It used to be that parents were generally more fearful about who or what their child was seeing online, rather than what they were sharing. This stranger danger fear was fueled by news stories and programs like "To Catch a Predator," which misrepresented the prevalence of inappropriate online behavior between children and strangers. While it's certainly a serious situation, and one that should be discussed between parents and their children, it happens much less frequently than other types of negative online interactions. More than one in three adolescents has been threatened online, and sexting scandals seem to have replaced news stories of dangerous online predators. Fortunately, most parents are aware of the consequences of digital communication. "94% of parents say they ever talk with their teen about what they should share online, while 92% say they talk with their teen about what constitutes appropriate online behavior towards others," according to a 2016 Pew Research Study.
But "stranger danger," cyberbullying, and inappropriate conduct are only part of the digital citizenship puzzle. Children should not only be made aware of the dangers of the Internet, but also be empowered to utilize the vast number of tools available to them for education and exploring their interests. By involving parents in digital citizenship, school districts can ensure that their students are using online tools appropriately both in and outside of school.
Partnering with parents
Communication is key when it comes to partnering with parents to promote digital citizenship and safety. In one district, educators worked together to organize a Parent Tech Institute, which focused on cyber safety and Internet basics. Organizer Heather Wolport-Gawron shared her experience on Edutopia. "Schools must help empower parents to be the digital caretakers at home, because we can only do so much during the school day. We must teach families simple tools to insist on, and have them extend the culture of cyber safety to the homes. Parents must work hand in hand with schools if our students are to function in this digital world."
Encourage parents to ask questions about the tools their children are using for school. Many children are increasingly more reliant on the internet and devices to complete assignments, so exploring apps together is a bit like the modern version of sitting down at the table to go over that night's fractions worksheet. Teachers can facilitate these conversations by sharing information with parents about the apps students are using for learning and providing resources on how they can help their child at home.
Parents are the first line of defense when it comes to internet safety. They have the authority to access their children's devices, and the tools they need to set parental controls. Not to mention, students are more likely to use their devices for social purposes outside of school, when they're in their parents' care. Help parents take control of cyber safety at home with the following tips:
- Befriend your child. Surprisingly, only "56% of parents indicate that they are friends with their teen on Facebook, Twitter and/or some other social media platform." Being friends with your child can give you insight into what they're sharing, and with whom.
- Familiarize yourself with parental controls. From your operating system to your web browser, there are many different ways you can monitor or limit your child's online activity.
- Research. Find out what apps your child is using, and learn more about features that could pose a risk to your child.
- Ask questions. You don't have to become a spy to find out what your child is doing online. By fostering a positive, nonjudgmental relationship, your child will feel safe to share online experiences, and be more open to your advice.
Safe, Smart & Social is one of many resources available to parents and schools, offering a network of speakers, programs, resources and webinars focused around internet safety, geared towards specific age groups. They also offer Footprint Friday, which "helps parents monitor their student’s social media presence every Friday in less than 5 minutes" by creating a report of their digital footprint. It's a way for parents to see their child's visible, public internet activity without invading their privacy.
According to the Pew research study above, "the vast majority of parents talk with their teen about appropriate conduct in their digital lives, but discussions about appropriate offline behavior tend to be more frequent." Encourage parents in your district to talk with their children about who they communicate with online, and how. Consider sharing information about trends you've noticed at school. What applications are students talking about? What types of behaviors have become problematic? Letting parents know what's going on in school can help them address these issues at home.
What has your district done to educate parents about digital citizenship? How can you continue to encourage them to talk to their children about online communication? Let us know in the comments below!
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