By Tina Sahakian, Lower School Counselor
In today’s climate of constant digital communication, kids are immersed in learning about, and using, myriad digital media technologies. From playing games on their mom’s or dad’s cell phone, to learning how to point and click a mouse, to navigating online by themselves, kids are active participants in a connected culture.
It’s understandable that parents assume a rightful duty to worry about their children’s safety online. Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, blogs, and wikis are transforming every facet of our society. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to slowly ease students into this online world. By preparing students to informatively navigate the endless offering of tools, parents and educators in fact are giving students portals into the online world. While some young students may be considered “digital natives,” others more realistically are “digital naives.” Many students struggle to recognize, understand, and establish acceptable social media behavior when interacting with their peers in this new connected world.
To prepare our students for the world they have inherited, there must be adult guides and mentors willing to create safe online learning circumstances that allow students to rehearse for future performances in social media environments.
Despite the uncertainties of where, when, and how to start, we can all agree that young children should learn early how to be resourceful and how to make good choices so they can take full and proper advantage of the powerful technologies available. And to make these good choices, kids need guidance from parents and teachers.
The stakes are high because our kids’ technological abilities can be greater than their maturity and judgment. Just as kids learn to eat properly, swim safely, or cross the street, they must know how to live in the digital world responsibly and respectfully. Their ultimate success depends on their abilities to use digital media to create, collaborate, and communicate well with others. Those who master these skills in using digital tools will benefit from the digital world’s power.
Over the past few weeks in the Lower School, our fourth- and fifth-grade students met, as a community, for the launch of our new Digital Citizenship program. In coming weeks, students will continue participating in classroom and online activities designed by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educating adults and children about online safety, media awareness, and digital literacy. Common Sense Media’s curriculum is used nationwide by various public and private elementary schools that embrace 21st Century teaching and learning skills.
Mrs. Jamey Everett, Lower School technology coordinator, and I lead these lessons in partnership with Lower School classroom teachers in order to shed some light on the “power of words” students have online. In addition, one very important guideline that we are currently practicing in the Lower School is educating our students about knowing whether they should post something online. This guideline includes three simple questions: Is my comment/question kind? Is it useful? Is it necessary? If the answer to all of these three questions is “Yes,” then the comment or question is worth posting. If the answer to one of these questions is “Maybe” or “No,” then this is a perfect example of an inappropriate online behavior and the comment/question should not be posted online for everyone to see.
As a component of this program, parents and students are able to participate in online activities, from home, through myPT. We hope that in a closed, moderated environment, children will have an opportunity to practice the skills they learn in class and responsibly engage in an online PT community. We also suggest that Lower School parents visit Common Sense Media’s free online program, Digital Passport which is aligned with the guided instruction Mrs. Everett and I will present in classrooms. The site provides age-appropriate videos, discussion starters, and activities that you and your child can do at home. It is also available as a mobile app for Apple and Android smartphones, and it is currently on all of our Lower School iPads.
And when in doubt, use these helpful guidelines (via this Huffington Post article):
- Create an open discussion forum for your children. Teaching digital literacy to your children requires a careful balance of creating space for openness and respecting privacy. While monitoring your child’s activity is essential, it’s most important to teach your child how to think critically about using the Internet when you’re not there.
- Start early. The Internet may seem like all fun and games to a child, but if you can pepper in lessons about appropriate behavior and what to look for in a virtual climate, they’ll be learning how to separate “good” information from “bad.”
- Inform yourself about Internet trends and challenges. Internet awareness can vary widely among adults of all ages and demographics, so do your homework and learn about some of the most common threats your child might face on the Internet
- Keep your computer in a common area. If your kids share a family computer, make it accessible to them, but not so private that you can’t see what they’re doing. They’re less likely to run into trouble, wittingly or unwittingly, if an adult is on hand to help gauge the situation.
- “Friend” and “Follow” them. With the popularity of sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram, it’s easy for anyone to post any sort of information online, even information that is dangerous or inappropriate. If you “friend” and “follow” your kids’ social media accounts, they’ll have to think, “Would I want my parents seeing this?” before pressing the “Send” button. If the answer is “No,” they’ll realize it probably shouldn’t be online in the first place.
We believe the digital practices and approaches covered in this communication complement our current character education program in the Lower School and serve as a roadmap for extending our three R’s — respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness — to the online world.
For more resources, please visit Common Sense Media.