‘The Kids Are (mostly) All Right’ when it comes to privacy and bullying

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“Telephone Hour” from Bye Bye Birdie, circa 1963

The question of “what’s the matter with kids today?” has  probably been with us for millenniums, but it was certainly the top of mind in 1963 when the lyrics for the song “Kids” from the movie “Bye Bye Birdie” asked that question and concluded, “why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?”

That movie also featured another song, called “Telephone Hour,” that depicted teens gossiping about each other’s love lives, including at least a couple of minor digs that some might consider to be an early form of cyberbullying.

If the movie were shot today, “Telephone Hour” would likely be replaced with a song that showed kids texting and using Facebook and smartphone apps, including Instagram, Snapchat and maybe Ask.fm, where kids can ask questions that sometimes elicit mean answers. But the theme wouldn’t change. Adults would still be worrying about today’s generation of youth.

Well, to invoke the title of a much more recent movie, I for the most part think that “The Kids Are All Right.”

Listen to Larry’s 1-minute CBS News segment with a little music from Bye Bye Birdie

I’m basing this conclusion on results of a number of surveys, including a recent one on teens and privacy from the Pew Research Center and Harvard’s Berkman Center, as well as a paper published earlier this year by David Finkelhor of the Crimes Against Children Research Center.

Privacy survey

Over the past couple of weeks, Pew and Berkman have released the results of a survey that found that 70 percent of teens have reached out for advice on how to manage their online privacy. And this may come as a surprise — they are almost as likely to turn to a parent for advice (41 percent) as to a friend or peer (42 percent).

The survey also found that most teens know a thing or two about privacy and that many “draw on their own wits, observations and knowledge to manage their privacy online and on social media,” by experimenting with menus and settings on social networking sites and apps.

“Of teens who use Facebook, 60 percent say their profile is private, 25 percent say its partially private and 14 percent say its public. The rest ‘don’t know.’ So 85 percent of teens have a private or partly private profile,” said the study’s co-author Amanda Lenhart.

The survey found that 82 percent of U.S. teens have a mobile phone and/or a tablet and that 71 percent of these teens have downloaded an app. More than half of them (51 percent) have avoided certain apps due to privacy concerns, while 26 percent of those teens have uninstalled an app “because they found out it was collecting personal information that they didn’t wish to share.”

Bullying and cyberbullying

And what about bullying and cyberbullying? I keep seeing articles about an “epidemic” of bullying and cyberbullying as if the numbers have skyrocketed. But as Finkelhor pointed out in his paper, physical bullying and “peer victimization” actually declined over the past several years.

A youth risk survey conducted in Massachusetts showed a 22 percent decline in bullying on school property between 2003 and 2011. Nationally, school-related violent victimizations among 12 to 18-year-olds declined by 74 percent between 1992 and 2010

Cyberbullying or, being “harassed online,” did go up from 6 percent of online teens in 2000 to 11 percent in 2010, but that’s still far below many estimates I’ve seen and far from epidemic proportions. According to Finkelhor, “the increase in online harassment is probably best seen simply as growth in the usage of electronic media for all kinds of socialization including its negative forms.” In other words, kids are spending a lot more time online and increased social interaction brings about more opportunity for negative interactions.

Just how many kids cyberbullied others or have been cyberbullied depends on your definition of the term. In their paper, “Cyberbullying myths and realities,” authors Russell A. Sabella, Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja point out that “some researchers use very broad definitions of the problem that include every possible experience with any form of online aggression. Others focus only on specific types of harm, such as humiliation or threats to one’s physical safety.”

Their paper points out that, depending on the study, the number of youths who admit to having cyberbullied others ranges from about 4 percent to 20 percent. But even if you take the high-end of that range, that means that 80 percent of kids haven’t cyberbullied others. That’s important to keep in mind and it’s important for adults to not perpetuate the myth that bullying and cyberbullying are common and therefore “normal,” because what’s normal is often thought of as being OK and it’s important to remind young people that bullying is neither normal nor OK.

So, going back to that “Bye Bye Birdie” song, it’s fair to say that today’s young people are not “perfect in every way.” But based on recent studies, the majority of them treat each other reasonably well and seem to be a bit more privacy conscious than some adults give them credit for.

Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a nonprofit Internet safety organization that receives funding from Facebook

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