(part one of two)
There’s a fine line between cyberbullying and play. My kids recently learned this lesson, and thankfully, in a safe environment.
The environment? Roblox.
Our fearless 8 year-old loves to play Roblox.
Never heard of Roblox? It’s a huge online sandbox for game creation. We call it a “massively multiplayer online game,” or MMOG. Players can create their own games or play games created by others.
There are millions of games on the platform.
Roblox regularly appears among the top downloaded, most played games for kids and teens. It’s billed as a site where virtual explorers come to create adventures, play games, role play and learn with friends in a family-friendly, immersive, 3D environment.
To the casual observer (i.e., parents) it looks like a giant world filled with Lego blocks. Roblox is similar to other world-building games like Minecraft – but as my kids will tell you “it’s not the same at all” (emphasis on the “at all”).
For my 8 year-old and the 70-million-a-month players who access the platform, Roblox world-upon-world, seemingly infinite space for creativity and play.
As MMOGs go, Robolox is a fairly safe platform for kids, until the occasional deviant player waltzes through to ruin someone’s day.
I suppose this is true of most MMOGs – Fortnite, Overwatch – and other online games. Just like social media and message boards, there’s always the possibility of a troll lurking in the background hell bent on disrupting other players, even 8-year-old little girls.
And this was certainly true of Roblox last week when “Tam07” harassed my daughter to the point of tears.
Okay, harassed may be a bit overdramatic, as was my daughter’s reaction.
Still, my oldest daughters looked on and immediately labeled Tam07 as a bully. “That player is cyberbullying her, Dad,” they exclaimed. “Do something!”
I did not do something. In fact, I did nothing.
I don’t even like to use the term cyberbully in these cases because, truth be told, it’s a game-someone wins, someone has to lose. Better she learn that fact now that later in life.
This is not to suggest that bullying doesn’t happen on Roblox. It does. This was different. This was game play.
She wasn’t being bullied. She was losing to a player who was for more advanced, and probably a lot older.
What happened next is when and where the real teaching took place. Before I could blink, her older sisters swooped in, grabbed the keyboard, and reported Tam07 for bullying.
“That’s not bullying,” I told them, as they sat, albeit reluctantly, for another Dad Tech Talk. “I may not know how to play Roblox, but I know cyberbullying when I see it. That’s not it.”
In next week’s column, I’ll share with you the advice I gave my kids for identifying and reporting a cyberbully when they see one.
As another contentious political season goes into high gear, it’s hard to know who has more to lose: Republicans, Democrats, or your favorite, friendly, neighborhood social media company.
Yes, it’s true; the divides between Right and Left are just as deep as they were two years, two decades – heck, two centuries – ago. Still, there’s one thing both sides agree on: social media is ruining U.S. political campaigns.
Not to be undone by attacks from political leaders, or outdone by lesser-known rival platforms who weren’t caught up in the 2016 election debacle, social media mega-corporations like Facebook and Twitter are doing their best to cleanse their systems of those who would disrupt the upcoming midterms.
On Monday, Facebook released a statement concerning increased security protocols meant to protect campaigns and candidates.
“Over the past year, we have invested in new technology and more people to stay ahead of bad actors who are determined to use Facebook to disrupt elections,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s cybersecurity policy.
“Today we’re introducing additional tools to further secure candidates and campaign staff who may be particularly vulnerable to targeting by hackers and foreign adversaries.”
Facebook’s pilot program is intended to provide an extra layer of security to its existing collection of tools and procedures.
It’s not just the U.S. elections they’re worried about – after all, Facebook is a global company.
“We will apply what we learn to other elections in the U.S. and around the world,” Gleicher added.
If you’re running a campaign, add Facebook’s additional security protections to your Pages and accounts. As a page administrator, you can apply for the pilot program at politics.fb.com/campaignsecurity.
“We’ll help officials adopt our strongest account security protections, like two-factor authentication, and monitor for potential hacking threats,” Gleicher added.
Twitter is also trying to regain our trust.
Most analysts who’ve paid attention to Twitter’s recent moves to purge the platform of fake or dead accounts know that the microblogging site is also targeting far-left and far-right leaning accounts set on spreading misinformation.
Some of those critics also argue that Twitter’s role in campaign disruption should be much easier to handle. Emphasis on “should.” Twitter adjusts an algorithm, finds the bad actors, and shuts them down. But it’s not always that easy, and it’s hard to know sometimes what’s parody and what’s real.
