Interconnect ED

'Only connect...' E.M Forster

Tag: fear

The art of iMagineering

“It is an awesome thing to comprehend the magnitude of the fact that what a human being dreams and imagines can be realized. The power of that truth needs to be directed toward our creation of a future
that is worthy of true human value and the world civilization.”
~ Vanna Bonta

For some years I have wanted to begin synthesizing the years of material I’ve gathered on approaches to Digital Citizenship. Believe me, I’ve a lot of resources fattening up my Diigo site and Google Drive.

To start I had to erase the whole notion of being a ‘citizen.’ I mean, what ten-year old kid wants to be a ‘good citizen’?  The whole concept of citizenship addressed in most of the resources tends to be about averting problems, establishing polite norms and generally homogenising young people’s online lives so that they fit nicely within safe, controlled and regulated boundaries.  What kids want is something altogether less anodyne – they are generally aware of the problems but its the possibilities that excite them. They want to be powerful and creative. They want to belong but also to be increasingly independent. They seek to connect and explore by themselves or with others of like minds. True, they want to be safe from harm, but not safe from the experience of an online life that includes solving problems.  Basically they want to be awe-some, not the-same.

How do I know this? What report did I get this from? Did I read danah boyd’s book ‘It’s Complicated.“? Well, I just ask them. Most days. ‘What do you want from life?’ is a question to ask kids often, even if they don’t answer. Often I just watch the kids creating in Minecraft and see just how much they revel in being not what school says they should be.

I also asked my ten year old self who, in his infinite wisdom, wanted to be Spider-Man. Despite his superhero status, Peter Parker was not a good normal citizen. Back in the 1970s he had radioactive blood, drove a lurid beach buggy around Manhattan, looked better in tights than I did then (and for that matter, do now) and did ‘whatever a spider can‘. But Spider-Man helped people without conforming to someone else’s idea of how to do it. That’s my ideal of a good citizen.

The challenge for educators is now does one honour the wishes of the young as well as uphold the requirements of curriculum and legislation. Hence, a reinvention of Digital Citizenship as a new area of curriculum that I call iMagineering.

What follows is an outline written for young people as an introduction to an online course called iMagineers – Creating Digital Futures, part of a series blending resources and bringing new ideas into the mix. Going beyond conforming, an iMagineer creates, imagines, solves problems and knows who they are.

Thanks to Wolfberry at Deviant Art for the wonderful images.

What is an iMagineer?

The name of this online course  comes to us by playing with words. Think about the word ‘iMagineer’, what does it conjure up for you? Go on, think about it before you automatically scroll down. Take some time to reflect on the word.

Here are some thoughts about the name iMagineer below. Once you’ve had a good think about it, scroll down.

C

Circuit by Wolfberry

An iMagineer is an engineer

An Engineer is someone who designs and makes things. Dictionary.com defines an engineer as ‘a person trained and skilled in the design, construction, and use of engines or machines, or in any of various branches of engineering’

Engineers usually have a lot of training and have excellent practical skills that they can use to solve problems, create inventions and make life easier or safer for other people. There have been many successful male and female engineers who have made our lives better.

Would you like to be an engineer?

G

Guardian of the Gate by Wolfberry

An iMagineer is a Mage

A Mage is another name for a magician (can you see a bit of the word mage in magician?) or sorcerer or wizard or enchanter or enchantress. These are men or women who use magic to make change in the world.

The word mage is an old one that comes to us from the Latin word magus. A Mage weilds great power and, like an engineer, needs to undergo a lot of training so they get their spells just right. Sometimes magicians go ‘bad’ and do terrible things. Sometimes they use their powers for good and help people.

If you were a mage, would you use your powers to help people or to hurt them?

 

imagemaker

Then and Now by Wolfberry

An iMagineer is an Image maker

An image is harder to explain. An image is a likeness of a person, place or thing. It has the appearance of something or someone but is not actually that thing or person. An image represents something. A photograph of you at Disneyland is neither actually you or is it Disneyland (that would be silly!) but it does represent the fact that you went there and (hopefully) had an awesome time.

Even words are images. Think about it. The word DOG is not actually a dog, is it? If you say the word even the sound of the word is not the same as the letters DEE OH GEE. The letters are images that represent three separate sounds ‘duh oh guh’. But even those sounds are not what a dog is, are they?

