Bullying Books Empower Students, Parents and School Personnel

New book helps educators and parents deal with bullying

Nancy Willard has been writing and speaking about cyberbullying since practically before the term was coined. But, like most cyberbullying experts, she knows that cyberbullying -- for the most part -- is bullying. And that -- plus a lot of research, a master's in education and a law degree -- qualify her as a bullying expert.

Willard has recently written two important books. One, which you can buy on Amazon for $40.19, is Positive Relations @ School (& Elsewhere): Legal Parameters & Positive Strategies to Address Bullying & Harassment.

If you're a school administrator, a counselor, a teacher or a parent leader, you owe it to yourself and your students to read this book. In it Willard focuses on what schools are doing to stop bullying and what is and isn't working. Wearing both her educator and lawyer hats, she shares insights into bullying and looks at laws and enforcement while providing supporting resources and an "action plan." Willard -- who I often quote in my bullying articles -- writes about "hurtful speech vs. free speech" and explores "disparaging speech on campus."

Well-meaning adults can make things worse

Naturally, adults at school and home want to support kids in their care, but Willard points out that many of the most commonly used approaches, like a strict disciplinary policy are often ineffective. Pointing to research, she cites a study that found

while 87 percent of school staff think they have effective strategies for handling bullying, 58 percent of middle and 66 percent of high school students believe adults at school are not doing enough to stop or prevent bullying.

A free e-book for parents

Willard has also written a free 26-page e-book that you can download for free from her Embrace Civility website. The short e-book, which draws on some of the materials in her education book, provides talks about why "the current bullying prevention approach is not working," and gives parents advice on legal protection for their bullied child or teen." There are also "strategies to prepare and make your case for the need for more effective intervention in the situation facing your child or teen." There are short chapters on legal protections including "preparing and making your case," plus practical tips to help resolve and diffuse problems. "One of the biggest mistakes the parent of a bullied child or teen can make is calling for the student(s) who are being hurtful to be 'punished,' wrote Willard. "Holding these students accountable and ensuring their hurtful actions are stopped is essential. Punishment will not accomplish this."

Anne Collier, my co-director has more thoughts on Willard's books along with some insight of her own in her blog post, "A positive, insightful new book for schools on bullying."

Another free resource is A Parents' Guide to Cyberbullying from, the non-profit organization where I serve as co-director. In this eight-page guide, we focus on just the basics that parents need to know when dealing with bullying online and on mobile devices (which of course often has its roots in school).

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Google Glass: I Have Better Things to Do With $1,500

I didn't apply to be one of the early "explorers" when Google first made its "Glass" wearable computing device available last year, and I didn't opt-in when they sold them online to anyone willing to pay $1,500.

Although I don't own Google Glass, I have tried it.

Part of the reason, of course, is the price. I have better things to do with $1,500 and, besides, if I wait a while, the price is sure to come down. If Google is serious about providing wearable access to the Internet and to its mapping service, to the general public, it will have to find a way to price them for $600 or less.

But price isn't the only reason. For one thing, they are not yet ready for prime-time, and I'm not sure they ever will be. I'm not against wearable technology. I just want the technology to solve a real problem or enhance my life in a meaningful way. That's why I'm not excited about most current smartwatches, though I do wear a Lifetrak exercise watch because it's affordable ($50), it doesn't require being recharged (has a one-year coin battery) and it does solve a real problem -- incentivizing me to walk more.


One issue with Glass is the user interface. There is a touch-pad that lets you use hand-gestures to activate Glass or navigate to a different web page, and you can use head movements, but the main interface is voice, which is great when it works, but still not 100 percent reliable.

Some are waiting till Glass gets more stylish. The fact that they're quite geeky looking wouldn't stop me, but I can see how many would prefer more fashionable eyewear. Google has signed a deal with an eyeglass company, so we can expect better-looking versions, including some with prescription lenses.

