Are there different rules for relationships in cyberspace?
The Internet's veneer of anonymity sometimes lulls the unwary cyberspace traveler into releasing his or her alter-ego online: you know—that impolite, self-righteous, sometimes even violent brute most of us try to restrain or even to completely root out of our "real" lives.
Unfortunately it's far too easy to forget there are human beings on the receiving end of all our communications, even the ones that leave our fingertips to go sailing out over the Web into the great, invisible unknown. When we do forget this important point, however, we place ourselves in danger of injuring all kinds of important relationships, and I don't mean just those casual internet acquaintances.
As tempting as it may be to assume we can safely maintain different personas on and offline, the reality is that we can't. A relationship habit formed online is sure to bleed over into our offline relationships eventually, because—as human beings—we are creatures of habit.
But an online reputation is important for other reasons as well. Suppose a future employer—or even that gorgeous girl next door—Googles your name one day. What past conversations might the search engine turn up for their eyes that would be better left unseen?
Naturally, the best policy to adopt is the one that says "If I wouldn't do this face-to-face, I shouldn't do it online either." But for those whose offline relationships also need help, perhaps some good sources of "netiquette" advice are warranted.
Here are just a few:
The Art and Mystery of Online Etiquette by Dale Van Eck, Associate Producer Education Technology, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
A Parent's Guide to Etiquette on the Net by Maria Georgiou of Kids Domain.
There's an Angry Fire in Cyberspace This article by Andrew Campbell examines some internet behavior to be avoided at all costs.Netiquette
by Virginia Shea. The most comprehensive etiquette guide available on the Internet.
Online sources of information, statistics and tips for parents
There are several helpful and informative Web sites that cover the issue of Youth Violence. If knowledge is power, parents may want to spend at least some time on these pages.
The United States Government provides extensive information through its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site.
This interesting site from the UK, Calling the Shots, says of itself: "Calling the Shots is a multi-media education and information resource designed to engage young people and stimulate discussion about their attitudes towards guns."
The Australian Institute of Criminology has an extensive library of research on aspects of youth violence ranging from bullying to adolescent violence toward parents. A rich resource for those interested in prevention programs.
Is there a violence gene, or is society failing its children?
“Violent Youth Crime up a Third,” asserts a January headline in the online U.K. Telegraph. Beneath this header, correspondent Ben Leapman explains that between 2003 and 2006 the number of violent crimes committed by British youth (between the ages of 10-17) rose by 6,512 cases—a 37% increase.
The figure seems a little hard to believe. However, the assertion does appear to be borne out in news reports. Here are a few stories dug up just in the first week of this year:
January 2, 2008: “A dad of two [52-year-old Ron Sharples] died after being assaulted by a group of youths when he want to look for the family dog.”
January 3, 2008: “A dad suffered horrific injuries at the hands of a gang who hit him over the head with a paving slab. Eric Mitchell, 43, was knocked unconscious and believes he was then beaten as he lay on the ground in Trowbridge, Cardiff.”
January 4, 2008: "A father [47-year-old Garry Newlove] died after having his head kicked "like a football" when he dared to stand up to five drunken teenagers, a court heard yesterday."
American statistics also give pause. According to Department of Justice figures, juvenile arrests between 2002 and 2006 increased by nearly 5,000 actual cases there, an 8% increase.
“Almost every day the news carries a story about a stabbing or shooting perpetrated by the young on those more vulnerable,” says Vision publisher David Hulme in a recent article titled “Rediscovering the Language of Values.” He adds, “It seems obvious that an increasingly materialistic, self-absorbed and morally ambivalent society is failing its children.”
On the other hand, wonders the APA (American Psychological Association) on their Web site, “Is youth violence just another fact of life? Are some children just prone to violence?”
To rephrase: Is society really failing its children, or can we place the blame on genetics or simply immaturity?
As the APA answers its own rhetorical question, Hulme gains an ally. “There is no gene for violence,” say these experts, “violence is a learned behavior, and it is often learned in the home or the community from parents, family members, or friends.”
Children learn best from people with whom they have secure emotional connections. Neuroscience now confirms what psychologists, parents, theologians and teachers have known all along: strong family relationships and good role models contribute to the formation of the brain, mind, personality and character.
Mirroring is one of the first teaching tools available to children. From infancy, we imitate others around us, and each “mirroring” episode makes a particular neural connection that much stronger. If our role models are compassionate caretakers, we learn compassion and empathy.
But when children experience negligence or witness violent acts, they are more likely to become aggressive and to consider violence an appropriate response when they are angry. As the APA puts it, “The home is the most fertile breeding place for this situation.”
In other words, what a child hears, observes and learns in the home is of critical importance.
Hulme writes that among other factors missing in this arena are the building blocks of moral teaching: what he calls the language of values and the terms of ethical discourse.
The APA concurs. “The process by which violence is taught is circular,” it says. “It begins in the family, expanding through the culture of the larger society in which a child grows and matures and then again is reinforced or discouraged in the family.”
Because we know there is no gene for violence, a society with a violent youth culture must therefore ask some searching questions. For if a society fails its children, it fails itself.