Let’s get back to images and the internet. An image is often used to represent us on the internet. This is usually called an Avatar or an Icon. (More on Avatars in a later sesh.) This picture or GIF is not you, though it may look a bit like you. It is not you, but it is you as far as others are concerned. The image you present to the world on the internet says a lot about you and your interests.

What do your avatars say about you?

calabash_child_by_wolfberry_j-d51nadz

Calabash Child by Wolfberry

An iMagineer is a person first and foremost

Sometimes when we read posts on the internet we can forget that an actual person typed it. That person might be any age, nationality, or gender. They might be a child, teacher or parent. That person may practice the same religion as you or a different one. They may have no religion at all. That person may have hobbies, dreams, pets, family and friends.

That minecraft toon or animate GIF you see online represents a living breathing person who wants to be liked, wants to be creative, wants to connect, has good days and bad days. Sometimes they are at their best. Sometimes they are at their worst. But regardless of what they type on their keyboard and send off into cyberspace, that person is a person with feelings. They are growing up, shaping their character a bit like how a character earns experience points in games. Every little action helps shape our character. They are learning, like you, how to create their identity. They are levelling up in life.

When we put ‘i’ at the front of the word like you see in iTunes and iPad and iPod we are not saying that we all have to like Apple products or copy them. Instead we are using a small ‘i’ a the front of the word to mean that an iMagineer is a person first – a being with feelings, dreams, desires, plans etc like you, even if the details are different. If you think about someone online as being a person not just a pixels, you can begin to imagine a better way to act towards them. We are all people first before we are an engineer or a mage or even an image.

Also, think about this – someone somewhere might be looking at your avatar or icon or profile picture. Would you like them to think of you as an ‘i’ as a thinking, feeling, individual person? I bet you do. If so, how would you like them to treat you?

C

Cables by Wolfberry

An iMagineer imagines

This might seem obvious to you, but imagination is an essential skill for an imagineer. Now, whilst it can be a lot of fun to imagine fluffy pink unicorns dancing on rainbows, other than making us all laugh and feel warm and fuzzy ( good things in themselves, mind you) this kind of imagination does not really help us solve problems and create a better future for ourselves and others.

The kind of imagination an iMagineer uses is a kind of superpower that looks a lot like daydreaming. In using this power iMagineers bring into their minds and hearts a possible future or a solution to a problem. They make it up. It may not work. It may not even be right, but they let it exist just in the mind for a time. This special kind of imagination needs an attitude that says, ‘We can solve this. Nothing is impossible right now in this moment.’

An imagineer is someone who, at least for a time, imagines a place online where we are all about to use our skills well, encourage others to be the best they can be and we always stay true to what is the best in us. Imagineers imagine ways to stop bullies online and offline and provide support to all involved.

iMagineers are prepared for problems because they have imagined them and also imagined possible solutions. (For the record, these solitions might involve fluffy pink unicorns dancing on rainbows.)

Imagineers do not allow unnecessary fear, anxiety, Common Core standards or ICT General Capabilities to stop them exploring and imagining. The greatest enemy to imagination is a ‘YES BUT…’ attitude. Imagineers thrive in a ‘YES AND…’ environment where nothing is blocked – a least at the beginning.

Your thoughts on iMagineering?

Fear Itself – a Churchill Chat

This is a Vimeo video of the recent Churchill Chat for the NSW Fellows.

Fear Itself – a Churchill Chat from Steven Caldwell on Vimeo.

Virtual World’s Best Practice in Education conference – reflections

Below you will find a brief overview of some sessions I attended at the VWBPE 2011 conference. One highlight not mentioned in the Voicethread was Botgirl’s discussion of how we construct identity in online spaces. Whilst I found the cheesy ‘reveal’ that Botgirl was actually a man, ‘hir’ comments were extremely intriguing and I hope to look into that in more detail later.

So, below you will find a brief summation of some of the conference including an audio of a pre-presentation discussion I had with Marianne Malmstrom (aka Knowclue) about our session together. Whilst I was not altogether pleased with how our sessions went, I think this conversation captured the essential elements we wished to convey.

Voicethread postcard from America

This is a Voicethread that looks at both the work and the play I experienced during the Churchill Fellowship.

Nothing to fear but fear itself

The teenager seems to have replaced the Communist as the appropriate target for public controversy and foreboding.

