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 participating in online.
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 online, 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, online viewing of pornography, and other disturbing digital behavior) and not necessarily the cause.
Yes, some children, tweens, and teens will purposely engage in poor online 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 online protection process.
Truly, when it comes to sexting, cyberbullying, viewing inappropriate websites, or the myriad of other less-than-desirable online 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 online 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 online 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 online conduct.
Today’s current online challenges, such as sexting, were completely unheard of several years ago, and who knows what the future may bring in the way of unforeseeable 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 online critical thinking, is a must in a well-rounded approach to internet and social media safety. As one internet and social media safety advocate states:
“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 on to your child, thus ensuring that critical thinking plays an important part in their online development.
Digital Food For Thought