Today, 90% of teens report that they have witnessed online cruelty and say that they didn’t tell anyone or stop it. 58% of victims report that they have not told their parents about an online bullying incident, and school officials observe that teens who bully others in person at school are often bullying their peers online as well. New media has created a new kind of social interaction, and schools are scrambling to keep up with the changes. There are plenty of resources now to help schools and parents tackle cyberbullying: webinars, school assemblies, and zero-tolerance policies, for example. But some tech developers think they’ve found the solution to the problem: fight technology issues with technology. Here’s a quick look at two new apps designed to curb online bullying:
The first is an app called STOPit, created by Tom Schobel. Schobel explains his motivation behind the app's creation: “Not long ago I heard a radio interview about a young girl who was viciously bullied, primarily through social media posts. She committed suicide. As I listened, my heart stopped beating for what felt like an eternity. I couldn’t breathe. Tears flowed, and my life has never been the same. This should never happen to children, and I had to help. The idea for STOPit was born.” The (paid) app is downloadable for smart phones, and makes it easy to report incidents to trusted adults, and it provides easy access to resources and support for teens who witness or experience online bullying.
* Free: No
* Potential downside: The app is geared toward schools, and the danger here is that school administrators may rely solely on this app cyberbullying prevention. While tools like this are certainly helpful, it will take a hands-on educational approach – beyond what’s available through electronic means - to truly address the root causes of bullying.
The second tool is a free downloadable app called KnowBullying. Developed by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association) it claims to”put the power to prevent bullying in your hand.” This app is designed for parents and caretakers, and offers them advice, suggestions, and guidance for communicating with children about online bullying. It encourages parents to check in regularly with their children and offers pointers to get the conversation started.
* Best feature: Between the conversation starters, tips, the bullying warning signs, and the check-in reminders, it is hard to choose just one best feature; these are all components to sparking healthy and open communication, which is the real challenge when it comes to talking to teens about problems they have online. If we have to choose one feature, though, we vote for the Educators Section. Teachers and administrators can download the app even if their school doesn’t have an official prevention program in place. The Educators feature offers resources to prevent bullying in the classroom and offers support for children who experience bullying.
* Price: free
* Potential downside: Like any app, it lacks the human touch that is needed when it comes to teaching empathy, kindness, and responsibility online. However, if used in conjunction with the human element, it’s hard to find a downside here.
Ultimately, it’s great to see that more tools are becoming available for parents and schools. It is exciting to be a part of this movement to teach teens how to interact online in ways that are powerful, positive, and healthy. Our hope, however, is that parents and schools do not rely solely on technology to help their children with technology. Guidance from experienced experts, education, digital skills, and open communication with parents are essential to this growing shift towards a positive online culture and away from one that looks the other way when bullies appear, and it’s going to take more than an app to do all that.
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