There are some who worry about distracted driving and walking. Indeed, having a computer monitor just above your eye could be distracting, but it doesn't have to be. If you look straight ahead, you see what's in front of you, not what's on the tiny monitor. Still, there is the temptation to look at the screen at inappropriate times, just as some are tempted to look at or touch their phones when they shouldn't.

My biggest concern about Glass is that I'm not convinced it's the best form of wearable technology. I like the idea of having the Internet accessible all the time, but I'm not so sure I want to be wearing a monitor on my forehead.

Another issue is lack of social acceptance. There has been quite a backlash against Google Glass. Some is probably unfair, but there are those who worry that they can be used to surreptitiously take pictures or video. But to be fair, there are plenty of other ways to do that with digital cameras and smartphones, including plenty of wearable cameras. For some, Google Glass is simply symbolic of the growing number of well-heeled techies who are flaunting expensive technology that many can't afford. There is even a pejorative term that starts with "glass" and ends with "hole." The word in the middle is a synonym for donkey.

How to Protect Against the Heartbleed Security Flaw (Slideshow)

First, don't panic. This is a serious problem but you need to put it into perspective. While there is clearly a vulnerability, there are so far no reports of the flaw being exploited. And even though this flaw has been around for the past two years, almost all the major sites have fixed it -- in some cases in the last few days.

There have been reports of hardware -- routers and other equipment -- that could be affected but, so far, we have only heard about devices used in big organizations. To be safe, visit the website of the company that makes your router to see if there are any updates.

What you can (and can't) do

When it comes to protection, there is very little that individuals can do. It's up to site and service operators to fix their systems. If you're unsure about systems you use, click on the test site links (below) to check and also be sure to look at CNET's report on the top 100 sites.

Test sites:

Lastpass Heartbleed checker

Flippo Vialsorda's Hearbleed test

Qualys SSL Labs

Change your password if the site is now secure

If you can confirm that the sites you're using are secure, this is a good time to change your password. Actually you should change passwords every few months anyway. Make sure you're using a unique password for each site and make sure that it contains upper case letters, numbers and symbols and don't use a dictionary word or a common name. This sounds hard, but ConnectSafely's Tips for Strong Secure Passwords has easy-to-use suggestions. Also, scroll down to view ConnectSafely's slide show.

Monitor your accounts

The Department of Homeland Security advises that you "Closely monitor your email accounts, bank accounts, social media accounts, and other online assets for irregular or suspicious activity, such as abnormal purchases or messages."

Beware of 'phishing' schemes

Also, beware of "phishing schemes." You might get email that appears to be from banks and other sites, "disclosing" that the site was vulnerable and asking users to reset their passwords. These could be phishing attacks designed to trick you into revealing your log-on credentials to thieves. And some of these attacks are very sophisticated, taking you to sites that look identical to a company's real site.

If you get such an email DO NOT CLICK on any links. If you feel that it's time to change your password (and you should once you know the site is no longer vulnerable), type in the site's URL in your browser and navigate to the password reset page. It's less convenient than clicking on a link but a lot safer.

Here are tips for safe, secure and unique passwords.

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The Evolution of Online Safety: Lessons Learned Over 20 Years

When I wrote the original version of "Child Safety on the Information Highway" (click here for 20th anniversary updated version), in 1994, "online safety" was largely defined as keeping kids away from porn and predators and the solution was pretty much focused on parental controls.

But, over the past two decades, there have been a lot of changes in both online and mobile technology and some research that gives us a better picture of risks and prevention strategies.

Porn and predators are still part of the picture, but -- now that we have some research -- we know that the risk of a child being harmed by someone they meet online is extremely low, especially compared to other risks. If a child is going to be harmed by an adult, it is far more likely to be someone they know from the real world such as a relative, family friend or other trusted adult.

As for porn, there is no question that kids who want to find it probably will, but after more than 20 years of Internet access, we haven't seen huge social or psychological problems emerge. Still, many parents are rightfully concerned about the type of content their kids are viewing, which is why I wrote "So your kid is looking at porn. Now what?."

