The staff at Free Spirit is privileged to work with many amazing authors. We will be sharing more author spotlights with you, and hope you enjoy learning about these writers who are dedicated to helping kids succeed. The following spotlight was recently published in our newsletter, Upbeat News. Click here to subscribe.
Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D., and Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., are university professors who have spent the last ten years studying issues related to teens’ use and misuse of technology. Their goal? To eradicate cyberbullying. In December 2014, the pair released Words Wound, one of the first books written to teens on the subject. This month, Justin and Sameer sat down to tell us how they became involved in investigating the harmful world of online bullying and who needs to take action to stop it.
Q: How did you two become interested in cyberbullying? Where did you meet each other?
Justin: We met in graduate school at Michigan State University. It was in a small office in Baker Hall where we started talking about our respective research interests (mine in teens and school violence; Sameer in high-tech crime) and discussing the ways teens were using and misusing technology. Nobody was really studying cyberbullying back in 2002, so we started to.
Q: Can you give our readers a little background on your work at the Cyberbullying Research Center?
Sameer: Early on in our research we figured out that we were learning a lot about problems that few people knew about or understood. We published in a few academic journals but realized that most parents and educators don’t read academic journals! So we launched the Cyberbullying Research Center in 2005 as a way to disseminate our work to a broader audience. We translate the research we do into content that is accessible to those who can really benefit from it.
Q: What prompted you to write your book for teens, Words Wound?
Justin: We were initially inspired, in part, by Lady Gaga almost two years ago when we were invited to participate in the launch of her “Born This Way Foundation.” At the event, Lady Gaga talked about how many adults are doing a variety of things to try to stop teen cruelty but what it will really take is a coordinated teen effort if we are going to make any meaningful progress. We had been researching cyberbullying for over a decade and had already written three books for educators and parents on the topic—but we felt it was time to give teens some tools that they could use to be a solution to a problem.
Also, we were motivated by what we’ve learned while spending a ton of time with teens all around the nation over the last few years. The vast majority of them actually care and have really good hearts and wish that bullying was not an issue—but they just haven’t known what to do about it. They have heard basic online safety advice from adults, but nothing too complete, specific, relevant, relatable, and inspiring. So, we wanted to fill the gap and do so in the most compelling and accessible way for them. Adults can do (and are doing) their part all over the place. But we believe that what teens do is the answer. It will take a while, and it will be hard, but it is definitely doable (and we’ve seen it done in schools and communities across North America and beyond)!
Q: How can parents better monitor their teens’ online activity?
Sameer: Too often, parents buy devices for their teens without also providing them with the skills and knowledge to use those devices wisely and positively and to help them respond effectively when they are faced with hate, harassment, embarrassment, threats, or other issues. Some parents don’t have the time or don’t feel like they have the expertise to help their children in this area. We believe that providing them with this book (and perhaps requiring its reading before getting to enjoy the new device) can go a long way in making sure teens know exactly what to do to combat cruelty and promote kindness online.
Q: Both of you travel the United States and internationally to speak at schools about cyberbullying prevention. What can educators do to curb online bullying happening in their communities?
Justin: The most important thing educators can do is recognize that it is a problem and that they have a role to play in preventing and responding to it. Next, they need to convey this mentality to their students. Many students are afraid to talk with adults about their experiences with cyberbullying, so it is essential that educators open up the door for them. That way they can find out about incidents that might be percolating just under the surface, and they can deal with them before they blow up into a serious problem.
Q: You’ve gone straight to the source to study teen technology use and misuse. What’s the best part of working with teens? What’s the most difficult?
Sameer: We see it as essential to spend a lot of time with teens. They keep us honest and we are able to bounce ideas off them. It is one thing to sit behind a computer and crunch numbers and write. It is another thing to talk with teens to make sure that what we are seeing in the data is accurate and that the recommendations we are offering are realistic. Perhaps the biggest challenge is getting access to large numbers of students to use in our research. Schools are stretched so thin these days and as much as they acknowledge the importance of data, it is hard to administer surveys in schools.
Q: Do you have a favorite social media platform or website? Do you have a least favorite?
Justin: We spend a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter but also have a presence on YouTube, Instagram, and others. Part of the joy/challenge in doing what we do is that we have to try to stay up on all of the latest sites. So we typically explore new environments pretty quickly. That said, we are pretty poor judges when it comes to trying to predict what the next hot site or application will be. But if you would have to pin us down to one social media site right now, I think our favorite is still Facebook. But that may not last long!
Q: What’s the one thing you want a reader to take away from Words Wound?
Sameer: We believe that teens are uniquely positioned to be the primary catalyst of lasting change in their schools and communities. This book gives them the information and inspiration to take action. It’s cool to care about others, and it’s not cool to act like a jerk. Working together, adults and teens alike can create a culture of kindness at school and online where teens can take the reins themselves and bring about transformative change. This is what we believe in, and more and more teens are getting on board!
Justin and Sameer are coauthors of Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral.
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