While the subject of “Online Safety” may seem daunting, it’s not really all that complicated or, for that matter, much different than what you learned about when you were a student.
Much of what young people (and young adults too) need to know about protecting themselves online can be summarised in four words: “Think before you share.” Add to that “be kind and respectful” and “ask before you take”, now you’ve pretty much covered the basics of “digital citizenship” in social media. OK, it’s a little more than that, but you get my drift.
Children are most likely to post an image or video of themselves online or set up a fake profile for the first time at the age of 11, or try Twitter and message a stranger at 12 and try services like SnapChat and Ask.fm before the age of 13. Children are gaining access to social media sites at a younger age, which could expose them to content, people or situations that are out of their depth and which they’re not emotionally prepared for. While some schools have set aside dedicated time, and in some cases dedicated staff, to teach students good ‘social media ‘ practice, I do believe that the concepts should be woven into the entire curriculum, beginning with accurate definitions allowing for effective education.
You can call it “digital literacy” if you want, but in the 21st century, knowing how to safely use social media is just literacy. Students don’t distinguish between their digital lives and the rest of their lives – looking things up online, texting and accessing apps is just part of what they do as they go about their day. The use of technology is quickly becoming the primary means of bullying and harassment, particularly among adolescents. Text and picture messaging through mobile phones and social media via the Internet have taken the place of the traditional schoolyard bully and have led to an explosion in bullying, harassment and other exploitive behaviours on-line. Sexting, Sexcasting, Cyberbullying, Trolling, are becoming more common through the use of social media and the expanding use of Apps on Smart Phones (IPhones, Androids Blackberry & Tablets & IPads).
Social Media, Social Networking Sites and Gaming Sites all have the propensity to be used by online sexual predators, so advice to parents, carers, educators and professionals who work with children is a priority, irrespective of the adult’s IT knowledge. Online safety is about understanding online behaviour, and knowing the differences between ‘Risk – Danger – Harm’. Everything we do online can have a degree of risk, however small, not all Risk leads to Danger. Furthermore, if we can identify and minimise Risk then this can inevitably reduce the escalation towards Danger which in turn drastically reduces the possibility of Harm. Online safety & Social Media Training & messages must be up to date, current & relevant, children, young adults, parents / carers, & educators all need to understand how connectivity, devices and online behaviour can lead to Risk that can result in Danger and possibly Harm, not all Risk will lead to Harm. Knowledge and wisdom are key, young users have the knowledge and adults the wisdom.