Heart-Mind 2015 In Profile: Jennifer Shapka

Jennifer Shapka wants to explore what it means to grow up in an information age. She is an Associate Professor in Human Development, Learning and Culture at the University of British Columbia. At Heart-Mind 2015, Jennifer will take the audience on a crash course of how to help children and youth safely and responsibly navigate the online world. 

“I hope that people who come to my talk will have a clearer sense of what cyber-bullying is,” she says. “And with more ideas and more confidence in their ability to help kids be socially responsible online.”

One of Jennifer’s current projects is CyberKids: Understanding the Online Social Worlds of Children and Youth. Jennifer explains that parents are often exposed to frightening media stories about cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking. The media often overdramatizes these stories. This can lead to what Jennifer calls a fear-mongering approach to discussing online safety with children.  

“Unfortunately, this won’t resonate with kids because the majority of their online experiences tend to be positive and involve socializing with their friends,” she says. “A better way to approach this issue is to talk more generally about social responsibility, and how it is important to be socially responsible online as well.”

She also encourages parents and educators to explain why social responsibility is more challenging in an online context — there are fewer cues to understand the nuances of what someone is trying to say and it is easier to say and do things when protected by anonymity.

The most important thing, Jennifer says, is that you connect with your children and have open and caring conversations. One way to do this is to share your own online mishaps.  

“We all have experiences of having an email misinterpreted. Share these experiences with kids. Alternatively, if you aren’t technologically comfortable, then reverse the tables and let the kids be the expert and teach you about what they do online.”

Want to learn more about cyber-bullying, online privacy, and youth from Jennifer Shapka? Register now for Heart-Mind 2015: Human Connection in a Digital World (October 2-3).

Interview and Profile: Jordan Lee 

Video from Jennifer Shapka - Kids and social media: why control does more harm than good

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