~Edgar Friedenberg, The Vanishing Adolescent


 

Anne CollierWherever I have travelled in the US, one name has frequently been cited with regard to online safety and global citizenship- Anne Collier. A journalist by profession, Anne is a ‘Truth- teller’ who’s work through NetFamilyNews.org and ConnectSafely.org, is cited by those who seek a more reasoned, less sensational voice in this highly charged domain. 

 

Anne served on the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, formed by 49 state attorneys general at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society as well as participating in various advisory boards, attending international conferences, and co-chairing the Obama Administration’s Online Safety and Technology Working Group , which sent its report to the US Congress last June.

 

It was a delight to meet with Anne and encounter a voice that actively challenges perceptions that parents and schools have about the safety of young people online.

 

This posting will blend Anne’s understanding of this issue with my own musings on the subjects of fear, youth voice and the label ‘digital natives’.

 

The origins of Fear

It is perhaps unsurprising that the majority of schools in America adopt a fear-based, protective attitude towards young people’s use of the internet given the origins of legislation pertaining to it.

 

Anne recounted the origins of Federal legislation dating back to the 1990s when the internet was still in its Web 1.0 infancy. Whilst initially the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children made use of the internet to find displaced kids, this set the scene for framing children and young people as potential victims: not an auspicious start. From the get-go, young people online was perceived as something risky.

 

Having interactions of young people with the internet already associated with Law enforcement and the Department of Justice predisposed the response taken by those bodies. Thus police began giving presentations to parents that demonstrated, in real-time, the predatory nature of some chat rooms by entering the spaces as a fictional student. These experiences served to alarm parents. To this day such presentations emphasizing the potential risks, threats and legal ramifications are still being delivered to students, staff and parents. In such instances the most egregious acts against children are revealed, skewing the public perception further.

 

Fear was later enshrined in legislation. The amusing, if aggressively titled, Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) was meant to cause schools to block or seriously restrict access to social networking websites rather than “predators,” actually. This bill was not based on sound evidence linking instances of child molestation and/or grooming behaviours to social networks. Not the least controversial aspect of the bill was the emotive and misleading title. Worryingly, if one spoke in opposition of the bill one was perceived to be somehow in support of predators.

 

Thankfully the bill did not pass. But children still seem to be seen by policymakers only as potential victims and passive consumers online rather than agents of their own and others’ well-being in online community.

 

Next up: The Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act. The parameters of this Act were to inhibit the creation and distribution of child pornography, to protect young people from online predators once more and to remove the possibility of commercial exploitation of youth. Once again, young people were framed as passive, innocent, defenseless victims.

 

(3) with the explosive growth of trendy chat rooms and social networking websites, it is becoming more and more difficult to monitor and protect minors from those with devious intentions, particularly when children are away from parental supervision. Section 202 12-16

 

Anne was a consultant on the formation of this bill and watched as it was passed from the Senate to the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for further discussion. Thus, the Senate believed that the care and safety of young people, now perceived as some form of commodity, also belonged to the Department of Commerce rather than solely to the Department of Justice. This lead to conflict between the two departments with the boycotting of reports and a vying for control over who actually ‘owned’ online safety.

 

If we add to this confusion over jurisdiction the prevailing culture of fear maintained by the Bush Administration’s War on Terror, it is perhaps unsurprising that little was actually achieved in the arena of online safety and digital citizenship for over eight years.

 

The limitations of Fear

Clearly, the mainstream perception was and still is that fear is a useful tool; the understanding being that, if you scare parents and children then you will ‘scare them straight’ into becoming model citizens. Well, as we all know, that censorious approach has always been an effective deterrent against young people experimenting with drugs, engaging in underage drinking and promiscuity.

 

Fear does the exact opposite of what we actually need which is to generate a culture of reasoned discussion and debate. What fear does is scare parents and administrators into closing down access based on fear of what might happen. (In an increasingly litigious culture, fear is seen as a guardian against possibly crippling legal payouts. My observation, not Anne’s.)

 

Fear-based reactions remove the very resources young people’s need to help them make informed decisions. Safe, loving and informed adults are removed from the equation, replacing them with frightened reactionaries who shut off avenues for discussion. Thus, young people are left to go underground and rely on their peers to negotiate the complexities of online cultures, putting them at greater risk. As Quentin Crisp, a renowned victim of perceived fear put it, ‘The young always have the same problem – how to rebel and conform at the same time.  They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.’

 

The discrediting of Fear

The fear-dominated discourse is being challenged as the findings of comprehensive studies question many of the assumptions held by parents and school administrators. Anne mentioned two significant reports published in recent years with which she was involved that have attempted to dispel misconceptions.

