Children are often far ahead of their parents’ understanding of technology but lack guidance on online etiquette and safety, pointing to a need to educate kids on digital citizenship.
The latest Norton Online Family Report showed 62 percent of children reporting bad experiences online. Cyber-bullying is a growing problem in the U.S., with high-profile cases at Rutgers and high schools across the country underlining its seriousness.
Part of the problem is that students are picking up new technologies, especially social networking, ahead of their parents, leaving them largely unsupervised online and lacking critical awareness about online actions and their far-reaching consequences.
In most cases, the Internet is a tool for learning and communication, with e-textbooks and online education programs increasing learning opportunities.
However, unfettered access can expose kids to very adult websites, situations they aren’t mature enough to handle and encourage cruel behavior. Adults often have trouble navigating the real-life implications of their online activities, but children are even less ready to understand the consequences of their Twitter and Facebook banter.
Even though sites like Facebook are gaining traction with the over-40 crowd, adolescents are especially adept at quickly learning how to avoid parental supervision online, triggering an exodus to Twitter and a continued fixation on text messaging, both of which give teens the sense of privacy for their adolescent antics.
Meanwhile, hackers are targeting children in response to the overall increase in Internet savvy among the general population, so even children with parents well-versed in online threats could be vulnerable to malware attacks.
“For parents trying to raise kids and give them the technology to be successful, yet also protect them, there’s a sense that no one’s there to tell folks what steps to take,” said Marian Merritt, Symantec’s Internet safety advocate. “I hope schools are distributing information and educating (families), but ultimately, parents have a huge role to play (in the process).”
The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) says schools are not doing enough to educate their students, although some programs, like Fort Wayne, Indiana’s Southwest Allen County schools, are trying to change that by holding conferences about cyber bullying and “digital citizenship.” Conferences like these help adults talk to children about online etiquette and safety.
Globally, “Safer Internet Day” promotes digital citizenship by encouraging Internet safety discussions, but these efforts have yet to curb destructive online behavior in kids.
Despite the problems created by unsupervised students online, technology remains an amazing learning tool, especially for children with special needs. Tablets and smartphones help children with autism and other developmental problems communicate more effectively, offering a different forum of self-expression more in line with their particular needs.
As technology continues to become an increasingly integral part of society, with millions of people text messaging, Facebook updating and conducting online research, guidance and training programs should be established for young people. The challenge is for the older generations to become as Internet savvy as their younger counterparts and anticipate their online behavior, before they migrate to unfamiliar platforms.