Many of us have noticed the children playing games, snapping selfies, and messaging each other at various times throughout the day. It’s easy to imagine they are having fun and engaging in harmless activities. However, a recent incident at Eastern Michigan University has left many educators questioning what is captivating our students’ attention on their handheld devices.
Last fall, three female professors were introduced to the anonymous social media site Yik Yak when a teaching assistant noticed a disturbing thread. With a quick tap of the hairy yak on her phone she opened up a feed where the students had been carrying on a demeaning and explicit conversation about the professors. The professors were devastated and took the necessary measures to report this activity to the University and their union. Unfortunately, nothing could be done to fix this problem, because of the anonymous feature of the app the students utilized.
Students’ Online Activity & Trends
Whether we like it or not, we are teaching digital natives who are well versed in the fast paced world of social media and technology. While they have the technical skills to navigate the digital future, not many of them have become efficient in the etiquette needed to maintain their digital footprint effectively. Teens no longer rely solely on Facebook for their social media fix; they have found refuge in new outlets away from the eyes of prying adults.
Listed below are four apps and sites that our students are frequenting of which many educators are unaware:
- Burn Book App- This anonymous app sorts users based on location and schools to allow the posting of photos, messages, and rumors about classmates. This new app has resulted in the closing of at least six schools in March of 2015 because of violence and shooting threats.
- Omegle- This app pairs up strangers at random to have one-on-one chatting sessions. This can open a child to predators, pedophiles, and more dangers.
- Yik Yak- Another anonymous app that filters users based on location, a 1.5 mile radius, that allows users to post comments about anything. This app often promotes cyberbullying and harassment.
- Whisper- This social media outlet uses anonymity to confess or post whatever they want. This site is supposed to allow users an outlet for expressing their feelings without judgment, but most of the confessions are sexual or dark in nature.
Social Media Awareness
As educators, we need to offer proper guidance and lessons to help our classes learn social media etiquette. This will empower our students with the skills needed for their 21st century personal and professional lives. Without guidance, children may face serious consequences that could affect their futures.
A recent survey from the National Education Association found that our schools are failing to prepare children to live and work in a digital environment. The study also noted that educators want to include online safety and ethics in the school system, because many feel there is room for improvement. The main struggle was the different directions district or school administration policies laid out for the curriculum and teachers.
“Kids and teens have embraced the digital world with great intensity, spending as many as eight hours a day online by some estimates,” said Michael Kaiser, the executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. “Yet America’s schools have not caught up with the realities of the modern economy.”
Technology Safety in Classrooms
Even though many schools block certain websites, our students can access them with Smartphones or in their homes. Teachers face an uphill battle, because technology is always evolving. It is important that we begin instilling a sense of social media etiquette that will overcome a lot of the dangers lurking on new apps.
Here are eight suggestions for teaching the concept of etiquette and safety for life in the digital age:
- Create social media contracts or acceptable use policies with students and clearly outline what is appropriate online behavior. Often, children don’t understand how their actions can be harmful and what possible consequences might be lying in wait.
- Use headlines or topics in the news to begin discussions about Internet safety. Talk about cyberbullying, issuing threats, and sexting in a nonthreatening environment and include the legal ramifications associated with these acts. Do students know sexting can get them labeled as felons and sexual offenders?
- Stress the ephemeral qualities of disappearing or anonymous apps are traceable and stay on the Internet forever. There is always a chance that someday a text, message, or photo will resurface.
- Social media is SOCIAL. Tell children to avoid posting private or sensitive information they would feel uncomfortable having their parents and grandparents view.
- Include objectives in lessons about bullying and how that can include writing or texting cruel remarks online.
- “With great power comes great responsibility.” Depending on your audience, quote Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben or Voltaire, to help drive home the point that we have a responsibility to ourselves and society to use technology for good.
- Look for additional resources or guest speakers to add another dimension to Internet safety and social media etiquette.
- Design a reporting system that allows students to seek help easily if they witness or become victims. Encourage a safe and nonthreatening environment so children and parents feel comfortable approaching the school.
Including Parents in the Lesson
Unfortunately, educators can not conquer the risks of the Internet or social media on their own. We have around 1,000 hours a year to teach a child, but parents have 7,760 hours to influence a child’s choices. That means it is vital to encourage parents to step in and include social media etiquette in their homelife.
Teachers and administrators both believe that parents need to be active in the process of protecting our youth’s digital bodies. With 79 percent of educators believing that Internet safety should be a parent’s domain, it is important to find ways to bridge school and home.
Listed below are six take home points educators can use to team up with parents:
- Establish communication lines. Create a class website, send newsletters home, type emails, or make a phone call. Reach out and let parents know what is being taught at school and encourage them to extend the lessons.
- Seek out parental input in the school’s digital or technology policies. Invite them to be a voice in the process.
- Welcome parents to volunteer in the classroom.
- Send home communications about social media etiquette.
- Raise awareness by holding a parent meeting to warn about the dangers of social media and technology.
- Have resources available for parents to learn about ways to monitor a child’s Internet activity.
Deleting Digital Aggression & Abuse
Thankfully, educators are versatile and adept at including new technologies in our teaching methods. This enables us to be familiar with many potential pitfalls or trouble areas waiting for our students. By knowing common apps, ways to include social media etiquette in our lessons, and tips for encouraging parents to monitor the situation we can help our students engage with technology to enrich their lives.
Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer and online marketing professional in Los Angeles who also works with HostPapa. Her writing focuses on social media marketing, web hosting and web analytics. She also has three children of her own that love to play video games, which can now actually really benefit them with the new developments in gaming and education.