We are part of a complex and evolving digital ecosystem. We are fundamentally transforming how we communicate, learn, work, socialise and have fun. There are profound implications for us as individuals, families, communities and societies – and, of course, schools and teachers.
Think of what's happened in the past three years:
We’ve been shocked by revelations about the data and attention-based economy.
The World Health Organisation has defined a new disease of "gaming disorder".
Several online challenge hoaxes resulted in schools giving inappropriate advice to parents, influenced by commercial consultancies.
There has been significant criticism of the use of videos of shocking real-life events as a tool of education.
The digital landscape has transformed but our online safe messaging has not: don’t share. Don’t talk. Don’t meet.
Mobile phones: Will banning tech compromise pupils’ futures?
Social media overuse: The struggle to get up for school
How effective are these messages? Do they resonate with young people? Adults do all of the things we tell children not to. Parents routinely share personal information about their children online. One in five couples meet online.
Don't make tech scary
We need to equip rather than restrict children. But how? Here's a good start:
Don’t wait until you understand the tech
It can be tempting to postpone talking to young people about digital until you properly understand the tech. Once you know how TikTok works, you’ll feel more confident talking about it. Don’t wait. The tech constantly changes, and young people don’t expect (or want) adults in their space. You have a mountain of professional skills and lifetime experience to provide valuable support to young people, whether in their online or offline lives. Start now.
Change your focus
Change lessons that focus on scaring, shocking or tricking young people – instead focus on empowering them and understanding their motivations. For example, you may run a lesson about ensuring that young people don’t post something online that will prevent them landing a job later on. Turn this around to focus on their career aspirations: how can their online identity support, enhance and protect these aspirations? Similarly, if you’re looking at cyber security, how about organising a debate with young people as to why they know the rules but don’t follow them (for example, sharing Snapchat passwords to maintain Snapstreaks, even though they know the importance of password security)?
There’s more to do to prepare and empower our children and young people to live a good digital life. Let’s empower educators with the knowledge, skills and confidence to engage meaningfully with the digital generation.
This is the purpose of a new, free training programme in Scotland: Safe and Empowered: Responding to a Digital Generation. It’s a blended approach of face-to-face and online events. Educators from early learning, primary, secondary, community learning and colleges can all attend.
We all need to play a part in keeping children safe in this brave new digital world.