Net safety, netiquette, online safety, websmartness etc. It has many names, but they all attempt to describe one thing: rules to go by when navigating the information highway (an ancient pre-2000 description of the internet..?). As I work in a school and work with kids a striking reality hits me when asked questions from the kids like: "Did you have a radio when you were young?" or "Is it true that you didn't have a mobile phone when you were at school?"
This generation grew up with the web around them, most of their parents didn't. Most of their parents use the web to check the tabloids, real estate prices and perhaps book a plane ticket, while a selected few use the web in a more extensive way, either through work or by personal interest.
This week we invited all parents to come to a information meeting on net safety run by Redd Barna, a Norwegian interest group working for children's rights. The meeting would address the concerns regarding children and net use as well as help the parents to gain a larger understanding of what their kids do online.
Out of 400 parents 8 showed up.
This is part of the problem. Generally parents tend to think they have control over what their kids do online. Kids and their parents have rules they say. Truth is that rules made by children and grown-ups together might not apply when peer pressure and friends' loyalty becomes more important. A great responsibility lies with both the school and with the parents. We have to acknowledge that children grow up with an unparalleled parallel world, sort of speak, to the physical one, namely the digital world. And as one parent put it:
"When I send my kids out to play I worry. I worry about wether they'll fall on the ice, wether they get run over by a car, get kidnapped, raped or if they get in a fight with friends or if they have had enough to eat. But I cannot worry about all these things, I have to pick my worries and prioritize them. Accordingly I feel good about sending them out because they get fresh air, they socialize and learn new things about the world."
The same thing could be said about children online. They play online games, they chat, they post pictures and videos and they do schoolwork. All of these activities have positive effects for the child's upbringing. Nevertheless, there are many dangers, as there are in the physical world. What we as parents and teachers need to do is to acknowledge our responsibility and dare to be advisors to our kids. We have to get engaged in our children's activities. It should become innate to ask our children over dinner how things went online today in the same way as we ask about their school day and their training.
We have to get engaged in order to see the dangers, but also the immense possibilities. We have to teach them that all actions have consequences, as they do in the physical world. Furthermore, we have to walk the walk and not only talk the talk. If we post pictures of friends and foes on Facebook without permission then we cannot expect our children to not do the same.