In the wake of the ‘Order for Closure’ fiasco that was visited upon Al Upton’s poor Mini-Legends, I’ve been doing some reading of the cybersafety research, trying to get some perspective on schools’ and parents’ cyberfears. The Creating and Connecting (pdf) report, put out in 2007 by the National School Boards Association in the US, makes several significant points in relation to students, social networking, and school responses:
- School policies and fears are out of whack with students’ and parents’ experiences of problems such as cyberbullying, cyberstalking and unwelcome encounters. Only a minority of students reported having had any kind of negative experience with social networking the previous three months, and even fewer parents reported that their children had had such experiences over the previous six months (p. 5)
- The problems encountered by young people online were the same as those encountered in any other media or in everyday life, namely inappropriate pictures and language (p. 5-6). Personally directed incidents were relatively rare, although of serious concern (p. 6).
- The majority of students are engaging in safe online behaviour, says the research (p. 6). This is also backed up by the Pew Internet Project’s Digital Footprints report, which shows that younger users of online sites are more to restrict access to their profiles and to withhold ‘hard’ information about themselves than are older users (pp. 21-22).
- In a pronounced example of schools’ misunderstanding of young people’s online behaviour and their attendant cybersafety awareness, the report demonstrates that fully 52% of school district leaders believed that “students providing personal information online has been a ‘significant problem’ in their schools”; and yet only 3% of students claimed to have ever handed over to strangers any personal information, including things such as their email address, IM details or chat name (p. 6).
Reports such as this one show that the same ‘stranger danger’ messages that we’ve always used with our kids also work online, and that children haven’t all of a sudden lost their ability to identify dodgy types, just because things are on the Web these days. Policies that prevent student access to the internet are reactive, arbitrary, unimaginative, and primarily about legal bottom-covering, rather than the realities of online life. Education is the key, and it seems to be working amongst parents and their children. Schools need to learn from that.