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An Interview with Joanie Gillispie Ph.D. on Cyber.Rules: What You Really Need to Know About the Internet

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 4th 2007

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Joanie Gillispie, Ph.D.Dr. Van Nuys interviews psychologist Joanie Gillispie who, together with colleague Jayne Gackenbach, has written a book titled "Cyber.Rules" which is aimed at helping educate parents about how modern pervasive modern digital media are affecting children and adolescents. This is a complex topic that might pull for a simplistic analysis and prescriptive approach. However, this book apparently offers a more thoughtful and educative approach that Dr. Van Nuys finds refreshing and valuable.

The internet and other digital networks (including cell phones, television, video games) offer a wide variety of ways to act out fantasy lives, to connect with other people who are not members of real-life social networks, and to educate one's self. Kids, in particular, are drawn to networks as they offer avenues for their exploration of identity and sexuality, and because it offers a sense of power and control that they alternatively do not have access to as children. However, the very advantages that make digital networks compelling also create problems in classic double-edged sword fashion. Social and relationship skills necessary for keeping long term face-to-face relationships viable may suffer as people get more and more of their social contact online. Online social norms are more aggressive and less polite than offline norms, in part because of the increased sense of anonymity that being online offers. Also becuase of the supposed anonymity of the net, online sexuality tends to be more vivid and devient in nature, leading to the development of sexual fetishes and increased promiscuity and potentially risky behavior. Socially avoidant or awkward individuals may lose themselves within online games and environments and fail to do the work necessary for them to learn how to interact more gracefully. The quality of the information online is less rigorously controled than in pre-internet days, leading to a generation of individuals who may get their heads filled with mistaken information. The speed with which transactions can be completed online leads to a generation of increasingly impatient and potentially impulsive individuals.

Dr. Gillispie's contention is that parents, teachers and clinicians need to be aware of the ways that the connected world is affecting children so that they can help educate and guide children to avoid the worse outcomes while benefiting from what is useful and good. Her simple metaphore for how parents, who may be playing catch-up and feeling insecure about how to present themselves as knowledgable, is to deal with the internet in the same way that one would deal with teaching children how to cross a street. This is to say, children need to be protected in developmentally appropriate ways from the worse of the net when they are too young to appreciate its dangers, and they need to be offered the graduated freedom (again in developmentally appropriate ways) to explore the net as it becomes appropriate for them to do so.

Repeatedly, Dr. Gillispie comes back to her basic theme, which is that due to the increasingly immersive online experience and to the disconnectedness of otherwise caring parents, children are failing to learn how to negotiate the real (offline) world they live in. Children need to be educated with regard to how to form and maintain lasting, non-exploitive intimate relationships with others and to differentiate exploitive from healthy sexual expression (and specifically so with regard to pornography which can quickly become quite devient online). These needs require that parents ask their children about what they are encountering (after educating themselves about what is out there), and actively teach their children what is healthy and what is unhealthy. Parents also need to model healthy behavior themselves, particularly in terms of modeling how to maintain healthy long term relationships. These are not new concepts with regard to parenting, but they are increasingly important things to do in a world that is increasingly connected.

Links Relevant To This Podcast:

About Joanie Gillispie, Ph.D.

Joanie Gillispie, Ph.D.

Joanie Gillispie, Ph.D. is co-author of the 2007 book, Cyber Rules: What You Really Need to Know About The Internet. This book seems particularly relevant for our series inasmuch as it is described as the essential guide for clinicians, educators, and parents. Dr. Gillispie received a doctorate in clinical psychology from the Fielding Graduate University with an emphasis in Health Psychology. Dr. Gillispie works from systems and individual theories, utilizing Psychodynamic and Cognitive-Behavioral perspectives. She holds a Professional Postdoctoral Training Certificate from U.C. Berkeley in Neuropsychological Assessment Screening and a one-year, advanced training in Strategic Depth Psychotherapy. Her expertise is in the area of Internet Media, understanding the psychological and social effects of cyberspace and cyberculture. Her research, writing, and presentations about the Internet include Media Literacy, Cyber Sexuality, and Professional Issues Online for mental health consumers, practitioners, and organizations. She has also taught at UC Berkeley, Dominican University of California, and the University of Phoenix.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

It is also an issue for teens, adults - Douglas Eby - Jul 4th 2008

This is also an issue of concern for many teens and adults. The AddictionInfo site has a section on Internet Addiction with a number of articles and videos on various forms of compulsion and addiction using computers and the web:

Very valuable - the man called Anne - Sep 7th 2007

What I like especially about Gillispie's expose is the optimism. It is not just about the cyber rules, that need to be discovered and developed, but also a statement, in modern talk that cyber space rules. Cyber space has become dominant and is not going away. Her insights offer an initial guide into how cyber space can be explored and consequently enrich our lives. A truly valuable podcast for all internet users great and small.


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