In our connected world unfamiliar activities make adults worry about kids, and violent and exploitative events, some connected to the digital world, make us fear for our children’s safety. This past week two events, a 13-year-old’s ruthless murder that was associated with online app interactions and a Wall Street Journal article, Cyberthieves Have a New Target: Children, made many of us wonder, once again, whether the digital world is degrading the quality of our lives.
Part of becoming a strong 21st Century digital learner is mastering the art of writing and sharing comments online.
If you read comments at the end of articles or blog postings, you have surely discovered more than a few inappropriate and sometimes distasteful remarks. Sometimes people leave these comments anonymously. Posted by folks who do not understand why websites invite visitors to share thoughts and ideas, many unfiltered remarks are permanently attached to websites — personal indiscretions waiting for the whole world to discover. Even leaving an anonymous comment is not particularly secure.
Helping children avoid public website blunders is one reason to discuss commenting etiquette. Children don’t know or they forget that all comments leave digital footprint trails, little paths of information that last much longer than a child’s pre-adolescent and even teenage years.
When students make garden-variety searches on Google, teach them to investigate and ask questions about what they find, especially if they are planning to use a website to learn more about a topic. The strongest 21st Century learners will make the process of asking evaluative questions second nature — examining each and every site before deciding whether or not to use the information.
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 the 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.
Even in today’s fast-paced virtual world, these tips never seem to age. Help kids learn to make good choices.
1. Who made the site? Is it from a university or other institution? Is it for-profit or non-profit. Corporate? Look for an “about” link that describes the site.
2. When was the site made and how often is the site updated? Somewhere, usually at top or bottom it should tell. Is this site updated recently? If not this may be a reason to check out another website on your topic.
3. Is it possible to contact the webmaster or the sponsor of the site? Is there a “contact us” link somewhere on the page?
4. How much advertising is on the page, and how aggressive is it? Good sites that use advertising are careful to keep it from being “in your face.”
5. Does the site state its mission? Why was it set up?
When we adults were students, we learned to write content-filled essays and reports, introducing the important facts about a subject. We discovered these facts by using quality reference materials, often at a library.
With today’s digitized resources and websites, a student follows roughly the same routine, but resource reliability is a significant issue. While it’s easy to find sites with information about a topic, identifying reliable and significant information is more of a challenge. The trick is to discover whether or not a site is a reliable resource.
Help your child determine the quality and reliability of a site before using it as a digital resource. The University of Maryland posts this short handout that explains how to go about evaluating a website.
Many sites appear to be real as well as reliable, but they are bogus. An entertaining website for you and your child to explore features bogus websitesdesigned to look accurate and authoritative. Except that they aren’t. Take a few minutes to explore these bogus sites.