Stepping On Up Blog

New apps cyber bullies can use

Another good article from Common Sense Media.

Alert! Digital Drama to Watch Out for This School Year

Kids heading into middle or high school? Get clued in to the latest tech tools and trends that might stir up trouble.

Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of oneSeptember 4, 2014 Categories: Cyberbullying

Parenting Editor | Mom of one

This school year, “drama” won’t be limited to the school auditorium. Digital drama will play out in texts, on social media, and on popular teen websites. From forums that let kids pose hurtful questions to self-destructing messaging apps, new technologies enable novel ways to get attention, provoke, and try out online personas — and they go viral fast.

Of course there are many beneficial technologies that kids use responsibly, and not all new technologies can or will be misused. Kids often are the first to discover the latest and greatest thing, whether it’s a download from the app store or a cool online trend — but, just as they must sit through algebra and world history, they need to learn how to use these tools safely and responsibly.

You never know what might bubble up at your kids’ school as the heady brew of hormones, relationships, and technology is stirred. Here is a sampling of the digital-drama igniters to have on your radar:

Apple’s Spotlight search
What it is. This iOS super-sleuth unearths any name on your phone, from people you texted to those simply mentioned in a text. And it can cause a digital drama dustup if the phone gets into the wrong hands. Kids use Spotlight to incriminate the device’s owner by searching for persons of interest (such as exes, crushes, or themselves) to find out what was said about them.
What to do. Spotlight can be disabled, or kids can simply password-protect their devices.

What it is. Creating a fake social media profile page in another kid’s name, using that person’s password to hack into his or her accounts, creating a bogus email address, or swiping someone’s phone and texting under the owner’s name all are ways kids can impersonate others online. The practice (sometimes called e-personation) violates websites’ terms of service — but it’s not always done maliciously. With kids, the intention of the pranksters really matters. Some kids do it to harass, but some kids do it to joke.
What to do. Tell kids never to share passwords (or other sensitive information); review a site’s abuse-reporting procedure; discuss the consequences (in some states, e-personation is illegal); and block the perpetrators so they can’t contact your kid.

Anonymous question sites
What they are. Sites such as Ask.fmSpillit, and (formerly Formspring) let kids create a profile page where they can field questions from other users who can remain anonymous. Cyberbullying is common on these sites, as anonymity can encourage kids to be bolder — or crueler — than they would be otherwise.
What to do. Discourage your kids from using question sites. If that fails, encourage them to block anonymous questioners if possible and use the strictest privacy settings the sites allow.

Sub-tweeting and sub-booking
What it is.
 ​”Subliminal tweeting” is a form of bullying by exclusion. Public, passive-aggressivegossiping about someone on Twitter or Facebook without ever mentioning the person by name still makes it perfectly obvious who’s being spoken about. Typical exchanges look like this: Person A tweets: “Wear your skirt a little shorter, Miss Mini Skirt.” Person B replies: “R U talking about me?” Cue the digital drama.
What to do. Take it seriously, but don’t overreact. Work with your kid to report the behavior to the app or website as abusive and consider discussing it with the responsible party’s parentsand possibly the school.

Social surveillance
What it is. 
Following everything a person does online by “liking” all their posts — but not in a friendly way — almost to the point of cyberstalking. Say Person A Instagrams her fabulous slumber party photos for all her followers to see — including those not on the guest list. Uninvited Person B takes it upon herself to obsessively “like” every single picture, intimidating Person A, as if to say, “I know you didn’t invite me to your party, so I’m going to track you down, watch everything you do, and make you feel guilty.”
What to do. Be aware that kids will figure out creative (and mischievous) ways to use a site’s social media tools for purposes the site never intended. Encourage kids to work out real-life issues face to face.

Unflattering photos, snarky captions, and cringepics
What they are.
 Kids can drum up lots of digital drama with photos. Posting less-than-flattering pics of someone, texting a snarky (or downright mean) caption for an Instagram photo, blackmailing others with embarrassing pictures, and uploading super awkward pictures (calledcringepics because they’re so cringe-inducing) — these all are violations of trust that can destroy friendships.
What to do. Review rules of responsible photo-sharing with kids. Make sure your kids know to ask permission before uploading someone’s picture. If someone uploads unflattering pictures of them without their permission, encourage them to ask the poster nicely to take the photos down or at least un-tag them.

