Cyberbullying

January 4, 2012

With increasing new communication technologies being made available to children and young people, there will always be a potential for them becoming a victim to online bullying. Online bullying, e-bullying or cyberbullying, is defined as follows: ‘the use of information and communication technologies such as email, [mobile] phone and text messages, instant messaging, defamatory personal websites and defamatory personal polling websites, to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or a group, that is intended to harm others.’

Children and young people are keen adopters of new technologies, but this can also leave them open to the threat of online bullying. An awareness of the issues and knowledge of methods for dealing with online bullying can help reduce the risks. The issue of cyberbulling must be specifically addressed within a school/academy’s anti-bullying policy.

 Text Messaging

Bullying by text message has become an unfortunate and unpleasant by-product of the convenience that SMS (short message service) offers. Children should be advised to be careful about giving out their mobile phone number, and ask that those that have their number never pass it on. If only known and trusted friends know the number, it is less likely to be abused in this way. If being bullied by text message, children should immediately seek help from a teacher, parent or carer. They should not respond to the messages, but should keep a detailed diary recording information such as the content of the message, the date, the time, the caller ID or whether the number was withheld or not available. If space permits, the messages should also be stored on the phone in case they are needed later as evidence. Abuse in the form of bullying should be reported to the mobile phone company who can take certain steps to try to resolve the situation, and in some instances it may also be necessary to involve the police. In some cases it may be necessary, or easier, to change the mobile phone number or to purchase a new phone.

Like bullying by text message, email provides a reasonably ‘anonymous’ method of communication which bullies have seized upon to harass their victims. If being bullied by email, children should not respond to the messages, but should seek help from a teacher, parent or carer. Likewise if they receive an email message from an unknown sender, they should exercise caution over opening it, or ask an adult for assistance. Don’t delete the message but keep it as evidence of bullying. If the email is being sent from a personal email account, abuse should be reported to the sender’s email service provider. Many email programs also provide facilities to block email from certain senders. If the bullying emails continue, and the email address of the sender is not obvious, then it may be possible to track the address using special software. Email service providers may be able to offer assistance in doing this. In certain cases, it may be easier to change the email address, and exercise caution over who this new address is given to.

Instant Messaging and Chat Rooms

Aside from the general risks of using chat rooms and instant messaging (IM) services, these services are also used by bullies. Children should be encouraged to always use moderated chat rooms, and to never give out personal information while chatting. If bullying does occur, they should not respond to messages, but should leave the chat room, and seek advice from a teacher, parent or carer. If using a moderated chat room, the system moderators should also be informed, giving as much detail as possible, so that they can take appropriate action.

Instant Messaging (IM) is a form of online chat but is private between two, or more, people. If a child is bullied or harassed by IM, the service provider should be informed giving the nickname or ID, date, time and details of the problem. The service provider will then take appropriate action which could involve a warning or disconnection from the IM service. If a child has experienced bullying in this way, it might also be worth re-registering for instant messaging with a new user ID.

Websites

Although less common, bullying via websites is now becoming an issue. Such bullying generally takes the form of websites that mock, torment, harass or are otherwise offensive, often aimed at an individual or group of people. If a child discovers a bullying website referring to them, they should immediate seek help from a teacher, parent or carer. Pages should be copied and printed from the website concerned for evidence, and the internet service provider (ISP) responsible for hosting the site should be contacted immediately. The ISP can take steps to find out who posted the site, and request that it is removed. Many ISPs will outline their procedures for dealing with reported abuse in an acceptable use policy (AUP) which can be found on their website. Additionally, many websites and forum services now provide facilities for visitors to create online votes and polls, which have been used by bullies to humiliate and embarrass their fellow pupils. Again, any misuse of such services should be reported to a teacher, parent or carer who should then take steps to contact the hosting website and request the removal of the poll.

Specific issues regarding online bullying should be dealt with by the school or academy under its existing anti-bullying policies.

