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New “gadgets” to control bullying

January 8, 2011

Now I’ve heard it all — now we’re looking for nifty little gadgets to help with the continuing problem of bullying.

Yesterday, King5 News repeatedly ran a story highlighting new high-tech tools intended to curb bullying among kids.  Among the “solutions” offered:

  • A cell phone app that monitors conversations between kids. When there are certain patterns or phrases detected in email or text messages, it alerts parents of possible problems.  For the low-low price of $10/month.
  • The new “iSAFE” backpack which comes with a special cord a child can pull if they feel they are being harassed or intimidated (hopefully they have the backpack handy when this occurs!) The cord causes an alarm to sound and lights to flash on the backpack.
  • Then there’s a new website: bullystoppers.org which allows kids to log in and post reports of bullying anonymously. According to the King5 story, “school officials can then view the postings.”

All well and good, but how will this decrease or stop the bullying problem? It’s all about building a better mousetrap, but it does NOTHING to curb the underlying “infestation” (to extend the metaphor) that causes bullying to begin with.  Which is typical of the types of “solutions” we generally seek out when there’s a problem.

Apparently these tools were studied over a three-month period by a University of Washington professor at Seattle Public Schools and in her assessment she found the cell phone app quite interesting.  But, if you’re going to spend $120 “monitoring” your child’s email and text messages, how will this help when the bullying is in-person or on social network sites? Will the cell-phone app be extended to all your child’s communication methods? 

How about that backpack?  Is this going to turn out like the legacy of car alarms where most of us just ignore when a car alarm goes off because so many “alarms” are false-positives?  Wouldn’t it be just as effective for a child to yell, “Help I’m being harassed or hurt!!” than it would to have some techno-squeal go off in the middle of a crowded playground? Which one is more likely to cause a human to respond?

And, do you really think that school officials have nothing better to do than scan websites or get online reports from a site looking for problems? What’s going to stop BULLIES from using this site to now turn around an accuse other students of being the troublemakers? Sounds like a great new potential platform for cyberbullying.

I think much more effective use of time and money would be to invest in solutions focused on prevention — not, once again, management and mitigation like we always do?  Just like authorities’ response to the Foss High School shootings was to call for better gun control policies and metal detectors.  I asked, “What about the Shooters?”

Backpacks, cell phone apps and “reporting” websites are not going to solve the underlying problem that leads to bullying.  It may benefit the companies coming up with these newfangled ways to trap the perpetrators of the bullying, but there’ll be a new crop of them coming up to take their place unless we stop applying superficial bandaids and start dealing with the disease.

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