It seems that this year I've spent more time talking about Cyber-Safety, especially with all the negative stories in the news about teenagers getting into trouble with the Internet. An article from this Sunday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Cyberbullying Emerges as a New Threat) also champions the cause for Internet safety by highlighting local officials efforts to legislate cyber-bullying and online harrassment, or at least legal penalties for those taking part in it.

Author Joel Currier rightly comments that rushing to legislation over local current events might not be the wisest decision. I would tend to agree. For the most part, the Internet still looks very much like the "Wild West" to many of us. With new technologies emerging literally everyday, how can you effectively craft legislation to meet the needs of our changing landscape? Not to mention the global nature of the Internet. In a local newstory, one teenage girl was bullied in MySpace by a fictitious boy just living down the street. In reality you can be harrassed from any where in the world. How would the city of Dardene Prairie (the city in the above article) prosecute someone in say Europe??

Internet safety should be found not within the halls of a local legislative body, but rather in the halls of education....better yet, in the home! As educators, it should always be our intention to partner with the home in providing resources that support student and family growth, especially as it relates to online behavior. What does that mean??

There are many things schools should be doing to prepare the family for safe and effective Internet use:
  1. We've got to teach parents about the new technologies. Our congregation's youth ministry leaders recently put together an informative presentation about what MySpace, FaceBook, and Twitter are. Ashley, one of our fabulous youth leaders, did a great job just explaining what these social networking sites were like and how they work. There was no obvious bias or fear mongering. Just information!
  2. Once parents know what's out there they need to know how to effectively "parent" in this environment. Communication, communication, communication! The most important parenting strategy is communication. The Internet is just one big "teachable moment" waiting to happen. BUT...parents have to take advantage of those moments and the only way to know when those moments happen is to be in close communication with their kids. A WONDERFUL book for parents about home Internet safety is Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens by Nancy Willard from The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use.
  3. Schools/teachers should be modeling appropriate and effective Internet use. Yes, that means using student email accounts, using collaborative online tools, and even dabbling in the educational social networks. According to a recent research 96% of teens are currently using social networking tools anyway. Schools should be capitalizing on these new tools. Who knows....maybe schools should be looking into cell phone usage :-).

The future of educational technology is one of risk taking, innovation, and creativity. I never thought of those characteristics as being essential to education, but our occupation is changing! Like it or not, it's changing.

Are you ready?

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