The teen librarian and the cyberbully

I’ve posted regularly on a local music message board for the past few years.  Most people who post know each other by sight at least from attending shows, although they may not be real life friends.  For the most part posts are friendly, supporting, or funny, but there are occasions where things get really nasty- humor on the board is very edgy and sometimes someone will cross someone else’s line.   A major point in most of these fights is that the internet is not to be taken seriously.  People behave differently and accept different behavior online than IRL.

It is if, by creating an avatar and sitting in front of a keyboard you can become someone totally different, even to people who know who you really are.

For teens, who may not be totally adept at parsing what someone’s expression means, gauging and reacting to an online persona may be even more difficult.

What is appropriate, what the consequences of one’s actions are, and empathy for others are given a new dimension online-“it has a disembodied, anonymous nature” (Goodstein, 2007, p. 82).  This is why I think cyberbullying is a totally different issue than regular bullying.

I’m not sure what this means for teen librarians.  While certainly a librarian should not sit by if a teen started hitting another teen in the library, I think online behavior is a little outside the purview (for public librarians, I think school librarians have a different range of authority).  Perhaps programs for teens at the public library using digital resources or exploring social networking could incorporate bullying as part of the discussion – as they certainly should include a discussion of the public nature of online info.  Certainly the library’s own online teen pages should have a contract which mentions respectful behavior.

I think it’s also very important that librarians understand and become familiar with online culture.  As Goodstein (2003) discusses, “the tone of today’s most popular entertainment has gotten a lot meaner” (p. 80).  This is not to say that bullying or meanness should be acceptable, but I think there is often a disconnect between what young people think of as a joke and what adults see as one.  Kids should be given the tools to find their own way of being safe and happy online, which may be different than what an adult would want.

And just as an aside, I’m taking Web 2.0 this summer as well in which we talk a lot about the democratization/democratizing aspects of the online world.  I had never thought of this in terms of how “anyone can cyberbully…democratized bullying for any kid, big or small, male or female” (Goodstein, 2007, p. 82).  I always though equality was a positive force!

Goodstein, A.  (2007).   Totally wired: What teens and tweens are really doing online. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.


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