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Social Networking

January 4, 2012

Social networking software such as Facebook and Twitter are providing opportunities for personal expression, the creation of communities, collaboration and sharing. Other examples include blogs (personal web-based journals), moblogs (blogs sent from a mobile phone), wikis (modifiable collaborative web pages), and podcasting (subscription-based broadcast over the web) supported by technologies such as RSS (really simple syndication – an XML format designed for sharing news across the web). They enhance or gain value from social interactions and behaviour. They can also provide opportunities for collective intelligence and thus add value to data. Digital video, photography and music technologies have democratised the process of content creation and distribution. Recent studies of children and young people’s online behavior indicate that there are a wide range of activities undertaken, from using the internet for homework and research to a wide range of entertainment and edutainment activities. The benefits for children are well documented, but so too are a number of risks of which young people must be made aware.

Risks

Initial concern for children was largely centred on their use of social networking sites and the possibility that young people could be ‘groomed’ by those with a malicious intent. This is made possible by the amount of personal information that children can disclose online allowing predators to manipulate children by becoming their online friend, often hiding their true age and identity and developing close friendships by pretending to share common interests in music, personalities, sport or other activities for which children have expressed a specific liking. The huge publicity surrounding chat rooms and the decision by some leading commercial companies to close their chat rooms to children led to the focus switching to social networking applications. In some respects these are more of a problem than chat rooms, as young people share ‘friend lists’ and pass on contacts one to another. As instant messaging programmes allow private one-to-one correspondence with or without the use of webcams, they also can give even greater privacy to predators developing relationships with children online. It is important to understand that social networking sites are public spaces where adults can also interact with children, which obviously has an implication on child safety. Whilst encouraging young people to be creative users of the internet who publish content rather than being passive consumers, there is a balance to be weighed in terms of the personal element of what is being published. The concerns are shifting from what children are ‘downloading’ in terms of content to what they are ‘uploading’ to the net. In some cases very detailed accounts of their personal lives, contact information, daily routines, photographs and videos are acting as an online shopping catalogue for those who would seek children to exploit, either sexually or for identity fraud purposes. These sites are very popular with young people as not only can they express themselves with an online personality, but they can use all the applications the site has to offer to chat and share multimedia content with others – music, photos and video clips. Unfortunately, these sites can also be the ideal platform for facilitating bullying, slander and humiliation of others. The better sites are now taking this issue seriously and ensuring that they have safety guidelines and codes of practice in place. In drafting an AUP, students, where appropriate additional consideration should be given to boarding pupils. For example, additional privileges may be given after school with access to allow less restrictive filtering but keeping in line with the overall ethos of providing a safe environment. The management of mobile devices and laptop dongles that allow unrestricted access in dormitories should also be carefully managed with a view that such usage should be viewed on its merits and with due consideration to the in loco parentis nature of boarding supervision.

Implementation

Clearly banning activity of any sort merely heightens the desire of young people to explore and push the boundaries. We have a responsibility to understand what children are doing by talking to them about their online activity and educating them to the possible downsides – encouraging safe use and enjoying the benefits whilst minimising the risks. It is recommended that schools and academies use CEOP materials to educate children about risks and benefits, look at recommending social networking sites that safely enhance education experiences. Schools and academies should also look to provide timely and accurate information for parents and teachers, provide safety tips and good advice and stay up to date on developments.


Brain Activity and Behaviour

November 16, 2009

This essay uses examples to examine how studies of people with brain damage or who suffer disruption to brain activity have provided evidence about the relationship between brain activity and behaviour in normal functioning. 

 There are several ways in which abnormal behaviour may be associated with a damaged or malfunctioning brain. These in turn may be used to describe the relationship between a normal brain and behaviour. Biological psychology argues that all elements of our individual psychological existence, including desires, moods, emotional responses, are biologically based upon neuronal activity within the brain. Emotions, for example are altered by neuronal system changes. Synaptic activity can change the neural system resulting in behavioural, cognitive and emotional changes under certain conditions. Amongst others, there are three specific examples that are of interest:

  (a) Neurological diseases often cause a disruption to the transmission of certain chemicals, sometimes resulting in the failure to manufacture a required neurotransmitter.  Parkinson’s disease, for example is associated loss of conscious control over motor functions. This is because of the deterioration or destruction of  neurons dependent upon dopamine.

 (b) Illnesses associated with neuroses and depression are sometimes treated with prescription drugs. These target specific synapses, which cause a change in certain areas of the brain, thereby altering  the brain’s processing of information. For example, the part of the brain that generates anxiety in a person, may show inhibited activity through the effects of the chemical.

