A new virtual reality | Teens and Technology Series Part III

In this new age of instant gratification in cyberspace, most young people don’t realize the lasting effects their virtual lives can have on their real lives, and it’s a lessons many are learning the hard way. Educators and cybersafety experts are working with kids to teach them the importance of taking a moment to think about what may happen if they put every thought that pops into their head out on the Internet.

Editor’s Note: This is the third and final part of a series examining the impact of technology ranging from cell phones to Facebook and Twitter to laptops in schools on today’s teenagers.

In this new age of instant gratification in cyberspace, most young people don’t realize the lasting effects their virtual lives can have on their real lives, and it’s a lessons many are learning the hard way.

Educators and cybersafety experts are working with kids to teach them the importance of taking a moment to think about what may happen if they put every thought that pops into their head out on the Internet.

What kids see as funny could be viewed as everything from cyberbullying by teachers to irresponsible behavior by parents or potential employers or even something that raises the eyebrows of an admissions officer at a college.

 

THINK BEFORE YOU SEND

There’s a saying floating around about the permanence of cyberspace: posting something to the web is like writing it on a wall in pen.

Michelle Bennett, Maple Valley police chief, did her doctoral dissertation on cyberbullying.

“The Internet is permanent,” Bennett wrote in an email interview. “There are archive websites who take a sort of ‘screenshot’ of web and data media sites and warehouse store every image and post. Careful what you post on your Facebook or MySpace or other social media site.”

Future employers, college admissions officers and other influential decision makers do view Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts, Bennett stated.

“Kids should know that future employers and college admission folks do look at your MySpace or Facebook page,” she wrote. “If a youth is posting pictures of himself underage with a bunch of beer cans, illegal drugs, partying – they will probably not be the first to be hired.”

Instead, use social media as the ultimate public relations profile, to create a brand for yourself and develop a positive image.

Bennett suggests posting photos of yourself doing good things and involved in activities.

Heidi Maurer, principal at Cedar Heights Middle School in Covington, is bringing in an anti-bullying expert to her school, Stu Cabe, on Sept. 12.

In her second year at the middle school, Maurer is working to change the culture there among students, and something that is crucial from the first day of class to deal with bullying both online and in real life.

During the first month of school, Maurer said, Cedar Heights won’t be on its usual schedule. One day a week students will be immersed in lessons about the school’s core values while the rest of the week there will be discussion about technology.

“We’re going to do technology lessons so we can develop a common foundation about technology and we’re going to go over what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate,” she said. “We’re going to teach them basic skills that we assume they already know.”

An important lesson, Maurer said, is for her students to learn to think before they send an email, a message on Facebook or a text.

Even with the problems that have come from the ability to communicate electronically, it’s not all bad, Maurer said.

“In that increased communication there’s an upside,” she said. “Students feel like they can share things they otherwise wouldn’t share.”

Kush, of wiredsafety.org, said the most effective program his organization has come across is its Teen Angels group.

“It’s a peer to peer type of thing where teenagers... they set up chapters much like you would any school based group,” Kush said. “They have what we call den mothers, adult leaders, and they work to impart this information in their schools. We’ve found for the most part kids are more receptive if they have one of their own giving them this information than if we have school assembly and some gray hair like me gets up and harangues them about how stupid they can be online.”

He encourages kids to remember the Golden Rule.

“Don’t post something online about somebody that you wouldn’t want to have posted about yourself,” Kush said. “If you’re mad at somebody think about it for a day before you post.... think before you post anything.”

He also urges parents to limit their kids use of technology, which while he knows it may not be popular, it is the best way because just monitoring a child’s Facebook profile and Twitter account is only scratching the surface of their virtual lives.

Jason Krafsky said there is some basic etiquette parents and kids should be aware of when interacting with one another.

“Parents and kids should have common respect for one another on Facebook,” he wrote. “Don’t embarrass one another, don’t comment often on each others posts, and don’t deal with family issues on Facebook. For kids and non-related adults – we think more responsibility falls on the adult to determine if a Facebook friendship is appropriate.”

Kelli Krafsky, for example, will only accept friend requests from the friends of their teenage children but she doesn’t seek them out. Meanwhile Jason Krafsky is not friends with his kids’ friends on Facebook, explaining, “It’s a personal and professional choice.”

And most importantly, don’t forget the potential impact of what is posted online, Jason Krafsky said.

“If a student is living by the old adage, ‘What happens on Facebook, stays on Facebook,’ they are fooling themselves,” he wrote. “Employers, colleges, military and parents of future love interests are all checking your Facebook profile. We have heard about teens getting kicked off sports teams, school clubs and student leadership because of what they posted on Facebook. We talked with someone from a summer camp who told us about a high school girl who wanted to be a camp counselor. Her resume was impressive. Her references checked out. Her interview went well. Her Facebook however, showed a very different person. They couldn’t take the risk of which girl would show up at the camp. They didn’t hire her.”

 

CYBER SAFETY TIPS

And with all that, young people should avoid other kinds of danger lurking in cyberspace.

“Do not friend people you don’t really know,” Kelli Krafsky wrote. “Even if you ‘met them’ online or through a  game on Facebook, don’t open the door for them to know more about you. Do not post personal information like home address, phone number or full birthday (including year) on your Facebook profile. If someone needs it, they can message you. This is an added measure of security to avoid cyber crimes and real crimes.”

Bennett has similar suggestions.

“Don’t talk to a person online  you don’t know in real life,” Bennett wrote. “Never ever agree to meet with someone you meet online that you don’t know. Don’t become the cyber-bully by bullying back when someone bullies you. Never send inappropriate pictures of yourself to anyone, you lose control of the image the moment you do.”

 


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