 

At the request of the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking, comprising of 49 state Attorneys General, the Enhancing Safety and Online Technologies  Report (2008) was commissioned. Written by the Internet Safety Technical Task force, comprising of leaders from social network sites (including Facebook), academics, technology developers, teachers, internet service providers and consumer advocacy organizations, the report was published by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

 

The Task force accomplished a comprehensive literature review and examined data from numerous rigorous studies. The report deals a serious blow to the rhetoric of fear and to the framing of young people as innocent victims of adult manipulation.

 

The Literature Review shows that the risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline, and that as they get older, minors themselves contribute to some of the problems.” page 4

 

The report goes on to explore some significant points.

More studies need to be done around the area of sexual predation of minors by adults and of minors by minors (this latter area is understudied and “not part of most conversations about online safety”)

Bullying and harassment are most common forms of negative interaction both online and offline.

The internet increases the availability of questionable material such as pornography but does not automatically increase exposure.

Young people are not equally at risk online – “The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.”

Young people themselves can contribute to the construction of unsafe environments.

 

The report makes three key recommendations, none of which involved banning access or censorship, rather they advocate greater exposure and evaluation of online tools.

 

1.All stakeholders in online communities need to share responsibility for protecting young people online.

2.More training in risk assessment and online safety practices needs to be developed for all who work with young people.

3.Parents and caregivers need to educate themselves about the internet and evaluate the use of tools in their own family context.

 

What is radical about this report is that it acknowledges the role young people themselves play in creating risky online cultures. For the first time young people are acknowledged as active agents in this arena.  Also, the wording of point three is particularly relevant. Parents and caregivers are not asked to be educated but rather ‘educate themselves’ thus framing them also as active agents in dispelling misconceptions.

 

The second report, published in June 2010, Youth Safety on a Living Internet – report of the online safety and technology working group, from the Online Safety & Technology Working Group, evaluated existing online safety practices/resources promoted by the telecommunications industry and the education sector. Anne was the Co-chair of this working group made up of child-safety advocates, government officials, representatives from various internet and telecommunications industries, educators, and civil liberties groups.

 

One of the key understandings raised in this report is that-

 

…thanks to the growing body of youth-online-risk research, we are now able to seek solutions as a society which are fact-based, not fear-based, but also that minors themselves – mainly pre-teens and teens (though the tech-literacy age is going down) – have a role to play in improving their own safety online and that of their peers.

 

The sub-committee on Internet Safety Education also made some powerful recommendations as part of the report.

         “nationwide education in digital citizenship and media literacy as the cornerstone of Internet safety.”

         Avoid scare tactics and promote the social-norms approach to risk prevention.

         Promote instruction in digital media literacy and computer security in pre-K-12 education nationwide.

         Create a Digital Literacy Corps for schools and communities nationwide.

         Encourage full, safe use of digital media in schools’ regular instruction and professional development in their use as a high priority for educators nationwide

         Respect young people’s expertise and get them involved in risk-prevention education. (my emphasis)

 

As comprehensive, informative and myth-busting as these reports were, they were controversial and received considerable criticism. Even the review of peer-reviewed research in the ISTTF report was attacked. Attempts were made to discredit the findings. It appears views which challenge the status quo are themselves challenged.

 

The most significant aspect of both these reports, aside from taking a less reactionary approach and presenting a reasoned response to the issues, is that young people themselves are considered part of the problem itself and also part of the solution. Young people were now seen as stakeholders in their own right who were not only to be protected but also respected.

 

The alternative to Fear – Respect for Youth

Young people today are not just adults in training.

 

The Macarthur Foundation recently invested fifty million dollars and three years to do both quantitative and qualitative ethnographic research on youth culture in the Digital Youth Project. The extensive research acknowledged a new sociology of youth. The book Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out – kids living and Learning with New Media drew on the findings of the Digital Youth Project and makes it abundantly clear that there is a lot we need to do to earn the respect of young people.

 

They have their own cultures and societal norms in online spaces. As such there is an imperative to respect what they have to offer and to hear their voices on matters that concern them in a meaningful, consequential way. We can’t unreservedly impose our expectations upon young people any longer.

