As a parent of a ten and thirteen year old, and a teacher librarian responsible for digital citizenship education, I find myself in a very interesting situation. On the one hand, I have a lot of information about the issues surrounding digital citizenship and on the other hand, I am navigating those very difficult waters of leading my own children to maturity and independence, working out the difference between trust earned and trust engendered and understanding that for teens, the peer group reigns supreme.
As a Mum I often find myself in conversations with other parents about the online behaviour of our children and the risks involved. I have had discussions & been privy to people’s opinions at the school gate, with neighbours, with friends at dinner parties and with family. I have heard some terrible stories about kids making poor choices, I have witnessed adults make awful judgements about good kids just because of some silly posts and I have heard inaccurate stereotyping such as “it’s the girls who cause the problems”. On the flip side, I’ve also witnessed some courageous adults who have intervened in messy situations and made difficult phone calls to parents who are oblivious that their teen is involved in something that could damage another child or their own reputation and I have heard some really positive conversations with parents and kids at the same table talking candidly about social media issues.
For Teens – the peer group reigns supreme. Through observation and conversations with my own kids, nieces & nephews, friends’ children and the students I teach, the three key reasons, kids engage online are to get feedback, to be funny and to gain acceptance. I have watched as my daughter has signed into Instagram and indiscriminately “liked” every post that has a friend’s name attached to it regardless of the content. I have cringed to discover my son has screen captured Memes without thought to ownership and ethical use and posted them to all of his friends because he thinks they’re hilarious. Finally, when scrolling through social media posts, I have seen more ridiculous “selfies” than I care to mention.
For parents – safety reigns supreme. Conversations revolve around too much time spent in online environments and not enough time spent studying and being active. There is a lot of talk about online safety, cyber bullying and high profile media examples of kids who end up taking their own life or engaging in self-harm due to emotional damage caused in online environments. Another concern often raised is that of children accessing inappropriate material. Violence and inappropriate content in online games also gets a mention from time-to-time. That these concerns are mainstream is reflected in formal research such as the ACMA Connected parents in the cyber safety age report (2013). This report also found that many parents knowledge of cyber safety and online issues was sourced from the media and current affairs shows.
What about the teachers? As a Teacher Librarian in a school setting, I have a strong belief in modelling constructive online involvement to demonstrate building a positive digital footprint and developing a PLN (Personal Learning Network) that leads to future success. In my personal interactions with parents, however, I often feel that many are more concerned with “snooping” on their kids’ interactions, in the name of being vigilant, or discouraging social media altogether rather than modelling positive behaviours themselves. Other concerns I have are that some households have whole hard drives full of movies that were not paid for, many parents have not enabled privacy settings on their own social media accounts and some indiscriminately post images of their children on these platforms without reading the terms & conditions and understanding the ownership of content once posted in these environments. Considerations such as the ethical use of content, the privacy and ownership terms of social media platforms, building a positive digital footprint for future career prospects, and data tracking do not seem to be topical issues.
In conclusion, parenting teens has always been tricky and the digital age adds another layer of complication to this. Open dialogue and education for all the parties involved in raising teens is necessary and important.
Silhouettes Personal Man Woman Youth City Skyline, Geralt, CC0