Social Networking & Children

It is sometimes suggested that one of the risks involving children on the internet, especially within the realm of social networking, is their ‘boldness’ caused by the sense of anonymity that may cause them to communicate with people they know or strangers in ways that are inappropriate (and that they would probably not do in the ‘real world’).

However, here is an article that I believe should be compulsory reading for every educator and every parent – who should then follow up with the obviously required discussions with children! In a recent meeting the Junior School Principal got quite a shock with the high number of class V children who were willing to own up to the fact that they have either a Facebook or a Buzz account, or both. This, considering that there is an age limit for Facebook of 13, meaning every one of those children had engaged in a deceit.

Imagine that at the age of 12 one of these children engages in some socially inappropriate action online. Imagine, 6 years later they are applying to a top university for admission, but are denied admission because the university admissions officers see that inappropriate content posted 6 years earlier! This is not fanciful or far-fetched, as this article clearly shows:

Education Week Article on Online Behaviour

Regrettably, we KNOW that our children are not aware of these risks and are pretty cavalier about all aspects of cyber-safety and appropriacy of online behaviour. As the article suggests, being cool, fitting in with your daring friends, seems to hold far more significance for these children than the impact they are having on their personal image, potentially for years in to the future, in the real world.

There are lots of myths around about cyber safety and about the approaches best adopted by parents and educators. Therefore, I also include here a fascinating link to an interview with Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics. She’s been conducting extensive research with children around their IT and internet use and has some fascinating observations:

a) The digital natives don’t necessarily have all the natural digital skills we think they do – the vast majority of their online activity is inherently passive,
b) We’re better off agreeing online digital openness and sharing with our children, than cyber-spying or attempting to watch what they’re doing,
c) parents and those who care for children need to understand the differences between risk and harm,
d) media literacy skills need to be learned and acquired to function effectively in the digital age

DML Central – Interview With Sonia Livingstone

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