Have a discussion with your children about social media

Bruce Novak,  Superintendent

C-I School District

Most of us growing up (including me) had an altercation or two at recess with a classmate. We also knew we could go to an adult for help and easily point out who had upset or hurt us.

Today with the social media and high tech world our children are in they may not have this opportunity. Often the perpetrator (bully) is faceless and nameless. Parents do not even know that their child is being picked on, harassed or bullied because it doesn’t happen at school or on the playground. Many times it happens in the safety of their own home with mom and dad around.

The implications for this type of cyber world bullying is concerning. So, how do we protect and educate our children and ourselves from this type of attack when online ‘free speech,’ is a gray area at best? Here are a few tips that may help:

• Have discussions on dealing with cyber bullying.  This can be done in school and at home with lessons about character education and awareness of online networks and how they are geared toward children.

• Share awareness of tools that social networks have for dealing with inappropriate users. The focus can no longer only address face to face bullying, but hostile and insulting online users as well. Adults must understand how to block and report online spam and abuse. It use to be we could rely on our childhood experiences to offer advice to our children, but childhood has changed dramatically the past 5 to 10 years and our experiences may not be relevant.

Everyone must understand their ‘digital footprints.’ Unlike words on the playground, words exchanged in the cyber world are permanent and cannot be taken back. Discussion needs to take place about digital citizenship and internet safety with children, as well as teaching proper techniques for commenting on blogs and discussion forums.

Look for teachable moments. Every year schools have instances where ‘cyber bullying’ or ‘mean girl’ chatter is reported. Use these moments to identify digital footprints, address negativity and teach how to remove comments and make virtual apologies. These opportunities are critical in helping users be safe and appropriate in a high tech society.

Let’s rethink our approach to teaching social skills. Adults need to educate themselves about the social networking environment, so our children can be supported and taught how to navigate safely through the virtual playgrounds of the 21st century childhood.

The high tech world is gaining momentum and quickly changing most aspects of society, including education. Digital citizenship refers to the behaviors that are considered appropriate when utilizing technology. These behaviors should be taught in conjunction with other technology knowledge and skills.

If you are interested in reading more about ‘Digital Citizenship,’ or about ‘Raising a Digital Child,’ visit www.digitalcitizenship.net