Dr. Michael Adorjan: Exploring parental and educator experiences and responses to cyber-risk

Dr. Michael Adorjan: Exploring Parental and Educator Experiences and Responses to Cyber-Risk


Early on after joining the Department of Sociology at the University of Hong Kong in January 2010, I was fortunate to be invited to teach a new course for the emerging Common Core curriculum, under the area of what is currently titled ‘global issues’. The class, Cyber Societies, emerged from my longstanding research interest on youth, which previously led me to explore issues such as youth deviance and crime. Here I was introduced to a vast new literature centered on youth and technology, community, and citizenship. Since returning to my country of origin – Canada – I started new research that widened the scope away from youth crime per se, to the various ‘cyber-risks’ salient to youth and information communications technologies today.

My first, 2-year project was an Insight Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Along with my co-investigator Rosemary Ricciardelli at Memorial University of Newfoundland, we explored the perceptions towards and experiences with cyber-risk (including cyberbullying, sexting, doxxing, revenge porn, etc.) among a sample of Canadian teens. The project explored:

  • How do youth perceive and experience cyber-risks? Which are most salient in their lived experiences?
  • What strategies do youth use to mitigate these risks?
  • How do youth understand the role of police and the wider community (e.g., parents and educators) in helping them respond to cyber-risks?
  • How are youth receiving and reacting to messages from society regarding online self-responsibilization and risk management?

Project findings are currently found in a forthcoming article in Canadian Review of Sociology, titled “A New Privacy Paradox? Youth Agentic Practices of Privacy management despite ‘nothing to hide’ online”, expected in early 2019. In addition, a forthcoming book, co-authored with Rose and published by Routledge, is also forthcoming in 2019, titled Cyber-risk and Youth: Digital Citizenship, Privacy and Surveillance. Key areas of findings center on, among other areas:

  • Teens’ experiences with relational aggression, including gendered understandings of cyberbullying, and gendered double standards in relation to nonconsensual redistribution of nude images (i.e., sexting).
  • Teens’ impression management strategies related to their online activities and privacy mindsets, including experiences with relatively newer social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat
  • Teens’ responses to various cyber-safety messages, programs in their schools, including policies on technology in the classroom and school surveillance of students’ online activities

Since our previous project was explicitly geared to provide youth with a direct voice about these issues from their standpoints, we turn in our current project to the understandings and experiences of both parents and educators (including teachers, school counselors and principals) regarding these same issues. The present project is a 3-year Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We plan to conduct 200 interviews (one-to-one; not focus groups this time) in a national sample (half in an urban context we dub Cyber City, and the other half in a rural Atlantic context we dub Cyberville). We seek to develop knowledge in four key areas:

  • Explore the views and experiences of parents and educators regarding the impact of technology (e.g., access to smart phones, social network sites) on raising and educating youth.
  • Unpack whether parents and educators are concerned about any potential online risks facing youth; if so, to inquire how are or should these risks be managed?
  • Identify salient views of parents that educators hold (i.e., educators’ views of parental responsibility and roles in mitigating cyber-risk, especially as it relates to school) and salient views of educators that parents hold (i.e., the role schools play in combating cyber-risk; what parents want to see happen in schools to ensure ‘best practices’ for combating cyber-risk).
  • Contribute to criminological and sociological theory examining the impact of surveillance and paradigms of risk upon parenting and educating youth. It will advance theory related to risk and governmentality, specifically those related to surveillance, privacy, and agency in relation to information communication technologies.

This research presents an opportunity to advance knowledge in a Canadian context, but will produce findings that will be valuable for researchers conducting comparable studies around the world; especially those who are developing a comparative criminological imagination in their research. I look forward to sharing findings in due course.

Best regards and wishes from Canada!

Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, Michael Adorjan researches youth crime and cyber-risk.

Click here to know more about Dr. Michael Adorjan.

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