Many social workers, psychotherapists and counselors work as consultants to school districts, either as school employees or visiting experts. That said, 21st century mental health providers are often lax in providing strong consultation about improving digital literacy and digital citizenship. A few mental health “experts” provide consultation in the form of hysteric responses. “PROTECT THE CHILDREN,” “PROTECT YOURSELVES” their workshop ads proclaim. But when you drill down into these expert opinions, it usually consists of very little proactive, just things to scare you and even the exhortation to lock down kids’ internet usage by telling them to stay off of Facebook.
School personnel, when faced with the fear-mongering and suggestion of lockdowns, have few other options to choose from. Some districts adopt a combination of lockdown and denial: They set up a firewall that allows a small fraction of the internet in, and then act as if the rest of it is none of their business. This might have worked (or seemed to) when 91% of Americans weren’t on the internet and 78% of adolescents didn’t own cell phones, but gone are the days when schools can turn a blind eye to internet usage.
I think it is the responsibility of Twenty-First Century educators and clinicians to help kids learn how to be good digital citizens, and to help their parents help them do that. So I wanted to share an idea and a freebie with you so you can work with your own local school to increase awareness of Facebook and privacy settings.
You see, 25% of people don’t bother with their Facebook privacy settings, according to AllTwitter, and according to research from the Pew Group it is even higher in the adolescent population, 40% of whom report keeping their Facebook all or mostly Public. Is this a factor in identity theft and online harassment? Yes. But is fear-mongering the solution? Absolutely not.
So I took an half hour today to draft a letter schools can send home to help them hold a “School-Wide Settings Day,” an awareness-raising event that can educate parents and kids by showing them how to preview their Facebook page as if anyone in the public world could see it. I threw in a couple of reflective questions about the imagined viewers, and links to how to set your privacy settings. So now I am posting it on my blog for educators and school administrators to access for free. I designed it for high school students, but encourage you to edit it a little and use for middle-schoolers as well.
Here you go: School-Wide Settings Day Example Letter.
Why am I doing this? Several reasons.
1. Digital Citizenship and Youth Digital Literacy are important causes to me. I believe that my colleagues and I have an ethical responsibility to educate the next generation in areas of digital citizenship and literacy whether we like it or not, feel busy enough, or just don’t wanna. I’m tired of colleagues wailing about media-hyped concepts like “Cyberbullying” and “Sexting” and confusing their emoting with learning more about what research says about teen internet use. To that end I am also including a free Prezi for you on the topic, which you can probably view in 10 minutes or less.
2. I’m tired of people confusing worry and discussion with effort. In the time some administrators or educators take lamenting about kids these days on the Internet, I created a project and a mailing that you are free to use, modify and reproduce to effect change in your school. As a former school employee I know how limited time and personnel is, so the letter is designed to be a minimal amount of both. It requires someone to hand out the letter and a homeroom teacher to collect them. I’ve also modeled what I think is an attainable school goal: %100 privacy setting awareness on Facebook.
3. I want you to hire me. Yes, I said it. These freebies are a loss leader for my business. I do nationwide presentations, teaching and consultation on issues involving mental health and emerging technologies. And I am painfully aware that many schools and administrators find consultants of little use because they don’t offer tangible solutions and innovations. So, here, have a tangible solution and innovation on me, then think about hiring me for much more.
4. I want to see what happens next. Will school administrators embrace this challenge? Will colleagues and parents download the letter and approach their school districts to hold a School-Wide Settings Day? I don’t know. But if I can take 30 minutes to try to change the world American adolescents live in and raise their digital literacy, can’t you?
Mike Langlois, LICSW
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