Teaching our kids to be safe, responsible tech users

We’ve all heard stories, true or not, about how kids and teens have misused the Internet and gotten themselves or other into trouble. They run the gamut from mundane stolen Webkins passwords to blood-curdling cyberbullying; the worse stories end up with someone dead or injured. Of course, the stories don’t all end up in People Magazine or on 20/20; everyone knows someone who’s kid or friend had their feelings bruised or worse from an online interaction.

It adds up quickly. And unlike the social pain of the schoolyard, these taunts are written in ink online. They follow kids over years, to new schools and new towns. They can become a part of their digital footprint, notoriously difficult to edit.

It’s an issue a lot of educators and parents are trying to deal with. One of these is the wonderful team that makes up the Partners in Prevention initiative at the Lester B. Pearson School Board, which met on Tuesday to discuss next year’s risk awareness initiative. I’m always happy to see my colleagues in this group, but this was a particularly interesting idea, as we were being offered a rundown of the board’s pioneering Digital Citizenship Program (DCP).

The DCP is all about meeting technology head-on, teaching kids how to become safe, responsible users, producers and consumers of material online. While most school boards tend to ban most non-educational Internet usage, or seem to covering their ears and eyes and hoping it will go away, Lester B. Pearson is forging new ways of teaching kids (and teachers and parents and school staff) how to use it properly.

Because it isn’t going away any time soon. And rather than ignorantly hoping (praying) that this generation will somehow figure out on their own how to be responsible in their usage, they figured it was best to guide, supervise and model emerging best practices. That, gentle readers, is quite simply cutting edge educational policy. I kind of wish it wasn’t happening so late in the game, but better late than never.

While we may not yet be certain of the precise points of getting teens to use Facebook respectfully, we can fall back on some of the established principles of what we do know we need to teach our kids. The nine elements of the DCP come from Ribble and Bailey’s 2007 book Digital Citizenship in Schools. While you can read the extended description of these in the above link, I think it’s worth outlining them here.

  1. Digital access – full electronic participation in society.
  2. Digital commerce – buying and selling of goods and services online.
  3. Digital communication – electronic exchange of information.
  4. Digital literacy – having the capacity to use electronic communication and knowing how and when to use it.
  5. Digital etiquette – standards of conduct expected by other users.
  6. Digital law – legal rights and restrictions governing technology use.
  7. Digital rights and responsibilities – the privileges and freedoms extended to all users, and the conduct expected of them.
  8. Digital health and wellness – elements of physical and psychological well-being related to technology use.
  9. Digital security – the precautions that all users must take to guarantee their personal safety and the security of their network.

Interested in your thoughts and stories – how do we go about teaching these?

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