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I’m a big fan of technology and web 2.0 opportunities. My students have their own blogs and we have several class wikis (all in Blackboard because that’s our county’s system). We have a class delicious site with a growing number of links, some of which relate to our curriculum and some that don’t. They’re learning how to use Movie Maker, Photo Story, Audacity, and more this year. I find all of this very exciting.

On the down side, I just came face to face with one of the challenges of online activity. About half of my class spends time on a social-networking site (for which you have to be 13 to register; my students are not 13). One student received threatening messages through the site including references to a recent assault in our area and personal information. We suspected these messages came from another student at our school, but couldn’t be sure and turned the matter over to the police. The police did a fantastic job and traced the messages to the home of a student. Fortunately, we could rule out the possibility of a stranger lurking around the school and homes of students. Sadly, it means another fifth grader felt a need to anonymously terrify a classmate.

I teach in a title one school, I don’t expect most of my students to have consistent access to the internet. It’s clear to me that I have relied on that as a safety net. The majority of our students don’t have access at home. However, plenty do and we’ve done precious little to educate them about being safe online. In this instance, of which we are aware of the specifics, there wasn’t really any danger. But it did show me that they are online and in places they shouldn’t be. It seems I have a responsibility here.

Therein lies my question about it all. What is my responsibility? I consider myself to be fairly savvy about the online world, certainly more so than the parents of our students. I can, and will, teach my students more about internet safety. However, I think their parents need to be educated as well. If students have computers with internet access in their bedrooms or in basements isolated from the family, they will push the boundaries. Parents need to be watching, talking, and aware of their children’s activities. How do we help ensure that or at least promote it?

4 Responses to “Our children are online. Do we know where they are?”

  1. Mathew says:

    I concur, we need to be doing a better job of explicitly teaching internet safety.

    However, the good news is that I think in most cases students are smart enough to carry over kindergarten “stranger danger” training and apply it to the internet (recent research supports this).

    I see a bigger danger in cyberbullying (like you’re describing). We don’t do such a good job teaching about real life bullying and so, of course, this carries over to the internet.

    The internet really only replicates everything that’s going on in the real world. Our strengths and weaknesses as teachers carry over to this new virtual space as well.

  2. Steven Kimmi says:

    This is a very big issue as I struggle to get my students online, how do I keep them safe? It sounds as though our areas are similar, in that online activity seems to be mostly at school. But of course there are those who find outlets elsewhere and, indeed, push the boundaries. I agree parents need to be knowledgable. Therein lies a problem, we have a hard enough time getting parents in for PTCs, etc.

    I think Mathew hits the nail on the head, real-life society is falling apart, therefore cyber society isn’t really safe either. In my experience it is the same students bullying, just finding a new way to do it.

  3. bcds says:

    I agree that there are 2 issues here- One is parent education, the other is educating our students. We had an evening roundtable for our parents and the middle school students. It was not terribly well-attended, but a lot more than I had hoped. It was evident from the questions and concerns that the parents had, that they are feeling helpless and clueless. (I teach in an independent school and the parent body is generally well-educated and well-heeled).

    The parents, even the ones who attended, did nothing as far as I can see to follow up on this topic with their kids. I’ve asked the kids. This took place the week before the Frontline program. I let all the parents know about the program; one watched as far as I know. I set up a blog for the parents to continue the conversation and it was not used.

    The kids, on the other hand, have almost universal access to the internet, most have their own computers, if not their own laptops. I spent a lot of time with my 7th graders on internet safety, everything from predators and identity theft, to cyberbullying. They have a folder of “stuff” on internet safety on their desktops at school, which they go through when they finish their work early. The 7th graders had a blog assignment for me, reading articles, watching videos and commenting on what they learned, comparing it to their own experience online.

    I’ve talked about this in a comment on another blog, but my kids seem to think that none of this really affects them, that they are smarter than all of the kids in the videos. Naive? Just normal teen immortality syndrome? I don’t know. I just keep on plugging away at it, with all of the kids I teach. I don’t want to scare them, just teach them to be safe.

  4. Brian Crosby says:

    Great post Jen – I have run into basically this same issue. My students are getting savvy enough now that I have started spending more time talking about these issues. Kind of like they know enough now to be dangerous. Like a toddler that has learned to walk and now knows there’s a park across the street from their house with swings and “climby” things. They have to be watched until they have enough knowledge on the dangers of crossing the street and strangers to be safe to go on their own.
    Brian

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