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Saturday
Jun022012

Where the real dangers lie in social networking use

My grandson Paul and I were visiting last weekend about Facebook. He is going into sixth grade next year and, while he does not have an account himself, plenty of his buddies in school are on Facebook. When I asked him why one needed to be careful when using sites like Facebook, his immediate reply was, "serial killers."

Hmmmmmm. While he has been known to pull his grandfather's leg, I sense that "stranger danger" is probably what he really has learned is the major safety concern of social networking use.

Too bad.

Jeff Utecht's post "Why We Need to Teach Social Networking" describes another example of what I call "stranger danger" or how social networkers, especially kids, might come to harm though by enabling malicious adults by giving them too much personal information.

But as I explained to Paul, these sorts of incidents are rare. They need to be considered, for sure, but kids need to be more concerned about two other sources of online danger - those actions committed by their peers and those that they commit themselves.

The likelihood of Paul being bullied online is much greater than drawing the attention of some Internet Hannibal Lector. How to respond if a peer's actions feel threatening or even uncomfortable, should get as much, if not more, emphasis in online safety classes than stranger danger. And teaching a child to recognize when his or her own digital communications might be considered cyberbullying should be a part of the learning as well. (I'd almost forgotten this guide our district put together a few years ago based on the work of Nancy Willard.)

But by far the most likely threat that Paul or any of us face in any online presence is what we do to ourselves by posting in thoughtless ways that may impact our reputations. The understanding that little or nothing posted online remains private is key to "online safety." That silly, cool, or rebellious act, immortalized by the ever present cellphone camera sending it directly to Facebook will be seen by one's peers, parents, teachers, college admittence officers, and employers - even if it remains online for a short period of time and is only shared with "friends." Using good judgement in posting and learning how to build a positive online reputation are the real skills needed in staying "safe" when using social networking tools.

We as parents and educators always seem to focus on the most high-profile, most threatening situations (child abduction, inappropriate relationships, etc.) as opposed to those that are the most likely to happen and that have the most long term impact (posting about cheating on a test, uploading photos of illegal substance use, etc.). But if we spend all our time teaching kids to be fearful online, we will not have time to teach them to be smart online as well.

 

Please teach these boys to be smart online.

Cartoon by Brady Johnson

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Reader Comments (4)

Great post! I think that there needs to be more of a focus on online etiquette. Adults need these lessons too. I have had countless posts on Facebook that left me shaking my head. One referenced some issues I had with a former employer. As someone who works in education I felt really uncomfortable about the post, I followed up in a gracious way but really wanted to say "What were you THINKING posting that?" Another was by my mom on *MY* friend's wall who recently had a co-worker who was shot and killed. Her post just said Guns Suck, and my mom trying to be funny said "Guns don't suck, vacuums do" My mom didn't know the context of the post. I don't think either of these examples are of people meaning to be mean but they really didn't think about who might read their comment and how the comment might might come across if the context or tone isn't apparent. I had a friend tell me that her parents recently declined an invitation to a family vacation with a email. She felt upset that they didn't call and have a conversation. She worried that there was something more going on because there was no context or tone to go on. My point is that I think we all need to learn about how to use social media/ technology in a way that is productive and kind. And that sometimes a phone call or face to face interaction is a better medium to communicate then email or Facebook.

June 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMO2L

Doug, thanks for this common sense posting. And schools should join in teaching kids to be both safe and SMART online. In order to do that they need to get past the anti-social networking paranoia that causes so many schools to block all Web 2.0 resources. This results in kids at home or elsewhere going online are babes in the woods about how to use judgement when communicating online. Cheers, Mary Ann

June 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary Ann Bell

Doug,
Great post. I recently wrote a research paper about the negative affects social networking has on children and learn a lot about it. Although I did read about dangers such as pedophiles targeting children rising, cyberbullying did seem like the most common problem. From the studies that I have read children who were around 16 and younger didn't know how to properly deal with cyberbullying and some didn't even recognize it as cyberbullying. Problems that come with cyberbullying include depression, lowered self esteem, and in serious cases suicide. Aside from physical dangers that could arise from children using social networking, these sites are also affecting children's social skills. Since children learn how to socialize by interacting with other people, children who are always on social networking sites like Facebook are learning how to socialize online. This is a major problem because people interact much differently online than they do face to face. It's hard to learn etiquette online when people are just writing what ever they want with little to no consequences. Also it's hard for children to learn how to react to emotions online. In person when someone is sad they show certain facial expressions that gives us clues as to how they feel and how we should react to it but online it's hard to show emotions. This could be a major problem for children who always interact online because they won't know how to properly respond. That's why its so important to bring awareness to these sites that most people think are harmless. Educating parents about these issues can greatly benefit everyone.

November 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMy Le

Doug,
Great post. I recently wrote a research paper about the negative affects social networking has on children and learn a lot about it. Although I did read about dangers such as pedophiles targeting children rising, cyberbullying did seem like the most common problem. From the studies that I have read children who were around 16 and younger didn't know how to properly deal with cyberbullying and some didn't even recognize it as cyberbullying. Problems that come with cyberbullying include depression, lowered self esteem, and in serious cases suicide. Aside from physical dangers that could arise from children using social networking, these sites are also affecting children's social skills. Since children learn how to socialize by interacting with other people, children who are always on social networking sites like Facebook are learning how to socialize online. This is a major problem because people interact much differently online than they do face to face. It's hard to learn etiquette online when people are just writing what ever they want with little to no consequences. Also it's hard for children to learn how to react to emotions online. In person when someone is sad they show certain facial expressions that gives us clues as to how they feel and how we should react to it but online it's hard to show emotions. This could be a major problem for children who always interact online because they won't know how to properly respond. That's why its so important to bring awareness to these sites that most people think are harmless. Educating parents about these issues can greatly benefit everyone.

-My Le

November 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMy Le

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