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.

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Building Habits of Privacy Into the Conversation & the Curriculum

21st Century Vocabulary Words — Privacy

21st Century Vocabulary Words — Privacy

Young people confuse privacy with safety.

While most kids carefully follow the rules that parents and teachers set out — no names, addresses, telephone numbers, or other personal information — when it comes to the big privacy picture, it turns out that many children understand very little about their personal data, how it accumulates, and how it affects privacy. (Check out my privacy links at the end of this post.)

Thus we need an alternate privacy teaching strategy that helps 21st Century kids — all ages really — understand how their digital-world data  accumulates — even when users observe the all-important safety rules.

Bruce Schneier, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, writes about and consults on data and security, and his blog is Schneier on Security. In a 2010 post, A Revised Taxonomy of Social Networking Data, Schneier suggests how to classify data into six personal categories, the data generated as we use social media (and I’ll add other websites and games), and how all this data creates an individual’s digital profile. (Note: profile is another 21st Century vocabulary word).

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Good, Bad, Ugly… Internet? – Danah Boyd

Check out Danah Boyd’s short commentary, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly … and the Internet in Boston Magazine. In the June 15, 2012 piece Boyd describes how fears about children’s safety have curtailed their time out in the real, face-to-face world for several generations. Today many parents have transferred their fears into the digital world.

Read some of Boyd’s blog posts here.

Boyd points out that many serious behavioral issues, bullying, for instance, have been and continue to be huge problems. Yet they tend to be more frequent and serious face-to-face than in the digital world (though the digital problems get more media coverage). As one of the most well-regarded observers of teen social networking behavior, Boyd conducts research for Harvard’s Berkman Center and for Microsoft.

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The Teaching Tolerance Website: Use It-BookMark It!

Visit Teaching Tolerance!

It’s a privilege for me to write occasional posts for the Teaching Tolerance blog. However, years before I ever wrote a word for the Tolerance website, I used it as a reference and information source to develop my teaching skills and expand my understanding of the world.

You should too.

If you don’t know about Teaching Tolerance, an arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center, or if you don’t visit the website on a regular basis, you are missing an ever-expanding information universe focused on human rights, diversity, anti-racism, community-building, acceptance, tolerance, inclusion, and much more. In the digital age, with information and misinformation moving at lightning speed, we cannot learn too much about these topics.

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Removing Racist and Hateful Comments: A Simple Relevancy Test

Click to hear Tyler’s dad reading a statement after the jury returned its verdict.

After the jury announced its verdict in New Jersey I watched Associated Press video statement read by Tyler Clementi’s father. Sad and clearly with a heavy heart, he nevertheless looked to the future in a way that most of us could not have done had we lost a child the way he lost Tyler. Then I glanced down at the YouTube comments — just about every one included a gay slur or offensive language, and I was disgusted. The comments were not relevant.

Racist and hateful online comments demean writers, video-makers, and people who thoughtfully share digital content. It’s becoming tiresome. Masquerading as run-of-the-mill responses at the end of articles and videos – they are actually cyber-bullies’ remarks left here and there with the goal of offending and hurting others. The time has long past for comment and blog editors everywhere  — but especially at Google’s YouTube — to set up and enforce guidelines.

I know that the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech; however, it’s not freedom of speech we are observing but freedom to run off at the mouth and bully others in ways that are not relevant to the content. As a result we are teaching all sorts of silent lessons — the kind we don’t really intend to teach to young people as they grow up.

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Terms of Use, Readability, and Digital Kids

Check the terms of use readability level at your favorite sites.

Just about every time I head over to iTunes to purchase something, I’m all set to finish up when the site diverts me to a change in the terms of use. It happens at lots of sites.  And each time I click to look at a site’s terms of use, it’s a longer document — 40 pages, 41, 42… Now I don’t object to changes or even insisting that users check things out, but terms of use are abstract and arcane and not especially easy to read or even understand.

I’ve always thought it would be an interesting conversation topic for parents and kids — taking a few minutes to look at those terms of use statements that most people accept and go right by, and helping children discover a bit about the fine print.

About eight months ago, I read a posting about terms of use documents, C’mon! Match Terms of Use Text to Users’ Comprehension Level, written by Linda Criddle over at the I look Both Ways blog.

Criddle described her experience examining terms of use documents posted on well-known and popular websites. She looked over the terms of use documents for the sites such as the New York Times, Amazon, iPhone, Club Penguin. Then she ran each document through a readability index – a tool that examines a passage and estimates how easy or hard it will be for a person to read the words, as well as what level of education the reader might need to comprehend the information. Continue reading

Teens, Parent Anxiety, and the Internet

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Day after day frightening stories bombard us with warnings about what might happen to children and teens when they use the Internet and World Wide Web, so it’s useful to remind ourselves that these digital resources can provide our children with unparalleled opportunities to learn, socialize, and become active citizens. An article, Our Overblown Paranoia About the Internet and Teens, recently published in the online publication, Salon, provides just such a reminder.

Pediatrician Rahul Parikh, who practices in the San Francisco Bay area, points out that, despite all of our anxiety about teens and Internet risks, no statistics really exist to offer a full picture of the incidence of exposure to risk. Those few that do are often biased because of a common problem for research, posing questions to get the desired answer. Situations that do occur are often covered by a hysterical media, making us feel like a problem happens over and over, just around the corner. Continue reading