Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Growing Up Online

This way to FRONTLINE episodes ---->


Ed Latham said...

by Ed Latham

I feel this is a very good movie for teachers and parents to watch. There is a huge disconnect between the 30+ age group and teens and their "society" today. On techie listserves all over the place, the discussion among adults centers on blocking this or restricting access to that. So little centers on how those same things that get blocked may be used in a positive way to help students.

My wife and I had a discussion after watching this video concerning the safety of children online vs offline. At first my wife thought online was much more dangerous for our four teenage boys. We discussed what the worst case situations online could be for our boys and then we did some google searches for the data offline in our part of the state. Abductions, sexual solicitation, drugs and all of the other fears we had all have so many easier ways offline to entice kids. Think back to your teen years. Did you ever do something "at a friend's house" that you never told your parents about out of fear? Most teens, online or offline, will find private space/time to talk, do, or just think about things that are on their mind. At least online, they are still in your home, where in theory parents can still try to communicate with them and build trust that is so hard to get during teenage years.

In our house, we may be fortunate that our online access for the entire family is restricted somewhat more than normal families. All of our computer access is done in our family room with no access in bedrooms. We get to discuss things going on online. Does this mean our kids are totally honest with us about what they are doing, who they are talking with or things they are thinking about? I think I would be crazy to think my kids are completely honest about everything they do. There have been things that have surfaced that were alarming at times, but almost all of those scary things were brought up by our sons.

My father and mother seemed to realize that during my teen years, my brother and I would do things that were crazy, dangerous, and most probably stupid. They were open with us about their concerns for us, but they were also open with how they were going to deal with it. They stated that they will always let us know their views on topics. They offered that they knew we would engage in some behaviors that were risky. Instead of blocking access or threatening, they offered safety advice and points of view that stuck with me through all of my teen adventures. Never once was I afraid to call my parents and say, "I screwed up and need some help" knowing that lectures and maybe even punishment might come down the line later on, but not right then in my time of need. As parents, and to some extent as teachers, we have the choice to limit kid's actions or help them stay safe and learn from their actions. The more you put up blocks, the more risky the behavior and the deeper the mistrust. The more we educate students on proper usage of tools and opportunities available, the more they will trust that we are here to help them grow in life. I do not condone any ideas of "let the kids run free doing whatever." Rather, I propose that we adults spend so much more of our time accepting that students WILL engage in activities or access to things we may not endorse. They will need help when they finally do so (which is why we want to prevent it in the first place). What help do we provide now? Our efforts are so centered on prevention, we spend so little time teaching kids how to stay safe and how to get help. Is it any wonder that more and more students are turning to the globally accessible formats of helpful advice rather than parents or community? Who would you seek out, the jailer looking to pen you into safety or the mentor trying to offer helpful lessons whether you make right or wrong decisions? I know who I listened to, and I still listen to them today.

Jim Burke said...

Ed, you've hit the nail on the head, IMHO. In the end, it is all about family,community, and school connecting with the young. After all, we all need to feel loved and capable.

We had better teach by modeling and involving, not by simply denying reality and mouthing self-righteous pronouncements. That is not to say that we shouldn't have high expectations, only that we approach it in a manner that helps to build character and critical thinking instead of obsessing on everyone being at the same place at the same time.

Reasons for alienation and apathy should be a much bigger concern than simply attempting to increase standardized test scores by fine-tuning the curriculum.