Be safe and teach them to drive!

Safety is paramount! Safety is really rule #1. As a parent and as a professional educator, I believe fervently that safety is critically important. Safety, precaution, and care come in many different forms. When my boys, now ages four and six, were infants, my wife and I “baby proofed” our house. We used stick-on pads around the brick-cornered hearth, plastic-insert caps for the electric outlets, etc. We essentially restricted use of these items and places. However, as our boys grow older, our precautions are taking different forms.

We are a family of water enthusiasts and boaters. We require that our boys wear life jackets when they ski, tube, and kayak. When I kayak, I wear a life jacket, and I use safe boating practices. I clip a safety whistle to my jacket, for example. For my kayak paddle, I even employ a leash so that the paddle cannot get away from me if I capsize or run into other trouble. I boat safely, and I teach my sons the critically important rules and expectations of boating safety. They see me utilize these safety practices, and they hear a lot from me about how to have fun in safe, appropriate ways. When they learn to drive, I imagine I will use similar processes, just as my parents did for me – from a perspective of experienced, wise use.

Engaging in social media and technology for the purposes of fun and education should follow a similar philosophy in my opinion. Just as I ready my boys for safe, responsible use of boats and water equipment, I believe we must ready our students for safe, responsible use of the Internet and social media spaces. When they are “too young,” we should even restrict their access to certain tools and places. However, as they reach a certain age, the best education is teaching and modeling wise, responsible use.

My school is forwarding a substantial technology shift for us: moving from PC to Apple, and moving closer toward 1:1. As we do so, a number of policies and foundational philosophies are becoming exposed, reconsidered, analyzed, and re-examined. That is a good thing! However, a few people seem to be allowing fear and media hype to cloud perspective. Let’s not be guilty of letting the 1% of bad overshadow the 99% of good…even though media tends to report 99% of the time on all that could go wrong. Think: chances of being in a plane crash vs number of safe journeys that happen everyday…and what media reports when a rare crash does occur. Same trend happens with regard to tech use (particularly with “social media”) among school-age learners.

Safety, of course, is paramount! Restricted access to particular services, sites, and domains for certain ages is certainly part of the equation. Nevertheless, deliberate teaching of digital citizenship is a MUST DO! In addition to those shared in the introduction to this post, a few other metaphors and analogies come to mind:

Driver Education

For safety’s sake, we would probably be safer (in the short run) to restrict driving until about age 22-25. But we don’t. We educate children how to drive. That education occurs each and every time they ride in a car with an adult, and it continues with drivers’ ed and preparation for a learner’s permit and a full license.

As adults, we teach teens how to drive by modeling for many years. Then, when the time nears for the teens driving themselves, we take a seat in the passenger position, and instruct them how to drive. We do this from a perspective of years of driving ourselves. Many times, my parents wished they had a set of peddles and a second steering wheel – if their body motions from the passenger seat were any indicator. My dad pumped an imaginary brake and grabbed the dashboard more than a few times. He cringed when I ground the gears learning to drive a stick shift. My dad and mom encouraged, fussed, hollered, and praised. But they never said, “You are not driving until you are much older!” They knew I was preparing to drive myself, and they prepared me for the real responsibility of driving as a good, careful citizen of the roads.

We do not give the car keys to 10 year olds. The example in this video would be ridiculous!

But we do give the car keys to 15 and 16 year olds. And they learn by doing. I believe responsible use of the Internet and social media should be similar. I do not believe 11 year olds should be using Facebook or Twitter. But by age 13, I think we should be teaching them how to drive – by modeling and instructing. By letting them learn by doing.

Freedom from Chemical Dependency

When I was an undergraduate, majoring in economics, I studied the economics and public policy of vice and substance use/abuse as one of my focus areas of application. Through the lenses of demand and supply models, I came to understand the critical importance of demand-side intervention for drug abuse. Because of the profit margins in drug sales (unfortunately), supply-side interventions fall short – there sadly seems to be an endless line of folks who become willing to sell and supply. Therefore, consumer education rises as a fundamental, primary strategy. People must know the dangers of what they are doing/might do if we hope to win the war on drugs…if we hope to curb demand of the bad stuff. Part of that education must include information and practice of how to achieve natural highs…if we hope to build demand for the good stuff.

Use of social media is similar. The tools and services are human dominated. A supply-side only restriction is doomed to failure in a market place with strong demand for the commodity. So we must educate our consumers. We must teach good use, model good use, practice good use, and advocate good use. We must enhance demand for positives and decrease demand for negative/harmful use.

A Number of Interesting and Excellent Resources

Articles abound on Internet safety and school-age children using tech tools such as social media. The articles tend to run a spectrum – from total restriction of use to teaching safe, responsible use. Here are a few:

Social Networking Policies for School Employees
By Christopher P. Stief, Fisher & Phillips, LLP (Philadelphia)

Kids Connecting With Adults Online
Teach students how to learn with adults from around the world.
January 2010 by Will Richardson

Why Parents Should Both Monitor And Empower Kids Using Social Media
From the Huffington Post by Tina Barseghian

For me, two of the most powerful resources are these next PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) posts. In brief, I think they both speak to us educators (including us parents, of course!) being prepared and PROACTIVE about learning and teaching wise, responsible use of technology tools – especially the exponentially growing category of social media spaces and applications. Forest Hills Elementary Schools is developing a purposeful, deliberate scope and sequence curriculum for instructing elementary students about the safe and SMART use of social media.

Thinking SMART about Digital Citizenship
By PLP team members from Forest Hills Elementary Schools

All Principals Should Be Tech Savvy
By Lyn Hilt

In the book, Communicating and Connecting with Social Media, authors Bill Ferriter, Jason Ramsden, and Eric Sheninger end the book this way:

Most importantly, though, social media tools are redefining the way your students are interacting with one another. In fact, three out of every four online teens are already using services like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter to stay connected with one another (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickuhr, 2010). Isn’t it time that we worked to respect, rather than ridicule and ban, the spaces that our students are creating? Wouldn’t responsible teaching involve showing students how the social tools they have already embraced can be leveraged for learning – and couldn’t experimenting with new spaces for communication and professional development leave you better prepared to find ways to responsibly integrate social media into your building’s instructional practices?

Those are the kinds of powerful questions that are waiting for your answers! (73-74).

So…

1. Let us adults model good, wise responsible use of the Internet and social media by engaging in these practices ourselves – let’s show kids the great ways these tools can be used for learning and positive engagement and change.

2. Let us adults empower students to learn to drive themselves, to boat safely and enjoy the water, and to understand the dangers, as well as the countless opportunities, that exist in the virtual, connected world.

It’s about learning!

Works Cited:

Ferriter, William M., Ramsden, Jason T., Sheninger, Eric C. Communicating and Connecting with Social Media. Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, IN: 2011.

NOTE: Thanks to @gcouros for the link to the YouTube video “Should Kids Be Driving Alone?”