 (c) So-called recreational drugs that may stimulate, depress or otherwise alter the neuronal system act by changing activity in the central nervous system. Synaptic changes affect information processing and consequently may affect behavioural, cognitive and emotional responses.

 These examples illustrate the chemical intervention of neurotransmitters and synapses that may result in changes to behaviour. A synapse is a component of the nervous system where an electro-chemical signal passes from one nerve cell to another. People who suffer with schizophrenia often are diagnosed with a pathology associated with the behaviour of certain neurotransmitters in specific parts of the brain. When these neurotransmitters are monitored in people with schizophrenia, there is often over-activity recorded. This is also evidenced by the person being drawn to stimuli that would otherwise not receive attention. This is sometimes treated with chemicals that counteract this effect by reducing the brain’s overactivity in these areas.

The above examples demonstrate the link between what is observed in a malfunctioning brain and  normal brain behaviour. In these specific cases it may be reasonable to make some cautious generalisations about normal electro-chemical brain behaviour from what is observed from a damaged brain. Knowledge gained from studying the behaviour associated with damaged or malfunctioning brains may help understanding of how behaviour is controlled by the complex intertwining of variables. The relationship between brain activity and observed behaviour are examples of this. Brain trauma caused by accident or invasive surgery may also have an impact on human behaviour. Surgery for brain cancer offers the opportunity to observe patient behaviour before and after the procedure.

 Sperry pioneered a surgical technique for the treatment of  epilepsy (Sperry,1969). Epilepsy is caused by  regionalised, chaotic, electrical brain activity.  The division of the brain into hemispheres separated by the corpus callosum provides the opportunity to compare right and left hemisphere activity. The corpus callosum integrates the activity of both hemispheres. Epilepsy in one hemisphere therefore tends to influence electrical activity in the other. Sperry showed that by severing the corpus callosum, epilepsy could be greatly reduced without negatively impairing the patient. Sperry also found that through training, specific learning could take place in one hemisphere with different learning taking place in the other.

 The relationship between brain and behaviour can also be shown through the study of damage to the brain caused by other types of trauma, or cancer. Observing damage caused by strokes, which results in a loss of  oxygen and nutrients to a part of the brain can also help the understanding of the brain and behaviour. Lesions caused by the destruction of neurons may cause behavioural changes which indicate changes in behaviour. This may help the understanding of how specific brain areas contribute to normal functioning.

 The well-documented case of  Phineas Gage ( Miell, Phoenix and Thomas p. 268) illustrates how partial brain damage may result in behavioural changes. Gage received a traumatic brain injury which he survived, but which resulted in extreme, aberrant behavioural changes. His ambulatory and motor functioning was however unimpaired. Through this and through subsequent research, it has been found that in the case of brain damage  the workings of the remainder of the brain is revealed by the damage caused, and not the functioning of the damaged part itself.

 Finally, clinical depression may illustrate development of the thinking in this area further. There is an argument that genetic predisposition may result in an individual’s susceptibility to develop depression. This is not to imply the inevitability that someone will suffer clinical depression. Early and later environmental factors may mitigate this. It may also be that someone with no genetic evidence to indicate a tendency towards depression might become depressed in extreme circumstances (Anisman and Zacharko, 1982).

 It may be that certain genes influence depression and this may be evidenced in the nervous system.The effectiveness of drug-based therapy in some cases indicates the involvement of certain neurotransmitters in depression. It may be therefore suggested that there are anomalies in neurotransmission within certain neural systems. It might be inferred that certain genes might give an individual a tendency towards an abnormality in the density of neural receptors at a particular type of synapse.

 It cannot, however be clearly argued that depression has a solely biological or social basis. Both elements  have both subtle and profound effects on behaviour.  Synaptic changes influence behaviour. Conversely, the environment can be seen to have an impact on the nervous system. Depression, as an illness can therefore be seen to have  both biological and social influences.

 References

Anisman, H.  and Zacharko,  R.M.(1982) ‘Depression: the predisposing influence of stress’, The Behavioural and Brain Sciences, vol. 5, pp. 89-137 

Miell, D., Phoenix, A and Thomas K., (2002) Mapping Psychology, Open University, Milton Keynes.

Sperry, R. W. (1969) ‘Hemisphere deconnection and unity in conscious awareness’, American Psychologist, vol. 23, pp. 723-33


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