"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 is CEO of Mediate.com. From 2017 to 2020 Colin was Vice President for Online Dispute Resolution at Tyler Technologies. Tyler acquired Modria.com, an ODR provider Colin co-founded, in 2017. From 2003 to 2011 Colin was Director of Online Dispute Resolution for eBay and PayPal. Colin co-founded Online Resolution, one of the first online dispute resolution (ODR) providers, in 1999 and served as its CEO and President. Colin worked for several years with the National Institute for Dispute Resolution (now ACR) in Washington, D.C. and the Consensus Building Institute in Cambridge, MA.
Colin is the author of Online Dispute Resolution for Business, published by Jossey-Bass in September 2002, and co-author of The New Handshake: Online Dispute Resolution and the Future of Consumer Protection, published by the ABA in 2017. He received the first Frank Sander Award for Innovation in ADR from the American Bar Association in 2020, and the Mary Parker Follett Award from the Association for Conflict Resolution in 2013. He holds a Master’s degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in conflict resolution and technology, a graduate certificate in dispute resolution from UMass-Boston, a B.A. from Haverford College, and he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Eritrea from 1995-1997. You can read many of his articles and see some of his talks at colinrule.com/writing.