 

Sadly, Anne believes that in all her travels, talking to students, presenting to parents and administrators, attending conferences, consulting and chairing working groups she is yet to find a forum that is deeply respectful of youth. There are organizations that do enlist student voice – Inspire USA, Reachout.org, Childnet International, Common Sense Media, and Global Kids being some groups that actively seek out young people’s opinions on matters that concern them but none that respect the wisdom, experiences and inquiries of youth in ways that give them leadership in the field of online safety/digital citizenship.

 

Like the young audiences such adults are attempting to reach, Anne is bored by a rhetoric that seeks to inform rather than consult. I added that young people want and need to learn just not to be taught while it happens. Developmentally, adolescents are moving away from investing in adult figures of authority or at the very least questioning the decisions made by them. Ironically, this is the very time that adults frequently offer more feedback and make greater demands. Informed, authoritative voices of ‘cybersafety experts’ make it clear what has to be done to young people, for young people but not alongside young people.

 

When it comes to the ubiquitous ‘cybersafety’ lectures made by law enforcement or so-called online safety experts, Anne says that they may as well be carpenters given the way they are brought in to ‘fix’ a problem. This attitude is fundamentally disrespectful to young people. It says that we are the wise ones and your experience does not matter, in fact, you are broken in some capacity. Is it any wonder that they stop listening to us and go underground? In the words of the newspaper columnist Judith Martin, “Chaperones don’t enforce morality; they force immorality to be discreet.”

 

One significant way we can listen to and respect the positive choices made by the vast majority of young people is to take a different slant on data. In five New Jersey schools that were recently studied, Anne noted the findings of researchers from Hobart and William Smith in New York State that when there was a notable decrease in the perception of the frequency and instances of bullying, the number of actual instances of bullying went down. Why? The schools made concerted efforts to celebrate the positive data: the high percentages of students who were maintaining societal norms rather than over emphasizing those who transgressed.

 

It is to the voice of social imperative that young people turn. This social urgency is a necessity in young people – it is what starts them on pushing boundaries and refining the ability to assess risks effectively. Both of these are essential in developing independence.

 

Where is the opportunity to allow young people to meet their social needs and provide a forum/community of inquiry around safety and global citizenship? Instead we have teachers, politicians, journalists and businesses applying their value sets, their societal norms to young people without consultation. There is a need for us to step back and for the young to step up.

 

Learning to respect our elders.

We may be chronologically older, but in terms of experience in online spaces, young people are our elders.

 

The term ‘digital natives’ is one usually applied to describe the generation brought up alongside the internet. I personally dislike the term ‘digital native’. It is reminiscent of another meaning of the word ‘native’ that was once associated with patriarchal colonialism. Young people are not ‘natives’ who need to be saved from danger through re-education and tempted to conform by the offer of shiny beads in the forms of access, privileges and liberties.

 

Some time ago I coined the term ‘Simmigrant’ – a conflation of Simulated and Immigrant – to describe the experience of we now stand in relation to the online world. The internet is a new territory for us to discover and inhabit. First Generation Simmigrants – children and young people – came to this ‘country’ earlier, sometimes by themselves with a more courageous, pioneering attitude. Why did they leave their ‘homeland’ of traditional community and education? Perhaps they left for the adventure of exploring new ground? Perhaps they wanted to go where they felt kinship? Perhaps they wanted to find out what it felt like to be creatively free or perhaps, just perhaps we in the ‘old country’ failed to inspire them anymore. Perhaps if we actually asked them we might discover the truth and find out what more they need?

 

To do that we also need to travel, to become Second Generation Simmigrants or risk widening the divide between our two worlds

We won’t travel from the ‘old country’ without both unnecessary and essential baggage. In our suitcases we bring the ability to think critically, to reflect, to question and also a larger historical perspective that they could not easily carry. Our elders also don’t travel light either- in their luggage is stowed innovation, creativity, enthusiasm, innocence, experience, wit and a great deal of skill.

 

Anne believes that we are at a pivotal time in history when we have the opportunity to help free the wisdom in young people, to help unpack their suitcases and fully belong. To do that we must empower young people to connect to themselves more deeply, to learn to respect themselves and others in a way that builds upon the communities they are constructing. We need to provide our elders with opportunities to document their digital lives so that we may learn just who they are and what they have achieved. For this to occur we must give access to the very tools they enable this history to be recorded otherwise they will do it all on their own without the benefits collaborating with us would bring.

 

In order to begin our journey, we must give up fear-based reactions and promote a culture of mutual respect.