Real risks

Over time it became increasingly obvious that some of the biggest risks to kids came not from dangerous adults but from themselves and other kids. In 2009, the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, assembled by Harvard's Berkman Center per an agreement between 49 state attorneys general and MySpace, concluded that "actual threats that youth may face appear to be different than the threats most people imagine" and that "the image presented by the media of an older male deceiving and preying on a young child does not paint an accurate picture of the nature of the majority of sexual solicitations and Internet-initiated offline encounters."

What the task force did find is that "bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most salient threats that minors face, both online and offline." Partially because researchers can't agree on a definition of bullying and harassment, the actual risk is hard to quantify, but it is clearly much higher than the risk of being harmed by a predator.

Bullying and "trolling" have been around forever, and it's true that among young people, so-called "cyberbullying" is often an extension of school-yard issues. But the Internet and phones do change the equation for a number of well-known reasons, including the ability for mean comments to stick around and be passed with lightning speed. Plus, the Net has created new ways to bully like impersonating someone by getting hold of their phone or password or passing around inappropriate pictures of someone.

Privacy, security and reputation management

As the online safety field evolves, it is starting to focus on some of the more common risks to both youth and adults: privacy, security and reputation management.

While protecting one's privacy has always been a challenge (i.e. small-town gossip going back centuries), the Internet and mobile technology have created opportunities for privacy problems on a grand scale. For one thing, there is what we post. It's now very easy to post information that might embarrass yourself or others or reveal secrets that perhaps you ought not to share. There is also the issue of things that companies know about us. Anyone who uses a search engine, email service or social network is leaving breadcrumbs for companies to follow. What's more, thanks to third-party tracking cookies, some of that information is getting into the hands of companies that we might not even know exist. It's a serious issue that needs serious thought by consumers, regulators and companies. And everyone -- including children and teens -- needs to learn how to at least limit what others can find out about them. Plus, thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know that the U.S. and other governments have the capacity to track us as well, and given the enormous power of government over our lives, that too can be a serious problem.

Security is another Internet safety issue that has gotten worse over the years. It seems like every day brings another major security breach where we learn about the vulnerability of our usernames and passwords, credit card information or email. There are lots of professionals in government and the private sector who are working to beef up security but there are plenty of criminals out there finding ways to gain entry into our personal information. It's a cat-and-mouse game, and right now the "good guys" are way behind. While there is no way to be 100 percent hacker-proof, there are ways families can improve their security and use secure and unique passwords.

Reputation management is something we thought about in the 90′s but it's a bigger issue now thanks to social networking and smartphone apps that make it very easy to impulsively post things that can embarrass us now or in the future. A lot of young people are savvy when it comes to avoiding posting things that can get them into trouble but there are plenty of people (including lots of adults) who need to rethink their posting habits.

Moral panics don't help

Whether it's predator panic, bullying panic, sexting panic, privacy panic or secrecy panic, moral panics are not helpful.

As technology evolves, there will be new risks but what we've learned from 20 years of online safety is that risks have more to do with the social-emotional condition of the user than the actual technology being used. For example, there has lately been a lot of concern over the services that allow people to post anonymously. While it is true that these services can be used to bully, harass and embarrass others, it's also true that there are lots of positive uses for them. Sure there will be some who misuse these services, but the vast majority of youth and adults -- those who respect themselves and others -- will use them appropriately. Just as with fire, knives, cars and other powerful technologies, the key is to encourage safe and appropriate use while doing what's necessary to deal with the relatively rare but sometimes tragic cases of inappropriate use.

Parental involvement vs. controls

While there are plenty of products that can control or monitor what your kids can do online, none are as powerful or effective in the long term as parental involvement. A filter might prevent your child from visiting a certain site or service on a specific device but conversations over a period of time can help your child develop values that will last a lifetime.

Regardless of whether you choose to use a filtering program or an Internet rating system, the best way to assure that your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. The best filter -- the one that lasts a lifetime -- doesn't run on a device but on the software between your child's ears.

