Who teaches me to play it safe?

some rights reservedWho’s responsibility is it to teach students to be safe online?

I thought about this question last week while I was in a think tank preparing for our school’s up coming accreditation. We were going over ideas for what skills we felt our students should have by the time they leave our school. There was a lengthy list that I felt could be condensed into: We want our students to be confident creative problem solvers that are able to communicate and collaborate effectively while displaying empathy as they make the world a better place.

To create a student like that it’s not just the teacher or the parent’s responsibility, it’s a community effort. This includes the community, whether it be online or the one in which they live in, teaching students from an early age how to keep themselves safe online. Common Sense Media has created a collection of lesson plans on Digital Citizenship. This is a great way to have age appropriate lessons in school that share a common language when presenting students with different scenarios to discuss about online safety.

Having parents in for discussions and support groups is also important. The more that we can have a common language and expectations the more the students see the importance of the messages of online safety and being a responsible netizen. Guest speakers from the community can come in and talk to classes and parent groups about what they can do at home to make using technology safe considering a growing number of kids don’t have the same perspective as their parents as what constitutes as bullying.

In “”Bullying” Has Little Resonance with Teenagers” Danah Boyd, she discusses how teens see bullying as an act upon a person who doesn’t deserve it. They also claim that it’s not even happening that often. I saw this in two different schools first hand:

Case 1: Two students (9th grade) obtained a third student’s email password. For “fun” the sent a string of emails from the third students account without his knowledge. The emails were sent to a teacher over the course of a couple of weeks saying extremely hurtful things. When the two culprits were discovered their defense was, “He deserved it. He played a joke on us too.” There was no connection that they were cyber bullying someone else. They were just having fun getting even in their mind.

Case 2: A girl in 6th grade wasn’t getting a long with a classmate. This went from snide remarks on the bus to hateful words on Facebook. This escalated to a publicly announced fight after school. Luckily parents were alerted and the fight didn’t take place. It was found that one of the girls’ older sister had been coaching her younger sister on what to type on FB.

Parents and teachers need to asses if a student is responsible enough to use technology at various levels. Their limitations at school might be different at home, but if the students have a sense that they are being held responsible, they’ll think twice before sending a post or text that’s inappropriate or hurtful.

I read an article titled “When Dad Banned Text Messaging” by Tara Parker Pope. A dad goes to extremes after seeing how often his kids are sending text messages (100 per day) and takes it off of their cell plan. The kids feel disconnected from their friends, but the parents noticed that the kids weren’t able to focus on the real people around them whenever a text came through.

In another case a mom in Ohio took over her daughter’s FB account after her daughter was disrespectful towards her on FB. She posted a picture of her daughter with an “X” over her mouth and the line, “I can’t keep my …”

Both of these cases are parents going to the extreme. My question is, “Are they teaching their kids to be more responsible and online safety or are they a form of bullying themselves?”