‘GenerationNext’ Conference – the Menace of the Past

Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson:  you find the present tense, but the past perfect!  ~Owens Lee Pomeroy

On Friday 10 September I attended the Generation Next conference at the University of New South Wales, ostensibly for the session on Cyberbullying delivered by Susan McLean. The day was aimed at teachers, youth workers and health care professionals who work with children and young people, with the intent of bringing us all up to date on recent data and developments. Though there were some brief instances of how to lead young people forward, for the most part, the day was an exploration of the dark places that some, and I emphasise some, young people inhabit.

What follows are some brief notes on some of the sessions; key points, personal observations and questions that arose.

About the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young people with Dr Ramesh Manocha

The learned and entertaining Dr Manocha defined what he called ‘A Crisis of Consciousness’ citing research into growing rates of mental illness which he attempted to argue was due to rapid societal change. He argued that contemporary consumerist, permissive culture emphasises an ‘Anything, Anytime, Anywhere’ values system that young people are not cognitively or emotionally mature enough to negotiate or critique effectively. He put forward the argument that the social/cultural environment was one that added extra stressors to the lives of young people – peer pressure, bullying, increased sexualisation and violence that was adversely affecting their mental health.

  • Question – Hasn’t it always been the case for older generations to bemoan the developments in youth/mainstream culture that seem to undermine their own values systems?

Alcohol and Other drugs – Current issues with Paul Dillon

In what could have been a series of Motherhood statements on why drugs are bad, Paul Dillon gave an impressively balanced presentation that aimed at clarifying some of our misconceptions about drug usage in the country, misconceptions that are manipulated by the media in order to create an environment of fear. What was most striking was the way in which he inverted statistics in his graphs to highlight the number of students who are successfully NOT taking drugs. These he uses in schools to validate the choices the majority of young people are taking in abstaining. He also clarified the issue of caffeine in our culture and in energy drinks. Apparently there is more in our morning freshly ground coffees than in the most common brands.

Tom Young – Beyond Blue Youth Ambassador

In a brief but affecting recount of his life journey, Tom spoke of being burdened by excessive anxiety and the steps he took to manage it. A young role-model to everyone who can empathise with intense feelings of unhappiness despite evidence to the contrary.

Depression and Anxiety in Young People with Dr Michael Carr-Greg

Suicide is seen as a problem solving device’ – An interesting remark made by Dr Carr-Greg early in his presentation gave us all cause to reflect. Apparently 75% of all young people in Australia are mentally well but the remaining 25% need some careful intervention as untreated depression can be, in his words, ‘fatal’. These are the young people who strive to hide their conditions behind masks of seeming normality. In some cases it can take from 5-15 years from a diagnosis to receiving treatment. He outlined the sorts of behaviours that manifest in young people that might be warning symptoms. Notably he remarked that kids retreat online in order to escape their problems but this might only increase their sense of isolation. He raised 5 key questions for parents-
  1. Are you tackling the tasks of Adolescence? Identity issues, developing freedom from parental influences…
  2. What is your child’s ‘cognitive map’? What is your child’s self-talk?
  3. Do your children have a track record of keeping themselves safe?
  4. Do they hang out with safe kids?
  5. Do they have a sensation seeking temperament?

He encouraged us to teach optimistic thinking and suggested the works of  Sarah Edelman, Mood Gym and the Youth Beyond Blue resources to assist us and our students/children.

Sexualisation, Commercialism and the Media – ‘Girls Too Sexy, Too Soon’ by Melinda Tankard-Reist

This was, by far, the most confronting presentation I have ever attended. The ‘hypersexualised and pornified‘ images of young girls that were presented to us, each of which were liberally drawn from the mainstream media, were utterly horrific and clearly (if sensationally) argued that the media is eliminating the years of Middle Childhood (9-13) Girls are encouraged to present a ‘prostitute-like version of themselves to the world‘ through fashion and online games that promote young women as brainless, surgically enhanced ‘sexual service stations’ for men and, sadly, for boys. We were all encouraged to stay informed and become advocates for change by joining http://collectiveshout.org/ The session ended with a hopeful, charming short film which played with the idea of Loss of Innocence in an affecting way. Please click here to see a trailer for Ruby Who?

