is youth intervention and she’s partially right. But it really does take a village, and that village must includes kids along with teachers, parents, law enforcement, counselors, the media, politicians and everyone else.

I also thought Lady Gaga was a naïve when she said, “I believe it will be quite easy to change the world,”  but it was a sweet thought when she elaborated that if everyone were nice to others, it would happen over time. Yet I was impressed by most of what she had to say, including, “We have to work from the ground up and create a climate and an environment in schools where someone that feels self conscious has someone walk up to them in the middle of class and say ‘I really like your essay’. Little acts of kindness, these are the things that will change culture.”

Not looking to the law

And I agree with Lady Gaga that passing new laws won’t solve the problem. If a law would work, she said, “I’d be chained naked to a fence somewhere trying to pass it.” I, too, would support a law if I ever found one that could truly make a difference. But I’d keep my clothes on.

For more

Anne Collier’s From Born This Way to Move This Way: A new foundation

Stephen Carrick-Davies’ Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation: Are We Born To Be Brave?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s Born to Not Get Bullied – based on an interview with Gaga

Video: Lady Gaga performs Born This Way

Note: Lady Gaga is a provocative entertainer whose work  inspires many but offends some people. If you have very young children, consider screening it first for yourself before playing for them so you can make up your own mind.

Pseudoscience, technopanic and online youth

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Pseudoscience sculpture by Mihail Chemiakin (Photo by Larry Magid)

There’s an amazing group of sculptures in a park near the Kremlin in Moscow, called “Children are victims of adult vices” by Mihail Chemiakin.

This particular sculpture is “pseudoscience,” which is relevant for the talks that I (along with my co-director Anne Collier) will deliver this week at the Safer Internet Day forum here in Moscow. Some adults have perpetuated myths both about dangers to young people online and the way youth treat each other in social media. Panicking over cyberbullying, sexting, predation and other risks is a form of pseudoscience that hurts young people. That’s not to say that these risks don’t exist, but that kids are far more resilient that many of us give them credit for. To ignore the growing research about youth risk is, indeed, an example of of pseudoscience. Scroll down for links to articles about real science on youth risk.

The other vices depicted in sculpture are drug addiction, prostitution, theft, alcoholism, ignorance, indifference, violence, sadism, lack of memory, exploitation of child labor, poverty and war.  For more, see this on Wikipedia.

Mihail Chemiakin's "Children are victims of adult vices" taken by Lvova Anastasiya & downloaded from Wikipedia Commons

For more

Internet fact sheet from the Crimes against Children Research Center

Predator panic making a comeback

Let’s not create a cyberbullying panic

With new data we can stop the teen sexting panic

Why technopanics are bad (Anne Collier)

Why do we always sell the next generation short (Adam Thierer)

Study falsely reinforces fear for parents of online youth

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

This post is adapted from Larry Magid’s column that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on September 5, 2011

by Larry Magid

Crimes Against Children Research Center Director David Finkelhor has talked and written about “juvenoia,” observing that some people assert that there are “features of the Internet that increase risk for young people above what they already encounter or what they encounter in other environments.”

We saw that a few years ago when the TV program “To Catch a Predator” spread fear that online children and teens were at increased risk of sexual molestation. A rash of news stories appeared about predator danger and politicians called for new child protection laws, yet every credible research project on the subject found no demonstrable increased predator risk, compared to the risk children face from people they know in the real world.

Alarming study

Now parents have something else to be afraid of. A recent report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University said that teens ages 12-17 who watch certain TV shows or who spend time on social networking sites like Facebook and My Space, or who have seen pictures on social networking sites of kids getting drunk, passed out, or using drugs, are likelier to smoke, drink or use drugs. Or, as their news release colorfully put it, “free-for-all world of Internet expression, suggestive television programming and what-the-hell attitudes put teens at sharply increased risk of substance abuse.”

The survey found that youths 12 to 17 years old who spend time online in a typical day, even just a minute a day, are five times likelier to use tobacco, three times likelier to use alcohol and twice as likely to use marijuana.

The survey also found that teens who watch “reality shows like ‘Jersey Shore,’ ‘Teen Mom,’ or ’16 and Pregnant’ or any teen dramas like ‘Skins’ and ‘Gossip Girl,’ ” are more likely to use tobacco, alcohol and marijuana.

Correlation does not prove causation

The results of this survey might be alarming if it weren’t for the fact that teen use of social networking is the norm, not the exception. The study found that 70 percent of teens use social networking sites, so the risk of those awful behaviors attributed to the evils resulting from going online apply to seven out of 10 teens.