It’s too soon to tell if this will renew our faith in social media to help us learn more about elections. They’re good first steps, so long as they can ensure security without stepping on free speech.
While Facebook and others try to restore confidence in their abilities to shield users from fake news and election disruptors, we know it’s a slow road to recovery. Restoring our confidence won’t happen anytime soon – and certainly not by Nov. 6.
If we think teens are oblivious to the dangers of social media, we might be wrong.
According to a new report by Common Sense Media, teens say they’re well aware of the risks. They know that social media distracts them from having real, in-person connections, but they also believe social media strengthens other relationships.
Focusing on 13- to 17-year-olds, researchers found that teens spend significantly more time on social media than they did just four years ago.
“What goes on in the minds of teenagers when they engage with social media, seemingly lost in their screens,” asked James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. “It’s a question we as parents often ponder as we fret about the effects of social media on our children’s well-being.”
The percentage of teens who engaged with social media several times a day jumped 36 percent from 2012 to 2018, and their preference for face-to-face communication has dropped significantly over the same time period.
That’s a relationship we’d expect to see. Use social media (and technology) more, and you’ll have fewer face-to-face interactions.
Many teens believe that using social media has a positive effect on how they feel about themselves. The report also reaffirmed what some tech advocates have been saying for years, that social media is an important tool for teens who want to express themselves creatively.
But it’s not all memes and smiley faces.
Social media also had an important role among teens who reported being socially and emotionally vulnerable. Still, these teens tend to rely more on tech and social media in both positive and negative ways, regardless of the risks.
One of those negative habits has to do with an over-reliance on technology. In some ways, this report stresses what most parents have known for years, but maybe lack the skills to do anything about: teens need to work on their ability to self-regulate their uses of technology.
Sure. Teens know they’re distracted from engaging people in the same room, or focus on important tasks like homework. They simply don’t ignore their devices or lack the will to put them away.
“Teens are fully aware of the power of devices to distract them from key priorities, such as homework, sleep, and time with friends and family,” Steyer added.
The good news is that while some teens may be unable or unwilling to self-regulate their use of technology, at least they’re aware of the distraction.
Maybe that’s the silver lining to this entire study.
If they know how technology interferes with their daily lives, maybe it will make our jobs as parents a whole lot easier when we have to take their devices away – not as punishment, but to save them from themselves.
You can read the full report at commonsensemedia.org.
If your kids are headed to elementary school or college, you can help them manage the stress of day-to-day schedules and homework with the right app.
Actually, there are quite a few good apps for meeting you and your child’s educational needs. Here are a few tried-and-true apps:
myHomework lets students manage nearly every aspect of their school life, and from any device. You can track homework, tests and assignments, and get reminders when things are due thanks to a comprehensive calendar with time, block and period-based schedules.
If teachers use the app, students can automatically download their class information, assignments, files and announcements.
Any long-time reader of this column knows that we’re a mixed-tech-use household. So, apps that are both effective and cross-platform-compatible get high praise from the Earnheardts. We were able to install and run myHomework on Android phones, iPads, MacBook, and our clunky, old PC.
Dump the old-fashioned student planners and install myHomework for free or pay a mere $5 and get it ad-free for a year.
Check it out at myhomeworkapp.com.
Drund is a locally-owned company that builds internal, secure, community-centered platforms for different industries, but there’s no doubt that it has found a home in the education market.
With school-specific versions of Drund, school administrators can create community posts, teachers can send private messages to students and parents, and boosters can manage fundraisers and events.
I get regular updates with important notices about events, posts with images and videos from activities around the district.
Drund looks and feels like social media, but it’s not Facebook. Think of it as a more privately-controlled version of those bigger, less-secure social media platforms with more appropriate content for your kids.
Ask your school if it is using Drund and how you can access the platform.
Remind. Several teachers at our local school use this app, and we’ve been using it to communicate with teachers since our kids were in elementary school. Now our two oldest students are at the age when they can send and receive their own “reminders” with teachers.
Like the myHomework app, I’m not sure there’s a need for the old parent-teacher “communication” folders anymore. Plus, if your kids are like mine, those folders don’t always make it home (and sometimes disappear forever).
Thankfully, our teachers are increasingly ditching those folders for Remind.
The app connects parents and students with teachers to get daily updates on homework, tests and other classroom-related information. Note, however, that Remind isn’t always the best option for sending direct messages from parents to teachers because teachers usually have to initiate those conversations.
Remind is free and easy to use, and available on nearly all platforms.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.