Dr. Sameer Hinduja believes that modern technology can be useful—but only if it’s used in a responsible, positive way.
The co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center shared that message with The Williston Northampton School community this week. An evening presentation on Monday, April 2, was designed for parents, followed by a talk at all-school assembly on Tuesday morning.
In the evening, Dr. Hinduja encouraged parents to talk to their sons and daughters about online activity. He urged them to be involved and set ground rules.
“All the stuff you learned in Parenting: 101, it still applies,” he said. “We’re trying to raise teens with moral compasses both in public, where everyone can see it, and in private.”
At the all-school assembly, Dr. Hinduja encouraged students to lock down their profiles, and make content private. He reminded them that the people they befriend online, and the content they post, will continue to reflect on them throughout their lives.
“Our society is all about snap judgments,” Dr. Hinduja, who also works as an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University, told the student body.
“I wish it wasn’t, but it is,” he said. “The quickest way for me to get a bead on you is to run your first and last name through Google.”
Sprinkled throughout the lecture were a series of instant polls that students could respond to anonymously by texting from their phones. The polls ranged from such statements as “I have been hassled, made fun of, mistreated or threatened online,” to “of my hundreds of Facebook friends, I would fully trust them not to reveal something personal I shared with others” and “I know of at least one person in real life who has really regretted something they did online.”
As students submitted their answers, the results were projected in real time on a screen at the front of the Athletic Center auditorium. Some 38 percent of the respondents said they felt the first was true; 64 percent said they trusted the vast majority of their Facebook friends; 77 percent said they knew someone who regretted an online action.
“Our concern as adults is that we don’t want you to unnecessarily sabotage your future,” Dr. Hinduja said. “We’ve got to be really careful about what’s up about us because your name is your reputation.”
To drive the point home, Dr. Hinduja presented several examples. There was the promising New Jersey quarterback who was expelled from school for his derogatory tweets; a 16-year-old hired as a secretary and then fired on her first day for posting on Facebook that work was extremely boring; the 17-year-old who committed suicide after a naked picture of her was released publically.
“Please slow down when you share your status updates or share with other people,” Dr. Hinduja said. “Don’t sabotage your future—it really matters.”