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Helping Parents and Teachers Guide Students’ Online Behavior

Matt Ivester, left, talks to local teachers about digital citizenship

After the roller coaster of running JuicyCampus, Matt Ivester began looking into why people felt more empowered online to be nastier, or more racist and bigoted than in everyday life. He said the lack of face-to-face contact with others online reduces the triggers that communicate to us when we’ve gone to far — those hurt eyes, trembling lips, welling tears.

Ivester says the title of his book, lol … OMG!, comes from the idea that kids often do things they think are funny online without realizing possible negative repercussions.

He also says that while shame has always played an important role in our society, ensuring that people abide by our social rules, online shaming has taken on a new dimension. What may have started off as a simple infraction — a misguided comment or a mistake — can grow to monstrous proportions by going viral. “The problem with online shaming is that the shaming lasts forever, and can be more hurtful and on a grander basis,” Ivester said. “Little bits of justifiable shaming can grow into a massive attack on someone.”

Meanwhile, young kids who are beginning to experiment with socializing beyond the supervised playdate are doing more of their socializing online. And parents and teachers are struggling with how to best guide them. “It used to be that parents could give good advice to their kids, but it’s often hard for parents to relate when it comes to tech like this,” Ivester said.

Bridget Mullen, the director of Upward Bound, invited teachers from the local area to meet with Ivester prior to his campus talk, to get tips on how to help their students navigate this strange new world. “We can change student behavior and make them conscious creators of content,” Ivester reassured the group. He calls this teaching students “digital citizenship.” Although students are on their own when they’re on their digital devices, adults can let them know about the potential fall-out of their actions.

He says teachers can discuss with students as young as sixth grade about the psychology of online behavior, talking with them about why it’s easier to be mean online and how this can damage them or someone else. “You can talk at a more advanced level with students about the things they might fall into without realizing the full consequences,” he said.