Thursday, August 29, 2013

Have You Heard...

that cyber bullying starts as young as elementary school???

I was catching up on emails today, and like most days, I had multiple requests to join LinkedIn. The requests come from acquaintances from every aspect of my life- online contacts, personal friends, past colleagues. I am debating if I should start an account...but the only thing that echoes through my head is..."one more social networking site...?" ...can I handle that?

Social networking has become the way of life. So many people I know communicate and catch up with friends via Facebook, or share information back and forth on Twitter. I hear daily of individuals finding recipes or new, creative craft ideas on Pinterest. And now LinkedIn is promoting to teens to encourage online profiles and help with college applications and post-school jobs.

Social networking is a huge part of our daily lives, so it is no wonder that kids as young as 6 years old have jumped on many sites. No, I'm not saying that tons of 6-year-olds are on Facebook. I have no idea if they are or not...they are not supposed to be. Although one study says that nearly 80% of parents help set up their under-aged child's Facebook page and over 7.5 million users are younger than 13 years old. (source)

Regardless of whether or not there are youth on Facebook, there are a handful of other sites out there targeted to young kids. Sites like Moshi Monsters, Kidzworld, and Kidzsocial to name a few. And there are sites that connect students within their school community- such as EdModo which many call the "Facebook for schools." And there are many, many more sites that provide extended learning opportunities. Students are also set up with email accounts and many have cell phones and are texting.

This isn't a bad thing...

There are just as many benefits to social networking as there are negatives. Kids can connect with others including mentors and teachers, increase learning, start to create their own individual brand, connect with extended learning opportunists, schools, and colleges, and so much more.

But clearly there is a downside to social networking. Cyber bullying, privacy, and identity theft to name a few.

The question here isn't whether or not our kids are using social networks-- they are--in school and even out of school regardless of if we know about it or not. The question is...

What are kids really doing on those sites?

And because we probably don't know the answer to that question, I then have to ask- are schools taking online safety seriously enough? Do teachers and staff even know enough about the social online networks students are using? And do we as parents know enough about it to keep our kids safe?

These questions are not easily answered. But the first step has to be awareness. We need to know what is happening. We need to be aware that our youth are online.

Next, there needs to be education. We need to teach ourselves and our teachers before we can teach our children. And we need to learn proper online etiquette and model it. The internet isn't going away, (not unless we have a zombie apocalypse or a Revolutions-type event.) Therefore we need to take steps to keep our youth safe and healthy while online.

The buzz phrase going around schools these days is "21st century learners"...I'm afraid I can't let myself be stuck in my past. Somehow, I have to catch up.

Best to all,
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