Net Literacy, a student-managed nonprofit, conducted a series of online safety focus groups with high school students during June and July, 2012. During these focus groups, the teen respondents were asked what they would say to parents, teachers, and youth leaders teaching online safety to help enhance the relevance and effectiveness of safety training.
I summarized some of their comments below:
1. Why do examples of sexting always show gals and never dudes?
2. Use of the term “victim” suggests that those that are bullied are weak and this creates stereotypes and contributes to the problem.
3. What is cyberbullying? It seems like people define it differently and most online conflicts are now called cyberbullying. If almost everything is defined as cyberbullying, then it becomes a term that risks losing its meaning and becoming “noise.”
4. Stop trying to scare us, please. Be real; we want to know what’s the worst case and what’s reality.
5. If there’s not a “bullycide epidemic” in America, then why was that the subject of our school project?
6. If I didn’t live on the net, I would think that cyberspace was much uglier than the reality that I know.
Considering these (and other) comments, we at Net Literacy suggest that online safety presentations are based on three premises (our guiding principles):
1. Online safety training should reflect that the internet is a positive place for all netizens that appreciate the digital safety rules of the road, exclude techno-panic as an educational tactic, and use “straight talk” when discussing the consequences of making poor decisions when online. For example, In response to the sixth respondent’s comments, I wish that all conversations took the balanced approach used by Larry Magid’s SafeKids.com blog entitled “October is ‘Bullying Awareness Month’ But When is ‘Most Kids Don’t Bully Month?“
2. The voice of youth should be a component of online safety programs used to inform teens.
3. Online safety training should be part of a school’s, afterschool program’s, or other youth-serving’s culture and an ongoing process rather than an occasional event.
I was a teenager four years ago, and I can tell you from very recent experience that many of today’s teens are very different than teens were just a few years ago. Today’s teens are increasingly technology-savvy, spend more time using mobile devices, have new social networking options, and are increasingly integrating cyberspace into their lives in the “real world.”
But what hasn’t changed is that part of being a teen is learning and occasionally making mistakes. Online safety training must continue to evolve at internet speed and reflect changes in both technology and the manner in which teens consume, create, and engage with content.
Through thoughtful and positive online safety discussions, most teens appreciate knowledgeable and respectful guidance and this helps the internet become both a more positive and safer place.
Daniel Kent is president and executive director of Net Literacy, an all-volunteer, student-run nonprofit that bridges the digital divide through its digital literacy and digital inclusion programs. Net Literacy has provided increased computer access to over 170,000 individuals. Kent has authored several whitepapers on Digital Inclusion, Digital Literacy, Broadband Adoption, and other technology issues.
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