Cyber Smart: Kids' Online Lives And Digital Safety
- October 19th, 2011
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During the Children’s Advertising Review Unit conference earlier this month, we had the pleasure of meeting some of Wired Safety’s Teenangels and Tweenangels. They’re students who have been specially trained about online activity and the risks of digital devices — everything from online safety to privacy to bullying. They regularly share their knowledge of the online world with their peers, parents, schools, government officials, and community members; and at the CARU event, they told us about the program and their online lives.
The panel of Tween- and Teenangels included seven students aged 13-17.
When asked the most important thing for adults to know about the program, one student immediately said, “parents are involved too. Some kids are afraid to talk to their parents… so they need to tell their kids that it’s okay for them to talk to them” about problems online. Another student offered that it’s like a “mafia code of silence among kids. They don’t tell parents because they don’t want to get in trouble or drag their other friends into it.”
Cyberbullying was clearly on these kids’ minds. “It isn’t just a bunch of stories, it’s actually happening.” A Teenangel described it as six degrees of separation; everyone knows someone who’s been affected by cyberbullying, and it doesn’t just affect the student it happened to, but affects their friends who are helping the student deal with it, which in turn affects the student’s parents, etc., making it a societal problem.
Teen- and Tweenangels have done research with their peers about cyberbullying. Most students don’t think they have been cyberbullied when asked in general, but when presented with a definition, they realize that they’ve dealt with such issues. A Teenangel explained that it’s because “they think it has to be something really threatening or else it’s not cyberbullying.”
Despite knowing that they were not supposed to have Facebook pages before age 13, four of the seven students had signed up for the site while they were underage. As a Tweenangel explained, “most of my friends had [a Facebook account], and I really didn’t get the concept of Facebook. My dad was on it.” His dad helped him set up an account, saying he was 14. They lied about their ages setting up their account because they saw there was a cut off for those under age 13.
Students would like to see updated privacy policies on sites that they can understand. Currently they’re too confusing and long, and students don’t want to read them. They would rather see them in video or animation form. Even better, they’d like to see rules about what they can do — a code of conduct — rather than what they can’t do. Rules could include being respectful of others.
Asked what they’d like to have for better cyber safety, students want a “24-hour help line or website you can go to if you’re being bullied.” They want it staffed by people their own ages to help them. Students don’t know how to report problems and it feels like it takes a long time to get results. They’re afraid of judgment and getting in trouble, so it would have to be a trusted place for them to go. They trust parents and other adults, but they trust each other more.
The Tween- and Teenangels’ parents have rules for them, but they trust them to be responsible online. Although they’ve been trained to be responsible online, they admit to having email addresses their parents don’t know about; they have acted as their parents (responding to emails to get access to sites); they know their parents’ passwords.
Clearly students are cyber-smart and know how to game the system to get access to what they want. Rather than putting up more and more barriers for kids to break down, teaching them how to behave responsibly may be the better route to helping them stay safe online.