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How to Teach Digital Citizenship and Social PermanenceMarch 28, 2017
Recently, I read a story about a mother from Tennessee who used a tube of toothpaste to illustrate the power of words. The lady took a brand new tube of paste and told her daughter to squeeze it onto a plate. After every bit was pushed out, her mother then challenged the girl to put it back inside the tube.
The daughter was caught off guard. She protested that it couldn’t be done and it wouldn’t be the same as before. That is when the mother stepped in and asked her daughter to never forget that plate of toothpaste. Then the mother shared a bit of timeless wisdom, “Just like this toothpaste, once the words leave your mouth, you can’t take them back.”
You might be asking why this story of toothpaste is relevant, but this concept is a great illustration of how the Internet and social media work. The toothpaste is a child’s digital footprint, smeared on the plate for everyone to see. Once something is posted online, it is practically impossible to delete their words or undo any damage their actions have caused. This object lesson shows us why we need to teach our sons and daughters the concept of social permanence and digital citizenship.
The Need for Social Media Etiquette
We are raising the first generations of digital natives. They are the first of us who can’t remember a time before the Internet or social media. While they are adept at using every new gadget and app that hits the market, they might not have the necessary skills to safely handle their digital citizenship.
Today’s kids are facing many unseen threats lurking behind their beloved screens. Some of these are cyberbullying, sexting, identity theft, online predators, and oversharing. To help us put these dangers into perspective, please consider the following statistics:
- Rates of cyberbullying have tripled with recent years and 87 percent of our kids have encountered this cruel behavior.
- One in three teens have sent, received, or viewed a sext according to an Mtv survey.
- Sexting is now considered normal and a safe alternative to sex.
- Minors who sext can be prosecuted with the felony of sending or receiving child pornography.
- 500,000 online predators are logged onto the Internet everyday.
- 60 percent of employers search online profiles and social media accounts to learn about applicants.
- Teaching Kids Digital Citizenship and Social PermanenceThe above statistics are frightening, especially when we consider the amount of time and data our children spend online. Thankfully, as parents, we have the ability to educate and guide our children to learn ways to safely navigate the digital world. The following suggestions can help us teach digital citizenship and social permanence to our sons and daughters:
- Begin an ongoing conversation about social media and the proper ways to behave online. Start early and frequently touch base about etiquette rules you expect them to follow on social media and the Internet. Make it a point to listen and avoid lecturing or judging. Afterall, it is our goal to encourage open communication.
- Teach kids the “grandma rule”. This is a good rule of thumb to help kids know what is appropriate to post or share. Simply tell children to only share or say items they would feel comfortable with their grandparents seeing.
- Clearly define the behaviors that are dangerous. This is vital, because kids often have completely different views of what constitutes cyberbullying and sexting than what do parents or authorities. Give examples so they will be able to tell when they crossed the line.
- Develop a family technology contract. As a group, sit down and create a document clearly identifying all expectations for using technology and the consequences if anyone breaks the contract. This will help everyone understand the rules and prevent future disagreements.
- Make sure kids understand the Internet never forgets. Children and teens need to understand that anything, even disappearing messages, can be saved with a screenshot or be retrieved years later from storage. Anything they post has the potential to impact their future college opportunities, scholarship applications, employment, and even their own children.
- Have them tell a trusted adult if they encounter anything uncomfortable online. If a child notifies someone immediately, chances are we can prevent a situation from escalating. This works for everything from cyberbullying, requests for sexts, to inappropriate conduct.
A little education and awareness can empower our children to handle common digital problems safely and prevent future dilemmas from developing. Similar to toothpaste, digital citizenship and social permanence are a regular part of our daily lives that we need to keep everyone smiling and happy. If we pay attention to these details, we can boost a child’s confidence while protecting their appearance online and offline.
How do you teach digital citizenship and social permanence?