Cyber-Bullying: Issues and Solutions for the School, the Classroom and the Home
reviewed by Edyth J. Wheeler - August 08, 2008
Title: Cyber-Bullying: Issues and Solutions for the School, the Classroom and the Home
Author(s): Shaneen Shariff
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415424917, Pages: 299, Year: 2008
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From her compelling opening quotation of a teens suicide note to her final words about opportunity for commitment to the well-being of children, author Shaheen Shariff takes the reader on a remarkable journey through the complex landscape of emerging technologies and the phenomenon of cyber-bullying.
With permission from the family, Shariff offers us, in the front material of her book, the teens message that begins with these words:
Dear Mom and Dad, The first thing is, I love you Mom and Dad, but you dont understand why I had to commit suicide. There was so much going on, and I tried to cope with it, but I couldnt take it anymore
Concluding her last chapter, Shariff advocates for education and opportunity to undertake the challenges of our shared knowledge society, through ethical, educational, digital-bonding and legally defensible policies and practices. Our children and society, as a whole, deserve no less (p. 258).
Connecting these passages are two themes expressed throughout the book: one is that that adults do not understand the world of online social communications networks and the experiences of young people, and the other is that young people have not yet learned how to protect themselves from the damaging consequences of misuse of technologies and of what is described as cyber-bullying. In response, the author calls for education and dialogue that involves adults and young people.
Cyber-bullying has multiple definitions that share the idea that communications technology tools and media are being used to engage in online bullying, that the communication is, as with general bullying, deliberate and willful, repeated and exclusionary (p. 31). Due to the fluidity and complexity of online social networking and contextual factors, Shariff suggests that there can be a fine line between what is acceptable use of these technologies and what is cyber-bullying.
In writing this book, Shariffs purpose is to bring to light key issues about cyber-bullying, to address the policy vacuum surrounding social communications technologies and to provide practical guidelines for teachers, administrators, families and other stakeholders. Her bottom line is to help adults learn and grow along with our children in the fast-moving digital age.
To say that this book will provide a wake-up call for many is to invoke a well-worn expression but one that could not be more apt. Cyber-bullying and its tragic outcomes are increasingly reported in the news but, even with so much in the press, reporters have few sources to provide accurate and informed background for their stories. Shariffs work is critical to our understanding and provides a groundbreaking first step in filling the void. Illustrative of the currency of the issue of cyber-bullying and evidence of the age groups of children -- tweens and teens -- impacted is the publication of the Washington Post Sunday four-page section, The Mini Pages, for June 15, 2008, devoted to Staying Safe in Cyberspace with a full page called, Protect Against Cyberbullying.
An overview of the books eight chapters illustrates Shariffs comprehensive approach to cyber-bullying. Chapter 1, Cyber-Space: Battleground or Opportunity, includes the authors cautions about violent metaphors that, to many, seem justified in searching for solutions to this dangerous and growing phenomenon. War imagery sets the stage for confrontation of adults versus technology or adults versus child technology users rather than an approach of mutual understanding and awareness.
Chapter 2, Profile of Traditional and Cyber-Bullying, addresses fully and thoughtfully the complexity and subtlety of bullying in general and explores the similarities and differences between cyber-bullying and general bullying. Bullying thrives and relies on an audience of onlookers and a key element of cyber-bullying is the exponential numbers of onlookers.
Chapter 3, A Transnational Snapshot, provides an extensive multinational review of cyber-bullying that includes attention to context and national cultural influences, globally, culturally and racially. Shariff concludes that, what has changed is not the kids but the medium (p. 76). An Australian teen emphatically states: Cyber-bullying, educating children on how to protect themselves and their privacy is the first problem Id fix (p. 87).
In Chapter 4, Shaping Gender Roles at Home and on the Internet, Shariff describes media framing of the war on cyber-bullying in news reporting and commentary that depict children, especially girls, as helpless online victims, parents as clueless, and police as heroes.
Chapter 5, Controlling Kid's Spaces, provides a compelling contrast of adult and youth mindsets that will provoke many readers to examine their assumptions about current and emerging technologies.
Chapter 6, Stakeholder Power, presents a range of adult stakeholder responses to social networking and cyber-bullying from denial of responsibility to blocking use of sites. Teachers are now included as targets of online harassment as well as peer-to-peer cyber-bullying.
In Chapter 7, Balancing Free Expression: Privacy and Safety in Cyber-Space, Shariff provides an extensive discussion of the laws and legal decisions relating to social communications and online harassment, cyber-libel and cyber-bullying, to the degree that laws exist in the U.S., Britain and Canada and other countries where policies are still emerging.
Chapter 8, Harmonious Solutions, concludes the book with advocacy for a changed mindset and practical guidelines for adult stakeholders, including teachers, administrators, and teacher educators as well as for families. Two needs are identified for adults: critical legal literacy and digital literacy. In a framework of social responsibility, Shariff calls for an adjusted lens on cyber-bullying and offers a model for critical literacy and a concept map for reducing cyber-bullying. Social networking tools can be positive, reducing cyber-bullying in proactive not reactive ways.
Teachers, administrators, families, teacher educators and all who work with and on behalf of young people will benefit from this book. Shariff has demonstrated courage in writing about this topic in the face of the proliferation of new technologies, the shifting sands of the technologies of communication and newly encountered repercussions of online dissemination of words and images. Her constant reminder throughout the book is that new technologies, legal decisions, and events will have overtaken her writing even as it is first published and that it is incumbent upon the reader to stay current with changes. Even now, I would suggest that there is a growing cybergap between current teacher candidates and their teacher educators.
Among the many strengths of this book are its currency, as much as can be possible, with last-minute revisions to include court cases in progress; the thorough grounding in scholarship; and the clear and compelling writing style that merges scholarly critical discussion with chilling real life accounts of cyber-bullying around the world. The author presents a clear, balanced and fair advocacy message for what can and should be done, with practical responses for education professionals.
This important work will arouse many of us to question our assumptions and confront gaps in our knowledge, perhaps become inspired, as Shariff intends, to educate ourselves first and then work to educate children about positive uses of online tools and safety in the cyber world. The value of children is an underlying theme, an orienting framework, and a strong commitment that impels Shariff in her timely research and writing.