Tech Innovations

Promoting Parental Involvement to Reduce Risky Behaviors

Location: New England By Becky Lewis Published Jan. 2015

Don’t cross the street without looking both ways. Don’t go in the swimming pool unless someone is with you. Don’t talk to strangers.

Including strangers you encounter on the Internet and social media.

The first three statements are such parenting staples that they’ve become clichés, but the fourth, and other parenting advice related to it, has not become ingrained in our culture. According to Dr. Stacey Kite, professor of Research in Johnson & Wales University’s Educational Leadership Doctoral Program, the problems created by this lack are not going to go away.

“Our youth have grown up on the Internet and on their cell phones, and they learn to navigate faster and better than we do. We’ve given them virtually unlimited access and they’re not mature enough to determine what is right, and we’ve never really taught them what they should be doing and how they should react,” Kite says, adding that in her 10 years of research in this area, the numbers have either remained stable or gotten worse.

Research performed by Kite and her colleagues in Rhode Island and Massachusetts confirms nationwide studies that indicate 90 percent of students would not go to their parents if they encountered a problem during Internet or social media use, because “they feel like they need to handle this on their own, or they’re afraid their parents would not understand and would take their technology away. Parents need to understand that just saying ‘No, you can’t use it’ is not the answer.”

“Parents need to be more involved in what their children are doing, but the solution is not to deny them access. They need to monitor their children’s Internet and social media usage, and if parents find out their children have engaged in risky behavior, they need to use it as a learning experience rather than punishing them,” Kite adds.

For example, she says, bullying is a learned behavior, and parents need to teach children that it is unacceptable behavior. Kite adds that Dr. William E. Copeland, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, conducted a study about five years ago that found the precursors for bullying are the exact same precursors for committing domestic violence or becoming a sexual predator.

“Parents need to understand it’s their job to monitor their children and teach them acceptable Internet and social media behavior, and the evidence suggests they don’t. My own children know I’m going to monitor their online behavior, and we work on it together,” she says. “Parents are not looking to find the resources that will help them teach these lessons, because they’re out there. We’ve done several seminars in schools in Rhode Island, and the problem is the parents don’t come. We may make more of an impact after there’s a school shooting or a bullying-related suicide, but once the media coverage ends, people stop thinking about it.”

The seminars are an outgrowth of ongoing research by Kite and her team, in which they have offered a survey instrument to high schools and middle schools throughout New England. Through 2014, they have surveyed approximately 10,000 Rhode Island and Massachusetts students, and are developing relationships with schools in Connecticut. Kite says results from individual schools can show educators where they have vulnerabilities and help inform their program development. And those results have led to a number of success stories, including a program at Birchwood Middle School in North Providence, R.I., where the principal not only convinced students to stop bullying behaviors, he got them involved in a bullying prevention program. Birchwood’s success was profiled on an episode of CBS News’ 48 Hours titled “Bullying: Words Can Kill.” (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/48-hours-shares-what-a-bullied-life-looks-like/)

Kite’s team also has developed a tip sheet for parents with links to online resources, so that schools can provide information to parents who don’t attend the seminars. And while her team is based in the New England area surrounding the Johnson and Wales campus in Providence, Kite says she has shared, and will continue to share, the survey instrument with schools in other parts of the country.

“My long-term goal is to bring awareness of the long-term risks of cyberbullying and Internet misuse. I also want society to be more empathetic and understanding. In many cases, victims are told ‘Deal with it yourself’ or ‘You should be a bigger person,’ ”Kite says. “It’s not a sign of weakness that you’ve been bullied.”

See also: NLECTC Minutes on "Parent Involvement in Internet Risk Prevention" available on YouTube.