Looking at our society, there are many instances of adults turning to fear tactics to dissuade children from pursuing certain paths or activities. It’s easier as an adult to tell a child a scary reason not to do something, than to inform them.
The foremost example that comes to my mind is sex education. Many states that promote abstinence-only education rely on fear tactics to keep teenagers from becoming sexually active. But what happens when they choose to be sexually active anyway? They’re now in a new situation with no education and only fear to guide them. Abstinence only education does not lead to responsible, informed teenagers. Why are we turning down the same path for teaching students about technology?
This concept came up during a couple of the book circle presentations in class on Wednesday. It also came up again in Megan Cottrell’s article “Champions of Children’s Privacy”. It is so much easier for adults with less technological experience to fill their children’s brains with fear about the predators and lurking dangers on the internet. To showcase To Catch a Predator and teach children that these are the people on the internet doesn’t lead to fully informed and responsible digital citizens. In the same way that we can’t expect teenagers with abstinence-only education to fully understand how to stay safe, how can we expect teenagers with no education on digital citizenship to be safe and responsible online?
Though for parents and educators it may seem daunting to undergo the task of informing our students about technological responsibility, wouldn’t you rather make sure that every child is prepared and safe than avoid the topic entirely? The reality of the situation is complicated. Are there predators on the internet? Yes. Should students give out personal information online? No. Are there many other aspects to internet use that could benefit students socially, emotionally, and academically? Yes!
We have gone through the process of figuring out the internet through clumsy trial-and-error. We’ve made mistakes: been fired for conduct on social media, had houses broken into due to oversharing information, had accounts hacked from lack of security. Why would we want our own children and students to go through this same method of learning? We know what it takes to be responsible digital citizens. We figured it out the hard way! It’s time to have that conversation with students and children. From a young age they have a right to know how to conduct themselves online as a responsible and safe digital citizen. Our children already have digital footprints. Let’s give them the tools to maintain a safe and positive digital identity.