Enough with the scary messages to parents

Marilyn Monroe

I’ve seen more than a few schools recently hire scary speakers to talk to parents about the dangers of the internet.  Words on these fliers say things like “Learn more about Sexting and Cyberbullying!”  “Mistakes are permanent!”  “Predators are out there!”  “Screens rot your child’s brain!”  The message of these speakers is “Turn it all off and lock it down.”

Although there is some truth to these negative messages, I feel like these scare tactics are counter productive.  Most parents are already afraid of internet issues with their children.  They don’t need to be made more afraid – they need to be educated and empowered.  Parents (and their children) need to be aware of the dangers of the internet, yes, but not be crippled by them.  Technology is not the enemy.  It’s a tool.

There are so many amazing things that technology makes possible.  Children, with the guidance of their parents and teachers, can learn, connect with people around the world, and create things that would have been impossible just a few years ago.  In order to do this, children and their parents need to work together to navigate the world of the Internet.  Kids may have the tech skills that parents often lack, but parents have experience, decision making capabilities, and fully developed frontal lobes.  Kids need their parents, whether they acknowledge it or not, to help them figure it all out.  In other words, the technology doesn’t change the parent’s job of guiding children to responsible independence.

This guidance is crippled, however, if the parent lives in fear.  Rather than frightening parents into locking down or banning technology, schools should encourage parents to calmly discuss technology with their children as they would any other topic.  “Tell me about that website you’re using.  What does it do that others don’t?  Are other users of the site respectful of one another?  What do you think about that?”  Through these discussions, parents can learn more about the technology their kids use, and kids can start learning to judge appropriate from inappropriate uses for themselves.

Out of the mouths of babes

Whimsical artwork from Lori H. Barrett

Digital Citizenship is a huge focus for me professionally and as a student.  I continuously study research on digital citizenship education.  I counsel people daily on elements of digital citizenship, such as etiquette, privacy, digital rights, and keeping a healthy balance with technology.  So imagine my surprise this week when my 10-year-old son gave me a lesson in digital citizenship!

Last Friday, he brought home his chosen band instrument: a baritone horn.  He has a great “ear” for music and was quickly able to pick out a few melodies.  I captured a 30 second video of him playing and, being the proud mother that I am, I posted it on Facebook for our friends and family to enjoy along with me.  End of story, right?

The following Monday, he came home from school and said, “Mom, did you put that video on FACEBOOK?!”  I confirmed that had, but assured him that only our friends and family could see the video, so it was perfectly safe.  He said, “Mom! Don’t you know you’re supposed to ask someone’s permission before you post pictures or videos of them on the internet?!?!”  He went on to say that one of his classmates (whose dad is my friend) had seen it and he was embarrassed.  Egg on face.

The thing is, I didn’t realize until that moment that my 10-year-old was a real person with real rights just like everyone else!  I thought it was my decision as a parent whether to post pictures or video of him!  What I learned that day was that he needs to be a part of the decision.  He doesn’t fully understand digital privacy, rights, or etiquette, but there’s no way he’ll learn unless I set a good example for him and include him in the decision.

I post this (with his permission!) because I think other parents may be facing a similar situation.  We want our children to be respectful of others online, but we often forget to model what we want them to see.  I, for one, have had my eyes opened.  I will now include him, as well as my younger children, in conversations about what I post (especially about them) online and why.  Through this conversation, we will hopefully all come to understand digital rights and privacy better.

Have you ever had a digital citizenship lesson hit home before?  Post a comment so that we can all learn from it.  Thanks for reading!

Communication is the new black

Image available under creative commons license from the gorgeous Flickr photostream of DailyPic.

Image available under creative commons license from the gorgeous Flickr photostream of DailyPic.

I think it’s appropriate that the first post on my new blog be about communication.  As a school tech director, as a M.Ed. student, and as a parent, I spend a lot of time researching and reading about the uses of technology in education.  Although I learn a lot from what I read, I need to do a better job of reflecting on and sharing what I learn.

In some ways, I communicate all day long.  I talk to people and answer technology questions every day.  I respond in a (mostly) timely fashion to emails.  I use Twitter to share resources I find with the world (and also as a way of saving them for my future self).  I use Facebook and Instagram to share with friends and family.  I even make an effort to use Google+ and not many people can say that!

Still, I would like to do a better job communicating what I learn and I’m hoping this blog will allow me to do that.  If you’re interested in technology in education, or in technology and parenting, I hope you’ll stick around.