The Resilience Donut by Lyn Worsely

In response to the previous speakers, Lyn commented that if we look at the risk factors to young people alone, we might ignore the outcomes that are fine and lose the opportunity to bolster strengths where they already exist. Her main argument was based around what builds resilience in young people – what are the tipping points and the turning points. She defined resiience as-

  • the ability to face, overcome and be strengthened by adversities
  • it is a life-long changeable process of development
  • the ability to navigate and negotiate strategies to cope with life
  • an inoculation against stress which ensures quality of life

The Resilience Donut is a Visual Aid to assist people of any age to take a diagnostic review of their life and ascertain areas of strength and weakness in the support structures. She has defined 7 Key Factors.

  1. Parent Factor – Resilient kids have parents that have a 50/50 balance of discipline and openness.
  2. Skill Factor – the child has skills in a particularly field that is recognised by a trusted adult.
  3. Family and Identity Factor – coming together as a family group that has positive expectations and may have come through difficult times together.
  4. Education Factor – child feels valued by teachers who connect with them.
  5. Peer Factor – not necessarily harmonious as conflict can help develop necessary skills
  6. Community Factor – adults outside the family connect in an environment of confidence and faith.
  7. Money Factor- learn to give and take

Whereas one might expect to focus on the deficits, the approach is to bolster and further develop the strengths – to look at what is actually working for the child already. Children at risk are those who have three or more factors under threat so lets look to that which is already strong and support it to be even stronger.

Cybersafety and Cyberbullying by Susan McLean

As expected, Susan McLean have us a ‘Reds Under the Bed’ presentation on the nasty, evil dangers of technology that many had apparently not heard before. For someone familiar with the territory of fear covered by media commentators, it was a great disappointment to have nothing new shared with us. It is true what she says, we are on public display when we use technology so we need to have a comprehensive curriculum that addresses cybersafety but not, in my opinion, one that solely focusses on the negative impacts of social technologies.

She shared some useful, if disturbing statistics –

  • 50% kids on America have been cyberbullied
  • compared with 30% in Australia
  • 69% of kids aged 13-19 have sent sexual images of themselves to a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • 79% in older age groups (!)

Susan presented some potentially useful strategies to protect young people online-

  1. Never be angry when a young person shares a bullying experience with you
  2. save and store the evidence
  3. delete and block bullies from friends lists
  4. never respond to a cyberbully
  5. use the report abuse button
  6. change passwords frequently
  7. have downtime away from technology altogether
  8. shoulder surf with your kids

Lastly, she suggests that parents implement five Top Tips

  1. Never allow computers, internet capable phones in the bedroom
  2. Have a ‘Family Online’ contract for all family members
  3. Have conversations about computer useage
  4. Know about the technology that is being used by all
  5. Set up Filtering software on all computers.

Susan’s voice is an important one but her fear based rhetoric, loud as it is, does not address the fundamental need to present alternative ways to connect online. Her approach is only part of the solution. The only positively worded remark she made in her presentation was this, ‘Your school must embrace cyberspace as the valuable tool it is not the problem that it may become.’ And even that is framed in the negative! So, how exactly is it a valuable tool to create connections rather than destroy them? This is, I suppose, what my Churchill Fellowship is based upon.

Conclusions

Whilst much of the conference was stimulating, challenging and occasionally disturbing, I left the day with the overall impression that the attitude of the presenters was that the best way to support and serve youth was for them to be whisked back to the past where they would obviously be much happier. There, through our discerning rose-coloured glasses, there are no bullies – it is a place of peace and joy – the supportive village atmosphere is experienced by all. Back in the magical land of ‘Then’, children had manners and knew to look you in the eye when they were speaking to you. And most important of all, there was no evil child molesting Internet lurking the the bedrooms of our precious Innocents.

With the noteable exception of Paul Dillon and Lyn Worsley, the predominant discourse was one of Fear. Ironically, Generation Next was a timewarp where the 30+ audience ‘s nostalgia for an idealised childhood (which many may never have actually experienced) was emphatically affirmed by graphs, data, irritatingly diverse Powerpoint slideshow transitions and empassioned quotes from grieving mothers. We were encouraged to pack great reams of Fear into our sample bags that were already stuffed with stress balls and pens. Yearning for security is based on a fallacy – there is no ultimate state of security because life is an intricate web of conditions that shift and change with alarming regularity. Helen Keller communicated the dangers of security far more effectively than I.

‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.’ ~ Helen Keller (1880 – 1968)

I thank the Generation Next team for presenting their view of the future… sorry, ‘A’ future where we react from fear of what might become. I prefer to select a different future, a ‘daring adventure’  in which we invest attention in building upon positive connections of today that may support a more collaborative future.

Are you willing to take the risk with me?

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