Self-destructing apps
What they are.
 BlinkSnapchat, and BurnNote have tapped into a desire among kids to share casual moments and avoid their parents’ prying eyes. But these apps have the potential to encourage kids to share inappropriate photos because they think the pics will disappear. Also, self-destructing apps tend to have iffy privacy settings.
What to do. Talk with your kid about what is appropriate to share and what isn’t. Also explain that, despite what the app says, the pics don’t really disappear. And always use privacy settings that limit who can contact you and who can see your pics.

What it is. 
Remember Manti Te’o? Catfishing is creating a false online identity to lure an unsuspecting person into an online relationship. Teens are increasingly engaging in catfishingaided by apps that facilitate online relationships such as MeetMe and Badoo.
What to do. Kids who get involved with strangers online typically are looking for a thrill. ReviewInternet safety and privacy best practices and check out Psychology Today‘s excellent advice about teens and catfishing.

Common Sense’s Digital Learning Consultant Emily Weinstein contributed to this article.

Good article on Grit, Self-Discipline and SEL by Alfie Kohn


Published Online: September 9, 2014
Published in Print: September 9, 2014, as The Deferred Gratification Myth


Published Online: September 9, 2014

Published in Print: September 9, 2014, as The Deferred Gratification Myth


Dispelling the Myth of Deferred Gratification

What waiting for a marshmallow doesn’t prove

By Alfie Kohn

Traditional schooling isn’t working for an awful lot of students. We can respond to that fact either by trying to fix the system (so it meets kids’ needs better) or by trying to fix the kids (so they’re more compliant and successful at whatever they’re told to do). The current enthusiasm for teaching self-discipline and persistence represents a vote for the second option.

The more effort we devote to getting students to pay “attention to a teacher rather than daydreaming” and persist “on long-term assignments despite boredom and frustration” (in the words of “grit” proponent Angela Duckworth), the less likely we are to ask whether those assignments are actually worth doing, or to rethink an arrangement where teachers mostly talk and students mostly listen.


—Jori Bolton for Education Week

Underlying self-discipline and grit is the idea of deferring gratification—for example, by putting off doing what you enjoy until you finish your “work.” The appeal to many educators of transforming kids from lazy grasshoppers to hardworking ants explains the fresh wave of interest in a series of experiments conducted back in the 1960s known as the marshmallow studies.

By now you’ve probably heard the summary: At the Stanford University laboratory of a psychologist named Walter Mischel, preschool-age children were left alone in a room after having been told they could get a small treat (a marshmallow or pretzel) by ringing a bell at any time to summon the experimenter. But if they held out until he returned on his own, they could have a bigger treat (two marshmallows or pretzels). The outcome, as it’s usually represented, is that the children who were able to wait for an extra treat scored better on measures of cognitive and social skills many years later and had higher SAT scores. Thus, if we teach kids to put off the payoff as long as possible, they’ll be more successful.

But that simplistic conclusion misrepresents, in several ways, what the research actually found.

“The decision about whether to defer gratification may tell us what the child has already learned about whether waiting is likely to be worth it.”

1. What mostly interested Mischel wasn’t whether children could wait for a bigger treat—which, by the way, most of them could. It wasn’t even whether those who waited fared better in life than those who didn’t. Rather, the central question was how children go about trying to wait and which strategies help. It turned out that kids waited longer when they were distracted by a toy. What worked best wasn’t (in Mischel’s words) “self-denial and grim determination,” but doing something enjoyable while waiting so that self-control wasn’t needed at all.

Mischel and his colleagues systematically varied the details of the situation to see if this affected children’s willingness to wait. These changes included telling them about (versus showing them) the marshmallow, encouraging them to think about its shape (versus its taste), and suggesting a distraction strategy (versus having kids come up with their own). Sure enough, such factors were more important for predicting the outcome than any trait the child possessed. This, of course, is precisely the opposite of the usual message that (a) self-control is a matter of individual character, which (b) we ought to help children develop.

2. Even to the extent that Mischel looked at characteristics of individual children in addition to situational details, when the children were tracked down 10 years later, those who had been more likely to wait didn’t have any more self-control or willpower than the others.

