This is my second reflective blog post on the #DigCit Summit, which was held on 10/28/16 at Twitter Headquarters in San Francisco. I had the pleasure and the privilege of speaking on a panel regarding “What’s Next for Digital Citizenship,” but also got to spend the rest of the day listening to other speakers in education, business, and technology.
In my first reflective post, I replied to some speakers’ desire to remove the word ‘digital’ from the Digital Citizenship conversation. In this post, I would like to address a specific comment made by one of my fellow panelists, the founder of a cyber consulting group and school curriculum. As we were discussing implications for digital citizenship curricula in schools, she said something to this effect: “I live this every single day, and parents are frightened!”
This statement may be true for her – a woman who makes her living giving presentations on cyber bullying and cyber safety to parents and their children, but I think this is a very dangerous discourse to forward as “truth” because it is essentially a truth that has been created and perpetuated in a vacuum.
Let me explain:
When an educational consultant says that “parents are afraid,” I think it is important to deconstruct that statement. If you are a consultant or guest speaker who has been invited to present internet safety topics to parents, your audience will be filled with parents who are choosing to attend because they are interested in the topic. Those parents, however, likely make up a very small percentage of the entire parent population in the school. While it is important to recognize the fears of the minority, it is detrimental to assign those fears to the entire population of parents. Why? These very publicly made statements keep parents, teachers, and administrators from considering curricula and parent education that goes beyond addressing fears. This vacuum of fear is not just limited to parent education, though.
As odd as it may seem, the digital citizenship community is saturated by people outside of education. These companies, consultants, police officers, and motivational speakers who have made their way into the digital citizenship space have a very skewed understanding of the way adolescents are engaged with technology.
Consultants come into schools with the intent of lecturing about cyber-bullying or warning about the criminal consequences of sexting. Then, their purposes for speaking are affirmed by the few examples they may hear from students or administrators during their visit. Finally, the consultant moves on to the next school with a few more horror stories in their back pocket to share with the next audience.
These consultants see a very small snapshot of our students’ experiences during the time they are in our schools, and when their purpose for coming is to listen to problems and warn of dangers and consequences, these guests are essentially creating a cycle of discourse that is pessimistic and disadvantageous to the successful integration of technology in schools.
So instead of viewing the state of the internet through the small lens often shared by cyber-safety consultants, here are a few facts to help widen your perspective:
A very small fraction of students actually encounter cyber-bullying or report experiences online that leave them feeling fearful, vulnerable, or emotionally damaged (Lenhart et al., 2011). Teens that were interviewed about their online experiences talked a lot about drama, gossip, and rumors among friend groups, but “few used the language of ‘bullying’ or ‘harassment’ unless (the adult researchers) introduced these terms” (boyd, 2009, p.108).
In a recent Pew Internet Research Study, 78% of the teens interviewed cite positive experiences online including feeling closer to other people and having an experience that made them feel good about themselves (Lenart et al., 2011).
Only 13% of teens report online experiences causing problems with parents; less than 8% say social networking experiences have resulted in a face to face fight with someone else, and only 6% report their online behavior getting them in trouble in school (Lenart et al., 2011).
The 2010-2011 Indicators of School Crime and Safety research (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2013) indicate that only 9% of students in grades 6–12 experienced cyber-bullying at least once during that year.
While I recognize that roughly 8% of students report cyber-bullying as an issue, this means there are roughly 92% of students navigating online spaces without this problem.
My fear is that when people focused on the 8% are the loudest voices involved in developing curriculum, influencing policy, and speaking about digital citizenship with our students, there is no one advocating for the 92%. Who will show these students and their parents the wonderful opportunities that technology offers them as citizens of a global community? Maybe by stepping outside of the vacuum and widening your #digcit perspective, that advocate could be you.
boyd, d. (2009). Friendship. In M. Ito (Ed.), Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out (pp. 79-115). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Lenhart, A., Madden, M., Smith, A., Purcell, K., Zickuhr, K., Rainie, L. (2011). Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites: How American teens navigate the new world of “digital citizenship”. Retrieved from Pew Internet & American Life Project website: http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Teens-and-social-media.aspx
National Center for Education Statistics (2013). Indicators of school crime and safety: 2013. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/crimeindicators/crimeindicators2013/key.asp