Recently, I sat on a Character Counts panel discuss Character in Cyberspace (pdf flyer). There were ten people on the panel spanning local police to an Internet Safety Task Force representative from the attorney general’s office to students from my high school.
I had the privilege of joining this diverse group and was really happy with the overall theme emerging from all panelists: partner with our youths to engage, explore, and learn online.
There were none of the usual fear tactics. There were none of the usual ban, monitor, and punish advice.
The focus was on the importance of students being online and the development of good digital citizenship through the active involvement of both students and parents.
My focus was on the need to honor the moment of teens but also on the need for their leadership. We no longer are dealing with social media as a social phenomenon but as a part of life. The issues that many want to place as teen issues are really issues that span across age groups.
It is critical that schools move beyond digital citizenship and digital footprints as a program or a workshop. These need to be embedded into the curriculum horizontally and vertically. It is there that leadership will emerge from this generation of learners.
As I said on the panel, we must move away from hiding student activities online to embracing thinking in the public. We need students to emerge openly where their learning is part of their digital footprint instead of hidden behind a wall or pseudonym. We need students to connect and engage online as part of the learning environment.
Simply put, connected learning is critical to establishing good citizens, digital or otherwise. And, it is critical for establishing the leadership we need from this generation of learners.
We still miss a lot when adults speak about students. We make generalizations, assume the worse, and speak at them not with them.
The two students on this panel challenged a number of over-generalizations and perhaps half-truths if we were listening:
- not all students ignore their privacy settings
- not all students are heavy social media users
- not all students are ignorant to the fact that people are watching
- not all students friend everyone, everybody, and every thing
While two students don’t equate to the norm, they do show the importance of localizing the conversation instead of being pulled into the media portrayal and over-generalizations about an age group.
Advice to Parents
There were great questions from parents but one that really stood out to me was “what do I do to keep ahead of my child and monitor their actions”. Here is what I said from my parental lens as well as my educator lens.
- Become a partner not a watch tower with your child
- Become a digital citizen yourself
- Establish a great relationship with your child
- Establish the lines of communication
- Define the boundaries that remain fluid
- Recognize you’ll never be as ahead as you think nor as behind as you think
It is easy to buy monitoring software. It is easy to “watch over” them from a distance. It is much more difficult but much… much more valuable to partner with them.
As Sarah Migas so eloquently stated on the panel, you are going to see into their world like few parents have had to see, but don’t overreact – discuss, learn, and be there.