Internet Safety and Students on Social Media

by Jean Tower


I attended a presentation about Cybersafety at one of our elementary school last night. The speaker was Ellen Miller from the local District Attorney’s office. Ms. Miller is part of the Community Outreach Team from this office.

When I conduct such presentations today, I have totally stopped using the term “Cybersafety” and have transitioned to the broader and more inclusive, Digital Citizenship. Digital Citizenship encompasses so much more and moves the focus even further to a positive perspective about the digital world.

However, in spite of my preference, the presentation was balanced, informed, current, and thoughtful. In my experience, when law enforcement professionals present on Internet safety, they can over-emphasize the dangers and the possibility of predators, whereas Ms. Miller focuses on teaching our students good Internet habits and on having parents be aware and involved in what their kids are doing online, including being aware of the terms of service on sites that you use.

In response to Ms. Miller’s advice to know your kids’ passwords to online sites and to friend them in social networking sites, one parent asked how to avoid seeming overly nosy and distrustful in making this a requirement to allowing your child to online on social sites. I understand where this question comes from. Parents do not want to start out by seeming like they are saying “I don’t trust you” – especially when they have never had a reason not to.

My suggestion is to think about online privileges the way you do other privileges. When you first bought your child a bicycle, I’m sure there were very strict limits about where they could ride. Maybe they were allowed up and down the driveway to start with. When they demonstrated some level of skill and responsible behavior, they biked around the block, then to the field down the street, and then to school. Each new level of independence was granted based on the demonstration of skills and decision-making they displayed in the previous level, along with a respectful attitude about the process itself.

Applying the bicycle analogy to the online world may help your child to understand your perspective and the process. What they are allowed to do independently when they are just starting out will not be the same as what they are allowed as they earn greater independence based on demonstrated responsible behavior. Parents might even tell kids that they are learning the medium together and as they both learn more about it the limits will evolve to reflect their new-found understandings. Setting limits is not about not trusting your kids – it is about scaffolding them as they start in new worlds. As parents, our goal is to provide that scaffolding and support and guidance in order to help our kids succeed and become more responsible and independent.



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