This makes sense because Mischel’s primary focus was on strategies for how to think about (or stop thinking about) something attractive, and how those strategies may be related to other skills down the line. Those later outcomes weren’t associated with the ability to defer gratification, per se, but only with the ability to distract oneself when distractions weren’t provided by the experimenters. What’s more, the ability to invent a distraction turned out to be correlated with plain old intelligence—a very interesting finding because other writers (like Duckworth) have argued that intelligence and self-discipline are totally different things and that we should train children to acquire the latter.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the kids’ capacity to figure out a way to think about something other than the food was associated with their SAT scores. It’s not that willpower makes certain kids successful; it’s that the same loose cluster of mental proficiencies that helped them with distraction when they were young also helped them score well on a test of reasoning when they were older. (In fact, when the researchers held those scores constant, most of the other long-term benefits associated with their marshmallow-related behavior disappeared.)

From the Archives

Alfie Kohn has written 21 Commentaries forEducation Week over two decades. Once again this year, Mr. Kohn has written a back-page Commentary for one ofEducation Week‘s September issues, helping to unofficially ring in the new school year.
Browse through highlights of Mr. Kohn’s work below.

3. Almost everyone who cites these experiments assumes that it’s better to wait for two marshmallows—that is, to defer gratification. But is that always true? Mischel, for one, didn’t think so. “In a given situation,” he and his colleagues wrote, “postponing gratification may or may not be a wise or adaptive choice.” Sometimes a marshmallow in the hand is better than two in the bush. It’s true, for example, that if you spend too much of your money when you’re young, you may regret it when you’re old. But how much should you deprive yourself—and perhaps your children—in order to accumulate savings for retirement?

Moreover, while some tasks favor waiting, others favor taking what you can right now. In one experiment,published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science in 2012, researchers fiddled with the algorithm that determined how points were earned in a simulation game and then tracked the interaction between that change and the players’ personalities. “Impulsivity,” they concluded, “is not a purely maladaptive trait, but one whose consequences hinge on the structure of the decisionmaking environment.”

And here’s another twist: The inclination to wait depends on one’s experiences. “For a child accustomed to stolen possessions and broken promises, the only guaranteed treats are the ones you have already swallowed,” remarked a group of social scientists at the University of Rochester. In 2012, they conducted an experiment in which children were encouraged to wait for a new set of exciting art supplies rather than using the well-worn crayons and dinky little stickers that were already available. After a few minutes, the adult returned. Half the kids received the promised, far-superior materials. But the other half got only an apology: “I’m sorry, but I made a mistake. We don’t have any other art supplies after all.”

Then it was time for the marshmallow challenge. And how long did the children wait for two to appear before they gave up and ate the one sitting in front of them? Well, it depended on what had happened earlier. Those for whom the adult had proved unreliable (by failing to deliver the promised art supplies) waited only about three minutes. But those who had learned that good things do come to those who wait were willing to hold off, on average, for a remarkable 12 minutes.

Thus, the decision about whether to defer gratification may tell us what the child has already learned about whether waiting is likely to be worth it. If her experience is that it isn’t, then taking whatever is available at the moment is a perfectly reasonable choice. Notice that this finding also challenges the conclusion that the capacity to defer gratification produces various later-life benefits. Self-restraint can be seen as a result of earlier experiences, not an explanation for how well one fares later.

The Rochester study clarifies what may have been going on in Mischel’s original experiments, where there was no effort to learn about the children’s lives before they walked into his lab. But even on its own, Mischel’s work doesn’t support the case for willpower and self-denial that traditionalists have tried to make. Waiting for a bigger treat doesn’t always make sense. And even when it does, the question is, “What changes in the environment can facilitate that choice such that self-discipline becomes less important?”

Perhaps the broader message for educators is this: Focus less on “fixing the kids” and more on improving what and how they’re taught.

Alfie Kohn is the author of 13 books, the latest of which is The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting (Da Capo Press, 2014), from which this Commentary has been adapted. His website is



Creativity and Grit in SEL

Here is a nice article from Ed Week on creativity and grit, a good corrective to Duckworth’s studies.

Published Online: August 19, 2014
Published in Print: August 20, 2014, as ‘Grit’ May Not Spur Creative Success, Say Researchers

‘Grit’ May Not Spur Creative Success, Scholars Say

Back to Story


Inventor Thomas A. Edison once famously said, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.” But that doesn’t mean effort actually causes creative achievement.

