Internet Safety and Digital Natives - A Letter to Parents

Recent research shows that some of our most prevalent ideas about web safety are just plain wrong. The very small percentage of children who are victimized in ways related to the Internet are those who: enter private chat rooms, discuss topics of a sexual nature, or meet offline with strangers. Internet offenders pretended to be teenagers in only 5% of the crimes studied by researchers. Visiting popular social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook do not appear to increase children’s risk of being victimized by online predators. American Psychological Association. 21 Feb 2008

Internet Safety has been seen as avoiding sexual predators. That’s why it is becoming irrelevant to today’s adolescents. They feel adults’ way of treating the web (not to mention technology use in general, i.e. cell phones, email, and personal electronic devices) are archaic and obsolete. Kids already know what’s dangerous. (Sadly, some still do these things but I continue to teach about them anyway.) These facts are old news to teenagers whether we adults find it novel and shocking or not. Net Family News

We have the right, responsibility, and privilege to regulate our children’s digital lives. I am not condemning any family, school or district policies -- I merely suggest that we advise teens about ways to use the web safely to communicate, collaborate, connect globally, and stay safe. (We have an effective web filtering program in this district and we do not visit social networks at school.) District 11 Internet Policies

Let’s support young people's constructive, educational, and enriching use of social media to participate in career development, cultural awareness, and democracy. Consider the role of social media our most recent presidential election! Educational Leadership Magazine

Middle-schoolers may prefer not to discuss complex concepts like predation, copyright law, discretion, defamation, or dissemination of fact versus rumor. They might rather forget that the web is a very public place. But aren’t these issues crucially important and increasingly germane to the digital, multi-cultural, and global environment in which they will later live and work? In fact, they live in such a world right now. Electronics have been a part of our children’s lives since their birth; that is why they are called “digital natives.” Mark Prensky,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Teen Looking At FacebookTherefore, in my classes we discuss how to create and monitor one’s digital footprint and online reputation. I emphasize the permanence of anything sent, posted or emailed electronically. We talk about the dangers of posting personal information, vulgar, sexual, or crude items on their MySpace and Facebook accounts. They learn what sexting, cyber-bullying, and over-disclosure are and they know the consequences can be far-reaching. They are aware of copyright laws and how to abide by them. I point out current events and new regulations. I incorporate these more contemporary topics into practical and traditional technology lessons.

As hard as it is for us to understand our children’s electronic world, I hope that we are trying to. Is your family having an exchange of ideas about these topics at home? I would strongly encourage that. My technology class alone -- once per year per student for 40 minutes for nine weeks -- can’t possibly influence your children’s behavior and opinions like a your loving attention and guidance can. I cordially invite you to bravely initiate candid family discussions about your children’s digital lives.

A Few Resources

Photo Credits
Gated Internet
FaceBook Glasses\

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