A new, really important report has just come out about children and online safety. It is sensible and research-based, with excellent recommendations. The strongest recommendation is that scare tactics DON’T WORK to keep children safe online. I hate to sound surprised, but it is really a breath of fresh air. Educators and parents should read it!
Although unwanted online solicitations can have an alarming impact, recent studies have shown that “the statistical probability of a young person being physically assaulted by an adult who they first met online is extremely low,” the working group noted.
And young people’s use of social networking sites does not increase their risk of victimization, according to a 2008 report that appeared in American Psychologists.
And kudos to eSchoolNews for an excellent report on a complex and highly charged subject.
“Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today!
Let them know that you will at some point every week be checking their text messages online! You have the ability to do this through your cell phone provider.
Let them know that you will be installing Parental Control Software so you can tell every place they have visited online, and everything they have instant messaged or written to a friend. Don’t install it behind their back, but install it!
Over 90% of all homework does not require the internet, or even a computer. Do not allow them to have a computer in their room, there is no need”
From an e-mail sent home from a New Jersey middle school principal attempting to curb cyberbullying at his school (source)
Changes in technology mirror changes in society and culture, and can impact schools in a number of ways. Some schools hide their heads in the sand. Some take extreme stands like the principal quoted above. Some attempt to address the issues more evenhandedly, even though the law is not clear, nor is the “right” thing to do always obvious.
Schools try to create policies to address issues of cybersafety, security, fair use, and other new issues brought up as technology changes. But these are not actually policy issues, any more than cyberbullying is a technology issue.
People have difficulty making a choice when presented with too many options. And schools are collections of people, and to make it more complicated, people who do not have ultimate authority since they have to answer to parents, the community, school boards, district, city, state, and national oversight.
I just read a study that said that when people do make a choice from among equal options, afterwards they realign their thinking to elevate whatever choice they made to be the best one. We’ve all seen this, once a school policy gets created, it’s hard to change people’s minds. It’s not just that it’s a lot of work to re-do policy, it’s also that once you do the work, your mind creates the illusion that the work and choices you’ve made are the best and most valuable.
As schools face cyberbullying, sexting, fair use, online security, etc. they see a confusing array of policy, tradition, legal, moral and ethical concerns. When confused, people retreat from the threat. Then once that choice to retreat is made, even if they know it’s not optimal, they remain stubbornly wed to that choice.
Julie Evans of Student Speak-Up shared this insight last year after her focus groups with students said that teachers who got training about the Internet started using it less. Confusion creates support for limitations, and those limitations get set in stone. It’s human nature.
To me, this makes the task to involve schools in making informed choices regarding technology policy even more urgent.
The problem with this principal’s stand is not that he’s wrong. In fact, he’s probably right. If he had a magic wand and could actually make parents stop their children from texting and accessing the Internet, and the children actually stopped, and we rolled the clock back to 1970, we could just go back to the good old days of kids harassing each other in person.
The problem with this principal’s plan is that it won’t work. We simply can’t put this genie back in the bottle. We HAVE to address the issue of digital citizenship in the real climate that children actually live in.
This is a floodgate well and truly open, whether or not you declare it closed.
In the UK, Facebook is being pressured to add a “panic button” to the site in the theory that youth can get instant help if bullied or approached by unsavory characters. Unfortunately this reflects silly thinking about the actual dangers of social networking and how youth respond to them. This article by Anne Collier of ConnectSafely explains why.
She wraps up with this powerful thought –
“But for heaven’s sake – or even better, for youth’s sake – let’s please take the “panic” out of this whole important test. It simply doesn’t lend itself to the calm, mutually respectful conversations that help youth develop the critical thinking that protects on the social Web. We had our predator panic on this side of the pond starting in 2006.
At the Family Online Safety Institute’s annual conference in Washington last fall, the Net-safety field declared it over with a strong consensus that scary messaging is not productive. Why? Because it makes young people less inclined to want to come to us for help. They tend to get as far away as possible from scared, overreacting adults; find workarounds that are readily available to them; and then leave us out of the equation right when loving, steady parent-child communication is most needed.”
Please read the whole article: Connect Safely |Facebook: Why a Safety Center and not a ‘panic button’
This survey was conducted by a filtering company and taken by school administrators and teachers at the annual Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference held in Nashua, New Hampshire in Nov. 2009.
- 66% of the school administrators and teachers surveyed indicated that students know how to bypass their school system’s content-filtering solution
- 56% sense that their current security solution hampers the teaching process.
- 89% consider the Internet is generally safe for students.
While I disagree with the filtering company conclusion that these results mean that better filtering is THE answer, the numbers are interesting. What does it mean when we know something doesn’t work and we keep doing it anyway?
Last week Chairman Julius Genachowski unveiled the children-and-family part of the FCC’s universal broadband plan, designed to enable, among other things, 21st-century education. There’s just one problem: Schools have long turned to law enforcement for guidance in informing their communities about youth safety on the Net, broadband or otherwise, and the guidance they’re getting scares parents, school officials, and children about using the Internet.
Read the rest of this article from Net Family News Major obstacle to universal broadband & what can help for the real facts about Internet safety.
Ann Collier has collected a compact list of resources that YOU NEED today about a new approach called the “social norms” approach, used by health professionals to “identify, model, and promote the healthy, protective behavior.”
The scare tactics and stranger-danger approach prevalent over the last decade is “doubly problematic”, says Ann. It not only fails to change behavior, it hampers the efforts of educators to integrate technology into meaningful, relevant learning experiences for youth that WOULD change behavior.
The good news is this appears to be changing, and kudos to the FCC for seeing this so clearly – the bad news is, there’s still a long way to go to reach most K-12 schools.
“When something troubles children, they have to play with it until it feels safer.”