In the ongoing education debate on the importance of talent and practice, new studies presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual conference here last week suggest grit may not do as much to boost creative achievement as it does for academics.

Well-known studies by developmental psychologist Angela L. Duckworth and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania have found that a person’s “grit”—a measure of conscientiousness and perseverance—could predict everything from graduation rates at West Point to National Spelling Bee champions. Those findings have sparked intense interest among educators in nurturing student motivation, particularly at some schools like the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, charter schools that serve at-risk students.

But Magdalena G. Grohman, the associate director of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology at the University of Texas at Dallas, argues that grittiness is not the end-all, be-all for student success. “When you look at it, these [areas studied by Ms. Duckworth] are well-defined areas and the rules for achievement are well-defined in those areas,” she said. “We know what to do to get good grades, what to do to stay in military school, and what to do to win in contests such as spelling bees. The rules are pretty clear on what the achievement is and what success is in these domains. But what about creative achievement?”

In two separate analyses of college undergraduates by Ms. Grohman and her colleagues, students filled out detailed questionnaires on personality, extracurricular activities, and grades, as well as data on prior creative activities and accomplishments. Students’ ratings on field surveys of grit and openness to experience were compared to their academic and extracurricular records.

Other Traits

Ms. Grohman found that neither grit nor two related characteristics of consistency and perseverance predicted a student’s success in various types of creative endeavors, including visual and performing art, writing, scientific ingenuity, or even creativeness in everyday problem-solving.”These are ‘no results’ that we are actually excited about,” Ms. Grohman said during a presentation on creativity. “Creative achievement and grit, intellectual creativity and grit, everyday creativity and grit: no effects whatsoever.”

Rather, a student’s openness to new experiences was most closely associated with his or her likelihood of accomplishing creative works, she found.

In a separate study, Zorana Ivcevic Pringle, an associate research scientist at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., compared the academic records and the reports of high school students, their peers, and teachers.

The students worked on long-term group projects in teams of 50 students, and Ms. Pringle asked peers to select the 10 percent of their classmates who generated the most creative and original ideas during the projects. She asked teachers to rate each student on his or her passion for interests and persistence in achieving goals.

Ms. Pringle found that neither students’ individual scores on tests of grit nor their teachers’ ratings of high persistence were related to how creative they were on group projects.

However, as in the previous study, individual ratings of students’ openness to new experiences and teachers’ ratings of students with passion for their work did predict who would be the most creative.

Potential vs. Achievement

Ms. Pringle said she is still studying whether grit may come into play later on, when students’ creative ideas must be built out into long-term projects.

“There’s a difference between creative potential and achievement,” she said. “We all know people who have great ideas but never end up doing anything with them, and I’m really interested in what happens in that process,” she said.


Grit, Ms. Grohman said, “may not be as general of a trait as it’s supposed to be. To me, it’s a trait that taps into a really highly effective learner in a very structured environment, but not necessarily someone who thrives on different interests.”

Ms. Duckworth responded that she found the question interesting but has never studied grit and creativity, and so could not speak to how Ms. Grohman’s and Ms. Pringle’s studies would fit with her own body of research.

Teachers’ Choice Award

Stepping On Up: Stepping Up to Character TCA Award

Stepping On Up: Stepping Up to Character TCA Award

We are very pleased to announce that Stepping Up to Character just won a Teachers’ Choice Award.


Sparks Nevada Shooting. Bullying and School Violence

We have to stop the bullying.

Shooter as remembered by a classmate and the the effects of the shooting on one of the victims:

Sparks Middle School eighth-grader Amaya Newton remembered the suspected shooter as a nice kid who got pushed around by some of his schoolmates, according to local NBC News affiliate KRNV. She remembers other students “tripping him in the hallways” and “bugging him for money,” Newton told the station.



Michael Pritchard at the School Social Work Conference

Michael Pritchard, Keynote SpeakerMichael Pritchard, Ph.D.
Opening Keynote address:
“T.E.A.M. Together Everyone and Anyone Matters”
16th National School Social Work Conference
Thursday, March 21, 2013.

We were pleased to present Stepping On Up at The School Social Work Association of America Conference which took place March 20th – 23.  Michael Prichard was the opening keynote speaker (more…)