In the last 20 years there has been a whole new world emerging, that of a digital nature. The online world has grown so quickly and immensely. In 1997 we were using Netscape to enter the web, and encyclopedias on cds to get our information. There was no such thing as social media the biggest concern for digital citizenship was keeping yourself safe by using screen names. Fast forward to 2005 Youtube launches and Facebook and Twitter follow soon after, now a mere 10 years later we are connected to each other in ways that we didn’t think were possible. With this connection though we seem to need a new set of rules, a new code of etiquette so to speak or do we?
I would say maybe not new rules but a tweaking of the old real life rules. I think the rules of courtesy still apply, but need to be tweaked to remind ourselves that the people with us in present time need to be respected by our attention and presence to them by putting our devices away and engaging in real time. I also find that people seem to be more brave hiding behind a keyboard and screen than they are in real life. They type much more vicious things, or are less likely to type positive things. I think we forget there is a feeling person reading the things we type, if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face don’t type it.
Outside of courtesy there are other issues as well. There seems to be little governance or laws to enforce behaviour, unlike in real life. We are now in an era when what we put online is there for everyone to find FOREVER, that is a mind boggling concept. Employers, banks, customs officials, etc are now using online presence to see if you are an acceptable candidate. There is no rules saying what can be used against you. So if you post something stupid as a teen, it can come back to haunt you when you apply for that dream job, or mortgage 10, or 20 years down the road. Where we do we draw the line at that. In real life if you do something not so great and get caught when you turn the age of majority some these records become a non- issue. Not so in the digital world. So as teachers we need to make sure that kids understand this but really as teen do they get this and should they have to worry that their immature actions as a young teen are going to affect their future careers. Just to be clear I am talking minor stuff not criminal activity.
Then there are the legalities of the digital world. It is tough for law enforcement to find and prosecute criminals and predators due to encryptions, hidden IP addressesl and false digital identities. Then there is the murky area of prosecution of when someone is caught whose laws apply, the country where the victim is or where the criminal is. In addition to those problems is the seemingly harmless things like copying an essay. Many kids see it online and don’t think anything of it, they won’t get caught, they don’t see it as stealing. They aren’t harming anyone or so they think. Then there is the whole sexting issue where young people are sharing inappropriate photos because everyone is doing it. They don’t see that this is illegal as it often involves their same age peers, and many think of it as joke. However, some of those teens are now facing real life consequences.
So where does this all leave us as parents and teachers. Well we have to first and foremost educate ourselves to know this digital world deeper. We also have to model good online presence and respectful use of our devices. That means when we are in class our phones are away, when we are supervising on the playground our phones are away. We model that they have our undivided attention, and we expect the same. Our next priority is teaching the kids how to keep themselves and friends safe and real online. Talking to them about digital identities and how they are often not the complete story. I talk about that in this post. Next we have to talk to them about the dangers, not be afraid to bring up things like sexting. Not to scare them but to educate them that there actions have real consequences to themselves and others. Finally we have to show that there are many good and advantageous things to being online if we are good citizens.