Teach Children About Anonymity Before They Make Mistakes

childing typingAnonymity presents digital kids with a complicated social obstacle — one they must confront and understand if they are to protect themselves from potential problems. Digital anonymity is not a friendly concept for growing children. I’d argue, in fact, that it’s downright dangerous, but app makers continue to offer the feature. For now these apps are a part of many digital kids’ daily lives, often negatively affecting their digital wellness.

No child with a connected device is immune from possible trouble caused by anonymity, because issues can arise in an instant, often as a part of routine online social interactions. Anonymous opportunities take advantage of kids’ developing brains, encouraging them to make public mistakes in judgment, and enabling young people, sometimes as young as third or fourth grade, to act and communicate with less and less restraint. A mistake made with an app’s anonymity feature can be hurtful or humiliating.

Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 5.15.35 PMAnd it’s not just 21st Century young people. One only needs to check out comment sections in newspapers, Facebook, or other social media — excellent teaching resources by the way — to discover just how many terrible adults role models are out there for our children to observe.

It’s up to us to advocate for kids — parents, educators, and others who work with children — helping youngsters protect themselves from the foibles of anonymity and  teaching them how to identify troublesome situations, recognize temptations, and resist potentially embarrassing predicaments. Unfortunately, because anonymity actively subverts adults’ and educators’ carefully and lovingly crafted guidance about respecting others, about thinking before acting, and about considering situations from various perspectives, conversations must be frequent.

Even the best institutional mission statement citizenship and civics goals are challenged by anonymity, and sadly, many young people are not intentionally challenging their school’s values. So what can we do?

Using a booster shot metaphor, adults can think about how to help children increase their immunity to anonymous activities and temptations. By talking about the issues and figuring out how to incorporate the concept of anonymity discussions into a range of curricular lessons, adults can help to inoculate children from the social pressure and allure associated with apps and anonymous play. School conversations about the problems associated with anonymous activities should be included, whenever possible, in a school’s social-emotional curriculum lessons. Role-playing is a useful tool.

Family discussions about the intrusiveness of anonymous communication, and yes, digital footprints, should begin the moment a child starts using a digital device, and in  Educators should begin these discussions as soon as students begin using connected devices.

The four most critical ideas for children to understand?

  1. Anonymity encourages people of all ages do things that they know they should not do.
  2. Even people who try to be kind and respectful get caught up in problems when they use or associate with anonymous communication.
  3. Anonymity increases gossip, cyberbullying, poor decision-making, and humiliating problems.
  4. Anonymity does not mean there are no digital footprints.

Of course, the most basic steps for parents to take are to supervise mobile devices, develop a family agreement or contract, know what apps their children are downloading, and understand how those apps, including the anonymous features, work. Moreover, the apps that are popular today may not be the most desired downloads tomorrow, so the best strategy for parents and educators is to begin the conversations about appropriate use, setting limits, and apps long before anonymity enters the picture.

A Few More Resources to Read on Anonymity

 

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