Sunday, March 3, 2019

From a #TeacherMom: Raising good digital citizens

Raising kids in the digital age can present constantly-changing challenges. Just when you think you have everything figured out, something else presents itself and you feel almost as if you have returned to square-one. That may or may not actually be the case, but that feeling is overwhelming. Learning to navigate this and raise good digital citizens becomes a role for both parents and educators and the kids need to have an active roll in it all as well.

Over the last week, social media has exploded with articles, personal accounts, and a large number of opinions on the so-called "Momo Challenge." While the challenge itself, at this point, appears to be a grand hoax (in fact, once that circulated, dissipated, and returned), the challenge of navigating social media of various sorts is very real. The latest developments of the week indicate that we all, adults and kids alike, have a lot of work to do and diligence is a must. This week it was the "Momo Challenge." In the past it has been the "Blue Whale Challenge" and there have been less sinister challenges such as the "Ice Bucket Challenge." A year ago, a group of my students put together a video in an attempt to shine some light on what challenges (real, actual challenges) living in this age present when students get bombarded with "challenges" and social media influences. Peer pressure has reached a new height with all of this.

The seemingly harmless "Kiki Challenge" even posed a danger. Yes, let's jump out of a car while it is rolling and dance next to it. What could possibly go wrong?! (Notice my sarcasm there.)

I have embraced for a long time that I feel perfect in my imperfections. I have had to remember that and I have had to take my experiences and learn from them.  Some are easier to get through than others. My son got his first tablet when he was six or seven. It was a Christmas gift. I made sure to go through and set all settings in an effort to protect him from things I did not want him to find online. A few months later, a non-repairable system issue required me to return the tablet in exchange for a replacement. It arrived, we got him signed back in and off he went, with the whole world once again at his fingertips. I never thought to go back and check settings just to be sure. Lesson learned. I will keep the details out of this post, but I will share that we all learned very valuable lessons. Settings ended up being put back in place and I found additional settings I could manage. I also implemented random history checks and opened up a dialog with him. Additional parameters were placed for where he could use his tablet, as well. Here we are a few years later and I still check in with him about what he watches and otherwise "consumes" in his online activities. The same is true for my daughter. The conversations take place frequently not just between the kids and me, but between them as well. I can learn a lot listening as they talk to each other about what they are watching. What they watch has also influenced the things they want to create.

About two years ago, another issue arose. My kids were huge DanTDM fans. As "dabbing" became more and more popular, DanTDM made a video about starting the "Dab Police." It was, I am sure, innocent enough in his mind, but it became something very upsetting to my family. He was encouraging kids to stop other kids from dabbing. We were at a large function with friends and family, but there were lots of people we did not know. My kids played with all of the other kids in their general age-range. A couple of boys put my son in "jail" for dabbing. It started out kind of funny and fun for everyone, but the boys got rougher about it and essentially manhandled my son. It was very upsetting for him, and for me. After we left, I engaged him in a conversation about the origin of the "Dab Police." I asked him to show me DanTDM's video. And, DanTDM was banned in our house. I did not stop there. I went on to attempt to contact DanTDM. I sent him an email. Had he contacted me back and, perhaps, engaged me in a discussion about digital citizenship and his role in the lives of young children, I may have lifted the ban. To date, I have yet to receive a reply and my kids have not watched another of his videos. I liked the positive influence he had on my son originally. My son was learning from him. When that learning in relation to gaming was tainted by being hurt by two older boys at what was supposed to be a fun, family gathering, our relationship with DanTDM viewing ended.

How we act online, regardless of age, can and will be influenced by those around us, as well as by our viewing and other online habits. What we read, what we watch, who we engage. Additionally, with every post we make, we are adding to our digital footprint, or digital dossier, if you will. I use this in my attempt to teach lessons about acting as good digital citizens not just at home, but in the lessons I do with my eighth grade students. Two years ago, following these lessons, my group of eighth graders created a video on the impact of online behavior titled "Footprint 0." What they do even today could potentially catch up to them as they go on to college and into the professional world. The habits they develop today will certainly be instrumental to their habits later on. I encourage them to read multiple sources and fact check what they read. I also teach them to think before they post.

My top three suggestions to parents and educators:
1. Open and continue conversations with kids.
2. Look at what the kids are watching and use that in the conversation
3. Check settings periodically and look at the search history too

I think it is also important to practice what you preach: fact check, consider sources and use more than one resource, check your settings, talk to others, avoid bullying behavior and tactics.

As soon as we figure out how to navigate Facebook, Instagram comes along, then SnapChat, then WhatsApp, and on and on. Remember, too, that YouTube is technically a social media platform as well. It is not necessarily easy, but it is worth it. Whether the "challenge" of the week is real or a hoax, they do remind us that it is important to engage our children and be their guides through this journey to becoming good digital citizens. The "Momo Challenge" is proof of that. While the "challenge" itself is likely a hoax, as it reemerged, people felt the desire to place the image in videos and make it a thing. What started as hoax became a real concern. No child should be afraid to watch their cartoons anywhere. One thing to consider is this: use trustworthy sources on YouTube and help your children to find them, bookmark them, and use them for their viewing. I try to make sure that we stick with "official" pages on YouTube. I know not all of our viewing happens on those, but much of it does. We are perfect in our imperfections. We are constantly learning. We are constantly navigating this ride through life in the digital age. As difficult and tricky as it is, it is worthwhile.

Want to learn more bout Digital Citizenship and navigating life in the digital age? There is an event coming up in Salinas on May 18. Monterey Bay CUE will host a DigCit Summit for educators, parents, and students. For more information, please check out the website by clicking on this link.

What are some tips and tricks you use at home or in the classroom? Please share them in the comments here, or by responding to where you saw this posted/shared.