As I work more and more with teens and teach them about digital citizenship, I find that adults just don't get it. My perspective shifted after I read It's Complicated, by Danah Boyd. What a masterpiece! I could not put the book down: it rings so true to the work I do. Students see the online world as their playground, their social palace, a place where teens can just be teens. They share events from their lives, taunt their friends, affirm their frustrations with school, and talk all day long via means of technology. As parents and educators, we get flustered and can't seem to grasp their online addiction. We seem to have forgotten our own past and ventures as teenagers: a world where we needed to tell our friends absolutely everything. I remember being a teen and picking up the family phone to call my best friend every time I sat down to watch TV, so that we could talk about the show in real time. This memory had me spending some time trying to gain a better grasp on teens and their "addiction" to social media. There are a few points that I realized.
- We allow our children online, but we don't give them a road map
- Kids overexpose themselves without understanding the consequences
- We don't take the time to see the online world from our kid's perspective
- We don't learn enough about the sites and online games our kids are getting into
Teens do things online that they might not do in person, because they are able to get away with it. They take more risks online because the things they do are hard to supervise unless you are reading over their shoulder. As one of my students told me, "Miss K, we do it cause there are NO consequences. We can speak our minds freely without adults lurking..." More so, they want more freedom and this is a channel to do so. It all makes sense, but did you let your toddler walk themselves to the park? No, you took your baby carrier, stroller, or car and explored this new terrain with them. You took the time to show them the dangerous spots, caught them going down the slide the first few times, and held them up until they got a grip on the monkey bars. Why are we not doing this with our teens as they venture the online world?
If we are going to compare online platforms to a playground, or hanging out at the mall, we might trip up and re-think how to talk to our kids. Do I walk into a mall shouting "Christy is a "sl*t!" or "Helena should just drink bleach and put an end to her miserable life." Nope! That would be obscene, and I might get arrested for threatening someone's life. Additionally, I don't go around the playground with my top off. That would be considered perverted and flashing people might get me arrested or put on a sex offender list. So, why are we not teaching our kids about appropriate online behavior? Why are we not guiding them through the dangers of posting naked selfies or spreading nasty rumors? If we took the time to do this, they would learn how to navigate the online playground and we would feel safe without the need to troll all their accounts. It is important to know what your kid is doing online. It is another to follow EACH post, thread, and comment on all the pictures. Teens get embarrassed, but if they know their boundaries and you establish online rules for them, you can let them explore.
Nothing last forever...except what you post online. Let's remember this the next time we set our kids loose in the online playground. Let's take a moment to remind them of the importance of thinking before they post. More importantly, let's open our own eyes and educate ourselves about digital citizenship.
Until Next Time...
Be Brave*Be Strong*Be a Bulldog
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Filed under: Bullying Prevention Month