Monday, 24 February 2014

Texting in a Dangerous time - The Value of Digital Citizenship



Recent headlines suggest that sexting - the practice of young people sending pictures of themselves or others in sexual or compromised positions - is on the rise. Media reports from Victoria, Kamloops and even Fort St John suggest the problem is a growing and spreading quickly. Its not really news that young people sometimes make mistakes. Learning to make good decisions and dealing with the consequences of poor ones has always been part of growing up, and its the very rare adult who doesn't shudder at the memory of something dumb they did when they were young. However, today, with advances in smart phone and social media technology, mistakes can be both recorded and distributed with a speed and permanence that leaves very little room for recovery, and considerable opportunity for a lifetime of pain and regret.

It has never been more important for parents and adults to teach and demonstrate good citizenship, digital or otherwise. Spiderman's axiom "with great power comes great responsibility" certainly applies to the use of technology. The problem is, technology has become so available and user friendly that it just doesn't seem that remarkably powerful or controversial any more. Taking pictures, posting them to the web, and sharing information with friends comes naturally to today's teens. What doesn't come so easily is consideration of the consequences some posts may have down the road.

Teaching impulse control to children will always be a challenge. In a recent article in Psychology Today Dr. Jeffry Bernstein offers strategies such as encouraging children and teens to think, "How I will feel afterward (after receiving the consequences of my actions)?" He also urges parents to teach teens that what feels good to do in the moment, might not be good for a person or others later on. Thinking about how one's actions impact others and growing a greater sense of empathy take on new importance when a few ill considered keystrokes can permanently ruin a reputation or land someone before the courts.

Teaching digital citizenship is even more urgent. Dr. Mike Ribble of digitalcitizenship.net presents 9 themes for adults to consider and discuss ranging from defining digital citizenship through to an examination of key sections of digital law. Ribble's framework is designed to make the subject less overwhelming and more accessible for parents, teachers and students. There is a tendency, even amongst people who access technology every day, to believe that the topic is too big, changing too quickly or simply too complex for anyone, let alone children, to really understand. However, what one doesn't know can hurt them, as young people all across the province have been finding out.

Social responsibility in the 21st century includes the responsibility to understand and use technology carefully, and with consideration for others. Teaching and modelling strategies of impulse control and appropriate use of social media is a responsibility we all share. Helping young people grow into informed and considerate adults has long been a goal of education. Doing so in an increasingly digital world may be daunting but its a challenge we need to take on.

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