Kids and teens live their lives online, and because online communication is generally faceless, they are often emboldened to reveal details about their state of mind, leaving telltale indicators or “bread crumbs” of their well being. As a digital culture, we haven’t yet begun to mine the emotional and psychological data that kids offer up to peers online.
In this setting, other users (bystanders, professionals, and peers) are in a position to reach out to at-risk youth—those showing an interest in self-destructive behaviors such as suicide, self-mutilation, eating disorders, and drug use. Online “friends” (bystanders) will know when something is wrong often before the adults in their lives know.
When bystanders are armed with the skills they need to respond, they can intervene or prevent an incident. As an adult community, we need to empower the bystanders, first by letting them know just how much influence they have. In 85% of schoolyard bulling incidents, bystanders play a role by either reinforcing the bully’s actions or by not taking any action at all. When a peer intervenes on behalf of a victim, bullying stops 57% of the time in less than 10 seconds. One kid who is willing to report harassment (even when it isn’t directed at himself) can have a big impact on the behavior of the whole group.
Bystanders are in a position to improve the general web environment and behavior of all users by self-enforcing acceptable behavior for citizenship. All web users benefit when bad behavior is reported. Experiencing real consequences for online behavior helps teens internalize that online communications are public, and though they sometimes feel anonymous, all digital interactions can be traced by service providers and law enforcement back to the user.
The following articles will help parents and mentors understand more about using technology as a tool for identifying risk and promoting resilience in their communities.