Mmegi Online :: Issues in education
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Last Updated
Thursday 27 April 2017, 06:00 am.
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Issues in education

Engendered bullying in the digital era
Technological advancement is embraced quickly by the younger generation compared to their elders.
By DORCAS MOLEFE
OWEN PANSIRI
SHELDON WEEKS
(GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Issues in education








Information technology is one of the most sought aspects of modern life that is essential in moving societies forward and achieving development.  While this is positive, with the new technology comes some unintended and unanticipated effects that impact on societies at all levels such as educational, social and economic.  As users chase the new digital era, they are part of transformation as technology changes them and as they in turn affect and change technology.

Previous Issues discussed the phenomenon of bullying, an age-old phenomenon, and its digital face and form in the digital era.  The information was based upon the experiences of children and parents mainly in the United States of America. This Issues is a follow-up that considers the experiences of cyber bullying in South African high schools and takes an engendered perspective, with specific reference to teenage girls in the digital era.  It is based on the Mail and Guardian's article of January 21 2011, entitled "Mean girls get meaner online" by Nechama Brodie.

The article considers what happens during breaks and free time, often unsupervised, at schools where girls verbally and physically abuse others, even physically fight.  A psychologist, Vanessa Hemp, says, "Girls are particularly good at this kind of emotional warfare."  Hemp points out that this type of behaviour, which is referred to as "social bullying" manifests itself as "psychological, emotional or physical harassment... is fuelled by social networking". Facebook, Blackberry Messenger and MXit are noted as some of the platforms from where the abuse is launched through accusations and negative labelling of others.  This is the kind of cyber behaviour that can lead to physical conflicts.

Teenage girls find that they can be really meaner with someone on these and related platforms than they can be when in a face-to-face situation.  Hemp makes an interesting observation that children are not as mean as they are angry, because while they want to belong to a normal teenage group, technology has replaced this with social networking.  This has reduced the sense of group identity and belongingness and increased interaction with other generations.  Furthermore, social networking is more public, Hemp adds "... what they say is there

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in black and white" or colour for all to see.

The disadvantage as a result of the absence of actual social interactions, as opposed to online ones, is that "despite being constantly in touch, these children are actually less connected than generations before" ...resulting only in "... more social awkwardness... ".

Brodie's article has some important lessons for educationists and communities worldwide as it has taken a different perspective.  Instead of adopting a common position that is often found where parents or others in the older generation always complain about "children these days", Hemp considers these problems as challenges that the teenage girls face as part of their development at puberty, challenges accompanied by hormonal changes that also affect their emotions.

A case is made that calls for more tolerance from the parental and teacher generation that they should appreciate and sympathise with the adolescents and recognise their problems. Hemp states the problems begin with the onset of adolescence or around 14-years of age and says "... their hormones are at peak, but their cognitive and emotional capacity to deal with it has not yet evolved.  Hormones make feelings harder to control and these are young kids - they're not that good at impulse control to begin with".  Brodie observes that the impulsive teenager has his or her problems, as a result of the stage of development, combined with the factor that the digital era allows for one click that then goes out instantaneously and reaches a large group.  This, therefore, is a mammoth challenge.

Another dimension is that teenage girls empowered with these technological devices are prone to quick clicks.  It notes that girls are taking pictures of incidents of violence and circulating these, and they take pictures of their naked bodies and send them to boys, a thing which may not be approved of even by the people to whom these are sent.

It appears there is need for more education on how to prevent cyber-bullying and on empowering children with an understanding of how to maximise their benefits in using the technology that they have and on the implications of abuse for them and society.

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