We must ban, block and filter to protect kids from the evils of the internet and social media. Our daily activities and interactions are infiltrated by digital technology and we cannot stop it, therefore we have to block it out. Wrong! Although, there are reasons to ban, block and filter, we must also educate students and our own children about using the internet and social media constructively and provide them with the skills to respond to the negative pressures they will be exposed to. It is not good enough to outlaw the tools.
Tanith Carey’s article talks about self-trolling as the new form of self-harm that youth unfortunately engaged in via Reddit, Ask FM, and Tumblr, while CBC talks about Yik Yak being used to cause threats, pranks, and cyber-bullying at schools. Further the National Post reports that children are accessing pornography at school and New York Post article by Mackenzie Dawson gives multiple examples of how social media is destroying the lives of teen girls.
All of these articles paint a rather bleak picture of social media and using the internet, but what is clear in all of them is that technology pervades our lives so we must figure out how to ensure our children make smart choices as they engage with social media. For example, the Ontario health education curriculum seeks to teach students how to cope when they access things such as pornography because it is recognized that no amount of filtering will prevent all content from being seen and that youth will inadvertently come in contact with such materials at some point depending on the security of their computer or phone. Parents and teachers cannot oversee every moment a kid is connected, therefore teaching them how to react is more proactive.
Joel Westheimer talks about the positive uses for social media and technology noting that banning one specific app or technology that seems to be at the head of the current problem is futile:
“We all know this is a game of whack-a-mole. Does it make sense to block one app? I mean, there will be 10 more where they were.”
Westheimer notes that schools must teach students how to interact with one another in healthy ways while Dan Misener, technology columnist for the CBC advocates for parents to also engage with their kids in healthy ways by trying out the technology themselves and using that as a way to open conversations about how to use the technology in a healthy way. Dawson’s article interviews Nancy Jo Sales who offers some sage advice for parents:
“I never lost my sense of what it is to be a teenager, I’m not sure why,” Sales says. “Some of these things are painful. One thing that’s important to do as a parent is remember what it felt like and tap into that. They’re just coming of age, they’re experiencing these things for the first time. There needs to be a great deal of compassion when you try to put yourselves in their shoes. I try and think, ‘She’s telling me this story, and how would I feel if this were happening to me?’ So instead of coming at it from a point of judgment or alarm [as a parent], I try to get rid of the fear of what you’re hearing and just listen.”
Sale’s argues that kids are less able to make eye contact and communicate effectively face to face because of the amount of time spent plugged in. Therefore, it is easier to do nasty things to one another when the face to face element is removed. Further, Carey notes the easy of being able to create fake or pseudonym accounts to post from to attack others or self-trolling. This makes it difficult for parents and teachers to hold those responsible accountable or to get help to those that are self-harming.
Teenagers do not necessarily like all of the negative things that happen to them and their friends, but they are compelled into using social media as it has become a key part of how society interacts and much more a part of teen culture. Sales noted of a girl she interviewed:
“I spoke to girls who said, ‘social media is destroying our lives,’ ” Sales says. “ ‘But we can’t go off it, because then we’d have no life.’ There’s this whole perception that [teenage girls] love social media, but in many ways they hate it. But they don’t stop, because that’s where teen culture is happening.”
We cannot prevent teen culture no more than we can effectively ban social media, which have become inextricably linked together. Therefore, as parents and teachers, we have to learn how to use social media in a healthy way and model that behaviour for children and teenagers, while also having open conversations with them and providing them with tools to address the negative aspects that come with the interactions of a digital world. Banning, blocking and filtering is only a temporary solution, while building healthy relationships and teaching kids how to interact face to face and with social media will prepare them for when something sneaks by the filter or the next new technology challenges us. Kids will be plugged in, so parents and teachers must also.