Mean By Mistake? A Common Sense Media Panel Discussion

November 22, 2013
CATEGORIES Common Sense News

How do we raise caring kids in today’s digital world? On Thursday, Common Sense Media brought CEO Jim Steyer, Chelsea Clinton, Howard Gardner, and Emily Bazelon together in New York City to discuss how media and technology are affecting our children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. All three panelists stressed the importance of quality conversations between kids and adults. “Kids don’t necessarily listen to what you are saying but they always notice what you do,” said Dr. Gardner. “If you are completely dependent on your apparatus or if you don’t make eye contact, that’s a clear communication of your values.”

Bazelon, too, brought up the power of connecting with kids and teens on their level – particularly when it comes to discussions about bullying and cruelty. “When I talked to audiences of kids, the first thing I ask is how many are sick of the word bullying. All of them raise their hands.” Bazelon pointed out the gray areas of online cruelty – such as drama -- which are often overlooked by adults and educators. “If it’s mean, intervene,” Bazelon said, “Even if you don’t know what all of the underlying power dynamics are.”

A recurring theme during the conversation was just how important quality, device-free family time is. Clinton recounted, “When my father ran for president in 1992, there were only three nights in 13 months when I was not with either one or both of my parents. It is hard for me to imagine not having grown up in the womb of family dinner. My parents gave me such a gift.”

At Common Sense Media, we have created materials to help families make conscious choices about their media and technology use and have created materials for educators who recognize the importance of teaching about these issues in ways that are engaging and meaningful.

We know that when messages about bullying are delivered in a didactic way, they can be a turn-off – just like every other “don't do” message. That’s why we’ve woven lessons into our K-12 Digital Literacy & Citizenship Curriculum that have kids explore what it means to be compassionate, accepting, and kind in an online world – from multiple angles. Why is it important to consider the tone of your texts and posts? What does online drama have to do with messages about drama on Reality TV? How do “haters” online target girls and boys differently?

The norms that you and your students create around empathy and kindness – online and offline -- will last them a lifetime. Meet them where they are at by diving into a few of our lessons:


For Elementary School Teachers

Students explore the concept of tone and compare and contrast what it is like to communicate face to face versus online.


Students watch and discuss a video of a little girl questioning why companies market boys’ an girls’ toys differently. They then compare and contrast gender stereotypes in two LEGO online activity zones.


For Middle School Teachers

Students compare and contrast two videos – one featuring a candid discussion between middle school students about online drama and the other featuring clips from The Real Housewives reality TV series.


Students analyze bulling behaviors that “cross the line,” adopt the point of view of teens who have been cyberbullied, and offer solutions.


For High School Teachers

Students analyze the journeys of real “Web celebs,” including some of the harsh comments they’ve received online, and recognize how these comments may affect other viewers as well as their targets.


Students explore school-wide solutions for addressing hate speech by role-playing a student mediation committee and create guidelines for online and offline communities.


You can find these lessons and more in our Gender & Digital Life Toolkit, Cyberbullying Toolkit, and curriculum Scope & Sequence.