Focus on causes, not just symptoms

Another thing we've learned is that problems that manifest themselves online or with mobile technology are often symptoms of larger social or personal issues. Just as with drunk or careless driving and substance abuse, there are almost always underlying issues that cause people to misuse technologies and the real solution rarely lies with the technology and often lies with the what that is causing the person to act as they are. Even cyberbullying is less about technology or even "bullying" and more about the social-emotional state of the people involved. And to that end we need to start putting more resources into social-emotional learning, growing compassion and emphasizing positive social norms for both youth and adults.

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Those Tech Buses Impact Silicon Valley As Well As San Francisco

I have mixed feelings when I see those mostly double-deck buses on Highway 101 shuttling tech workers between Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Based on a recent survey, so do San Francisco voters. On one hand, I'd much rather see the buses than the thousands of cars they replace. The shuttles, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, transport more than 35,000 people a day and eliminate at least "45 million vehicle miles traveled and 761,000 metric tons of carbon every year from the region's roads and air."

As a fellow driver on 101, I also feel safer sharing the road with a relatively small number of professional bus drivers versus thousands of tired and distracted tech workers. And while it might not benefit me or the public, I am glad to know that the workers in these companies have the option of being more relaxed or productive during their commute.

Impact on communities

But like many in the Bay Area, I also worry about their impact on local communities.

The concern among some San Franciscans is well known. There are vocal critics who say that the demands of well-heeled Silicon Valley tech workers are pricing lower and even middle-income San Franciscans out of the housing market. There is also concern about the impact they're having on the culture of the city.

A sour note for some musicians

Inexpensive food joints are being replaced by upscale restaurants that many locals can't afford and might not even enjoy. Artists and musicians are leaving the city. My professional musician son, Will Magid, who left San Francisco last year for other reasons, told me that the low-cost apartment he rented in the Mission district is now much more expensive than it was when he left about a year ago. The reasons people are leaving, he said "are both economic and cultural." It's not just increased rent, it's also changes to the fabric of the community.

Yet, a recent survey conducted by EMC Research and commissioned by the Bay Area Council, a business organization, shows that most San Franciscans have a positive attitude about tech workers. The survey of 500 likely San Francisco voters conducted earlier this month found that 72 percent have a favorable opinion of tech workers, while 56 percent were strongly or somewhat favorable to employee shuttle buses. Nearly 80 percent feel that recent growth in the tech sector has been good for San Francisco.

But the survey also found that less than half of respondents (45 percent) said that their household has "benefited from the recent growth in the technology sector," with 26 percent strongly disagreeing with that assertion. And nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) said that "preventing eviction and neighborhood gentrification" is important or very important.

Affects Silicon Valley too

While I empathize with our neighbors in San Francisco, I also worry about what this northerly migration is doing to Silicon Valley. Just as cities started to suffer in the 1940s, '50s and '60s as workers moved to the suburbs, I worry that Silicon Valley is not taking full advantage of the energy and cultural and economic benefits we might otherwise enjoy if more of these workers were living in Palo Alto, Mountain View, San Jose, Sunnyvale and Redwood City and other parts of Silicon Valley.

While Silicon Valley is far from a ghost town on weekends, it's not nearly as vibrant as San Francisco. Much of that is inevitable considering the uniqueness of San Francisco, but I can't help wonder what the night life and music scene would be like in the valley if more young and well-paid tech workers lived here.

I also wonder whether the tech industry is having as much impact on local business as it could. I frequently patronize restaurants not far from Google and Facebook and don't see large crowds at lunch time. Why should workers spend the time and money to eat off-campus when they have great free food right at work? Sure, those companies are employing cooks and other service workers, but it would be nice to share a bit more of the wealth with local businesses.

Of course, wherever tech workers live, they'll need things like clothing, toothpaste, shoes and other necessities that once helped local businesses thrive. But, thanks to Amazon and other online merchants, even that trickle-down effect is severely diminished.

But I must admit I'm a bit jealous. No one offered me a free ride during the years I commuted between my home in Silicon Valley and my office in San Francisco. For that matter, no one offered me free meals, free laundry service, subsidized day care or many of the other perks some Silicon Valley tech workers enjoy.

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

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