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The need to unlock technology’s potential without the pitfalls

Thursday, July 9 2015

DR Cynthia Archer-Gift, Dr Feleta L. Wilson and Dr Umeika Stephens, three Assistant Professors at the College of Nursing, Wayne State University in Michigan, USA were among the presenters at the recent 7th Quadrennial Health Conference held in June 2015 at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre and explored the topic of cyberbullying.

Quoting from a December 2011 study done in Detroit, Michigan, USA by Jemica Monique Carter, who is also from the Wayne State University, they discussed how serious an issue it can be and how pervasive cyberbullying has become.

The study found that of 367 students surveyed who ranged in age from 10 to 18, 17 percent or 63 students said they had been the victim of cyber bullying. About half of those victims said they in turn bullied someone else and 60 percent knew of someone that had been bullied.

The study found that students were immersed in the technology that was the platform for cyber bullying with 92.1 percent having use of a computer, 79.1 percent mobile phones, 88.7 percent had email accounts, 81.6 percent used social networking sites, 84.2 percent used text messaging and 28 percent used twitter. The students had easy access to Internet access throughout their homes including bedrooms and basements so with portable devices they could more easily evade adult scrutiny especially where more than one third lived with their mother.

The study also noted the incredible amount of time young people spent communicating via mobile and computer devices. They averaged 189 texts per day reaching as high as 3000 texts and spent 3 to 8 hours a day on their devices. Most had more than one email account some as many as 25.

The circumstances seemed to provide the ideal time, opportunity for unhealthy online conduct including cyber bullying where victims were more likely to experience depression, anxiety, loneliness and self-esteem issues, more likely to report health problems and more likely to see their grades suffer.

There is no comprehensive data available on cyberbullying in Trinidad and Tobago and although Archer-Gift thinks the statistics are indicative of what is happening across the USA and the world, she is hoping to get the requisite approvals to have a detailed cyberbullying study done here. The Police Service Cyber Crime Unit has indicated however that there were about 30 cases of cyberbullying reported between 2012 and 2013, including cases of young people threatening the lives of others.

Speaking after the presentation, Archer-Gift offered the following advice to parents and children to protect against cyberbullying and how to deal with it if it occurs. She noted “The respondents in the Detroit study showed ample access to computers, mobile phones etc. A child’s access to technology and what is on the internet is a big factor if a child can become a victim of cyberbullying or even bully another child. The study also indicated that parents are often unaware their kids have multiple, fictitious e-mail accounts which they use to bully others.”

Archer-Gift continued “We can ask the question did the parent set reasonable guidelines around their child’s use of technology and how much supervision do these kids have when they are on the computers? Is there a locking, monitoring or control application on the computer or mobile device? Are they allowed to use these devices when the parent is not there or asleep?”

Archer-Gift stressed that the communication between a parent and child is also important. “Parents should talk to their child every day when they come from school to find out how their day was and what is happening in their child’s life.” Archer-Gift noted that this is how openness, honesty and trust is built between a parent and child. The StopBullying.gov website expands on this advice:

• Establish rules about technology use and talk with your kids about cyberbullying and other online issues regularly.

• Be Aware of What Your Kids are Doing Online. Learn about the sites your kids visit and their online activities. Ask where they’re going, what they’re doing, and who they’re doing it with. Try out the devices they use.

• Tell your kids that as a responsible parent you may review their online communications if you think there is reason for concern. Installing parental control filtering software or monitoring programmes are one option for monitoring your child’s online behaviour, but do not rely solely on these tools. Also ask to “friend” or “follow” your kids on social media sites or ask another trusted adult to do so.

• Encourage your kids to tell you immediately if they, or someone they know, is being cyberbullied. Explain that you will not take away their computers or cell phones if they confide in you about a problem they are having.

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