Gerald Jones, cartoonist and author of Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence
The online-safety messages most Americans are getting are still pretty much one-size-fits-all and focused largely on adult-to-child crime, rather than on what the growing bodies of both Net-safety and social-media research have found.
… still focuses on technology not behavior as the primary risk and characterizes youth almost without exception as potential victims.
… fails to recognize youth agency: young people as participants, stakeholders, and leaders in an increasingly participatory environment online and offline.
… is still negative, lacks context, and is largely irrelevant to youth.
To be relevant to young people, its intended beneficiaries, Net safety needs to respect youth agency, embrace the technologies they love, use social media in the instruction process, and address the positive reasons for safe use of social technology.
On ConnectSafely.org, co-directors Larry Magid and Anne Collier offer insightful (and sane!) resources for educators and parents about being safe in the digital world.
- Safety Tips & Advice
- News & Views
- Slideshows & Handouts
Resources like this can help educators and parents move beyond the hysteria about children and the digital world. It’s crucial that adults find ways to include and guide youth in positive exploration and use of these new tools and technologies. Demonizing and criminalizing normal behavior won’t solve anything and creates a climate of fear that alienates people and stifles discussion.
Resources like ConnectSafely.org make me hopeful that the climate is changing and a new maturity is emerging about youth and digital technology.
Yeah, this one is kind of from the “DUH” files, but it’s something worth repeating. We know that teens need adult guidance to navigate new worlds, digital or not. Just because teens feel more comfortable in digital worlds than many adults doesn’t mean they don’t need the help.
When we talk about how “tech savvy” kids are, or how they are “digital natives”, it creates a false sense that adults aren’t needed. Worse, it’s an excuse to ignore the whole thing. (See my post Digital natives/immigrants – how much do we love this slogan?)
Adults bring wisdom and experience of the world, even if they feel a bit like a fish out of water trying to sort out new rules for new media.
But adults need kids too. The typical reaction of adults is to make rules and hand them down to children. This isn’t serving us well here. Adults need to collaborate and communicate with youth to figure out how we all need to navigate these new waters. Teens bring interest, passion, committment, and experience, as well as a different point of view.
In a real collaboration, both sides have things to learn and things to offer. This is certainly true here.
I recently saw an email on the WWWEDU listserve by Nancy Willard, executive director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, that I thought really needed to be shared. Nancy has given me permission to reproduce it here. Nancy is one of the sanest and smartest voices regarding youth and online safety. Her latest book on Cyberbullying (available at Amazon) is a must read for parents and teachers. I really respect her knowledge on this subject and feel that her approach, based on real data and work with real kids is far superior to the current climate of fear and scare tactics surrounding education in an online world.
In this email, Nancy answers questions about filtering and school responsibility for online safety. If you are an educator dealing with unreasonable filtering that hampers your ability to teach, I urge you to explore her website and buy her books.
We must use knowledge, not fear, as our guide to face the opportunities and dangers of the 21st Century.
—————– The rest of this post is all Nancy —————–
We will NOT be able to effectively prepare students for their education, career, and civic responsibilities in the 21st Century if the technical services directors in schools throughout this country continue their heavy handed filtering.
It is essential to shift how the Internet is being managed from a primary reliance on filtering to more effective monitoring – in an environment where education – not social – use of the Internet is expected, and supported with effective professional and curriculum development.
Q: Dear Nancy, does the law specifically state how tight the filter has to be set. Do we have to set it at its most restrictive setting can’t it be at its least restrictive setting?
A: All you have to do under CIPA is set it to block pornographic material – obscene material and material harmful for minors. There is NO liability for schools if they choose not to set it to block an area and something “inappropriate” happens to appear on that site. The CIPA regulations mentioned the understanding that filtering is not perfect.
There is absolutely NO justification under CIPA for the heavy-handed filtering that is preventing effective instruction in schools today. The problem is that schools are overly reliant on filtering when they should be shifting to more of a focus on monitoring.
The other problem is the non-research-based fear-mongering about internet risk. Just about everything you hear in the press – or from politicians – about online sexual predators is not supported by the research data.
They are not targeting children. They are not tracking down teens based on personal contact information they post. 1 in 5 or 7 young people has not been contacted by a predator. There are not 50,000 predators online at any given time prowling for victims. There are legitimate concerns of adults who are preying on emotionally vulnerable or “seeking” teens. But the arrest rates for sexual abuse of minors have actually been going down in the last decade.
Q: Our district (actually most of the state) went to web washer and we are even more restricted now than we were before.
A: No one at the filtering companies is held accountable for the decisions that are being made. 8e6 has a close relationship with the American Family Association!!! Think of the objections if the American Family Association was the organization deciding what books would be allowed in schools. No one knows what biases the other companies might have.
It is OUTRAGEOUS that tech directors and administrators would think that these companies are better at selecting sites for their appropriateness than librarians and teachers!
Q: The person setting the filter is not an educator but an IT tech with little or no classroom experience.
A: This is a major concern. The people who are making content based decisions on what categories should be blocked should be the librarians and curriculum specialists. The IT folks should be involved only on decisions related to security and bandwidth issues.
Further EVERY librarian and ed tech specialist in the schools should have the authority to override the filter and provide access to a site that has been inappropriately blocked – based on the educational determination of its content!
Further, EVERY counselor, administrator, and school resource officer, should also have the ability to override to investigate online material that presents safety of student well-being concerns. (And they may need some help from more tech savvy folks to be able to do this.)
I am working on professional development resources to address both youth risk online and effective Internet use management for a Web 2.0 World. Should be available January. These will be narrated slides presentations with reproducible handouts – with CLE credit available.
Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social Aggression, Threats, and Distress (Amazon)