"The seventh-grade guidance counselor says she can spend up to three-fourths of her time mediating conflicts that began online or through text messages.
In April, the burden of resolving these disputes had become so onerous that the principal, Mr. Orsini, sent an exasperated e-mail message to parents that made national news: 'There is absolutely NO reason for any middle school student to be part of a social networking site,' he wrote. If children were attacked through sites or texting, he added, 'IMMEDIATELY GO TO THE POLICE!'"
"Administrators who investigate students tangled in online disputes often resort to a deft juggle of artfulness, technology and law."
"He rubbed his face in his hands. 'All we are doing is reacting,' he said. 'We can’t seem to get ahead of the curve.'"
This is the new generation gap: adults are unable to wrap their brains around the new technology, and that opens up vulnerabilities for kids.
The answer is for parents and teachers to get more engaged and more involved, and to be as present in their kids' lives online as they are offline.
I did a presentation at the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center breakfast last month talking exactly about this phenomenon (see below). The answer is not in sending these cases to the courts and/or forbidding kids to use these sites. Kids can be mean to each other both on and offline. But parents and teachers need to engage and understand the ways their kids connect to each other.
In about half a generation the parents will be tech saavy, and I bet this will be less of an issue. But for now, it requires concerted effort to address this challenge -- and this is effort well spent.
Colin Rule has worked at the intersection of technology and conflict resolution for the last two decades. He is CEO of Modria.com, an online dispute resolution service provider in Silicon Valley, and a non-resident Fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School. From 2003 to 2011, he served as eBay and PayPal's first director of Online Dispute Resolution, designing and implementing systems that now resolve more than 60 million disputes each year. Mr. Rule is the author of Online Dispute Resolution for Business, published by Jossey-Bass in September 2002. He has presented and trained around the world for organizations including the U.S. Department of State, UNCITRAL, the International Chamber of Commerce, and the CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution, as well as teaching at UMass-Amherst, Stanford, Southern Methodist University, and Hastings College of the Law. He has written and been interviewed extensively about the Internet since 1999, with columns and articles appearing in ACResolution, Consensus, Dispute Resolution Magazine, and Peace Review. He holds a master's degree from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in conflict resolution and technology, a B.A. in peace studies from Haverford College, and he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Eritrea from 1995-1997.