Although my skills are a bit rusty, I know a thing or two about surveys. I studied and taught survey research in my former academic career and designed and analyzed numerous surveys. One of the first things I taught my undergraduates was not to confuse correlation with causation. Even if it’s true that the kids who never use Facebook are less likely to abuses substances, the survey doesn’t tell us why that’s the case. There could be all sorts of other explanations, such as very strict parents. Or perhaps the same traits that cause that minority of kids to shy away from social networking are the same traits that make them less likely to use drugs, tobacco and alcohol.

And it’s not as if kids who do use social networking have a higher rate of use than kids in general. The percentages of online kids who were found to use drugs, tobacco and alcohol were about the same as those found in other national surveys where social networking use wasn’t a factor. If we are to draw any conclusions about this report, it would be that it says more about that 30 percent minority that’s not online. And as concerned as we should be about substance use, has anyone studied whether those kids might have equally troubling problems, including possibly social isolation?

Exaggerating danger doesn’t lower risk

What concerns me about this study is that it raises fears that are both unsubstantiated and not actionable. What are we supposed to do, turn back time and force our kids to abandon Facebook? The reality is that social networking is a part of most of our lives and what we need to do is not pull away from the technology, but make sure that kids (and adults too) know how to use it appropriately. We all need to learn to make our own conscious decisions and not be manipulated by what we see online, in the media or in advertising.

The other problem with fear-mongering reports is that they often don’t change behavior. A seminal paper on fear messaging by Kim White at Michigan State University found that “when assessing threat, the audience considers severity, or the seriousness of it, as well as their susceptibility, or the likelihood that it will happen to them.” In other words, kids who use social networking are likely to ignore the results of this study just as they ignore stupid and potentially dangerous things they find online.

Kids need guidance and education, but they don’t need to be bubble-wrapped. And parents need to take a deep breath and avoid panicking every time someone comes up with a scary study or an alarming news report.

More resources

My co-director Anne Collier two part series (part one and part two) on “juvenoia”and Anne’s analysis of the CASA youth survey

My slide presentation “Do fear and exaggeration increase risk?”

Family Online Safety Institute’s Stehen Balkham’s take on the study, Be Afraid, Very Afraid


‘Juvenoia,’ Part 1: Why Internet fear is overrated

Resources for Youth in Crisis

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Click here for a resource list for youth in crisis and their care givers.

Youth take fewer risks than 20 years ago

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

A study released Wednesday by the Girl Scouts shows that young people report they take fewer risks and treat each other better than their counterparts of a generation ago.

The report, called “Good Intentions: The Beliefs and Values of Teens and Tweens Today,” is based on a national study conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute and Harris Interactive. It’s based on research conducted with 3,263 students from 3rd to 12th grade from throughout the U.S. The sample included youth in and out of scouting.

Most youth wouldn’t forward an embarrassing e-mail

(Credit: Girl Scout Research Institute)

With some exceptions, the survey is identical to one carried out in 1989, which provides some comparative data on how young people’s perceptions of risk, values, and etiquette have changed since the advent of the commercial Internet and social networking.

Contrary to what some people may think, young people are actually more responsible, more involved in their community, and more tolerant of diversity than they were 20 years ago (based on self-reporting). They also say they are more likely to refuse an alcoholic drink at a party (58 percent now, as opposed to 46 percent in 1989), less likely to think smoking is OK (18 percent versus 27 percent), more likely to refrain from sex until marriage (33 percent versus 24 percent), more likely to tell the truth to a principal (33 percent versus 24 percent), and much more likely to “continue a relationship with a gay/lesbian friend” (48 percent versus 12 percent).

Also, youth say that they are more likely to vote (84 percent versus 77 percent) and give to charity (76 percent versus 63 percent) in the future.

Cyberbullying wasn’t an issue in 1989, but it is now. The good news is that 84 percent of youth said they would not forward an embarrassing e-mail about someone else; 6 percent said they would. The study asked youth to respond to this scenario: “A friend e-mails to you and some of your friends an embarrassing photo of a girl from school. No one really likes this girl, and you don’t know her very well.” Eighty-four percent of the youth said they would delete the e-mail without forwarding it. About half of that group (40 percent) say they would also tell “the offending friend that what they did was wrong.” Eight percent said they weren’t sure, 1 percent didn’t answer, and 6 percent said they would forward the photo and message to the rest of their friends.

It’s important to remember that this is a survey based on what young people say they would do, not a report on actual behavior. Still, it provides an optimistic view of today’s youth and tends to confirm other studies. For example, a recent study conducted by Cox Communications found that 3 percent of teens admit to having forwarded a (sexting) message that included a nude or partially nude photograph of a peer.