Through my Internet and Social Media safety presentations, it has become very apparent to me that a large percentage of parents are looking for a quick “technological” fix, to cope with the undesirable behavior that some young people may be partaking in on-line.
Although hardware solutions (such as routers) , and software solutions (such as malware protection, filters and parental monitoring software) are important ingredients when it comes to parental oversight and the protection of our children while they are on-line, truly these technological fixes are nothing more than “digital inoculations” designed to protect against incoming or outgoing threats. Like any inoculation, often booster shots are required to ensure that the original inoculations stay viable to any threat variants. Given the almost monthly changes in technology, these booster shots (hardware and software upgrades) are extremely important. It is my opinion that these technological fixes, although important, are only treating the symptoms of poor critical thinking (sexting, digital peer aggression, on-line viewing of pornography and other disturbing digital behavior) and not necessarily the cause.
Yes, some children, tweens and teens will purposely engage in poor on-line digital behavior; many however, are good digital citizens who do not purposely seek out or engage in such undesirable behavior. Having said this, even good digital citizens will sometimes end up on inappropriate sites by complete accident, thus why proper “technological fixes” are an important ingredient in the on-line protection process.
Truly however, when it comes to sexting, cyber bullying, viewing inappropriate websites or the myriad of other less than desirable on-line behavior that our youth engage in, the real issue is that of poor critical thinking. In other words the child, tween or teen often “voluntarily” chose to participate in the undesirable behavior, often not understanding the consequences of doing so.
Teaching on-line critical thinking is the keystone when it comes to Internet and Social Media safety, but to do this, both the child and the parent need to understand what these on-line consequences are, which could include embarrassment, reputation destruction and in a worse case scenario suicide to name a few. Knowledge and the understanding and application of that knowledge is power. Knowledge can help a child, tween or teen make the right decision when it comes to their on-line conduct.
Today’s current on-line challenges, such as sexting, were unheard of several years ago, and who knows what the future may bring in the way of unforseeable less than desirable behaviour. But again I stress that sexting is the effect, and poor critical thinking is the cause. If we as parents, teachers and law enforcement continue to concentrate on the effects of poor critical thinking, by using quick technological fixes alone, then we will always be playing a game of catch-up when it comes to teaching our children how to become good digital citizens. Teaching good digital ethics and morals, combined with open and honest discussions surrounding cause and effect of poor on-line critical thinking, is a must in a synergistic approach to Internet and Social Media safety. As one Internet and Social Media safety advocate stated:
“While tools ranging from content filters to anti-malware have their place, they are not a substitute for the lifelong protection process provided by critical thinking. The best technological filter is not the one that runs on a device, but rather the software that runs in our heads”
As a parent get involved, learn the technology and become a good digital citizen, it’s not as hard as you think. By doing so, you as the parent can then pass this knowledge onto your child, thus ensuring that critical thinking plays an important part in their on-line development.