Making Parents Accountable: The Missing Piece to Digital Citizenship Education

Fellow #ECI832 colleague Kirsten Hansen raised a good point a while back regarding school involvement in out of school cyberbullying incidents, and to what extent, legally and otherwise, schools should be part of the mix.

This is something that I believe needs addressing here in this province (and otherwise) in order to clarify exactly where bullying online becomes a school related issue. This has serious ramifications for schools and their staff if they later are held accountable for not doing enough to stop the bullying or whatever that drove a child to take their own life, or something similar.

And it’s this that makes me realize that there is another big issue which I believe isn’t focused on enough by both our SK Digital Curriculum, or by Ribble’s 9 Elements, namely educating parents and guardians to be accountable, not only for their own online behaviour, but also for their children’s. From almost all that I’ve read so far regarding digital citizenship, there always seems to be the lame excuse that because parents grew up pre-internet, they are digital ‘immigrants’ and cannot relate to their children’s digital immersion. And so, as educators it falls upon us to teach and police the students in our schools about being a good Digital Citizen.

This seems to me to be a huge cop out. First of all it makes parents sound like they are incapable of monitoring their children in a responsible way to ensure they are being good digital citizens. It also contests the idea that adults, with a fully-matured pre-frontal cortex, are incapable of empathy. True, not every parent is stellar, there are some un-popped kernels in the bag to be sure, but that doesn’t necessarily make all adults duds.

Let’s face it, the majority of parents who have children in both elementary and high schools are using their phones, ipads, laptops, etc. for long extended periods of time, mabye not as much as their children, who likely have a fewer responsibilities, and thus more free time, but parents are still Facebooking, texting, downloading movies and music (illegally), updating their fantasy football pools, Pintresting, Yelping, writing long winded Amazon reviews, trolling others on the cbc.ca messageboards, etc.

Being active online is not unique to children and teens. We adults, even those who predate the birth of the internet, and can still recall watching B&W TV as a child navigate many of the same spaces as their grandchildren do. Children watch their parents, their phones constantly hovering in front of their faces, the look of excitement (and drool) on Dad’s face when their pocket buzzes, the frustrated sigh when Mom’s Amazon order shows that it’s been delayed. Perhaps parents themselves are naive of the consequences that their actions have on their little sponges, who are gleefully absorbing the interactions their parent has with their smartphones, thus further normalizing to them what an addiction looks like, and then mimicking them.

And yes, I know that while we adults have adopted to this new lifestyle, our children are born into it (First World Problem?). My friend who I carpool to work with is hilarious. She was telling me about how she recently read an article where teachers were feeling the need to rework the agenda message home, into something either more ‘Pintrest-y’ (you know what I’m talking about), or with strings around wrists, or stickers on the student’s T-shirts. The teachers felt that they needed to be more accountable to the parents, and this would help to visibly show the effort they were putting into all their students’ lives on a daily basis. Well… except for one teacher, the one all other teachers fear because she shoots straight from the hip, called all the other teachers out, telling them point blank “What happened to the kids having to memorize something, or writing it in their agendas?”

As teachers we all seem to enjoy heaping more and more responsibility on our shoulders, until we passive aggressively begin tying colorful yarn around little Johnny’s wrist in an effort to shout out at his parents that you’re doing so much, but not getting any recognition. So, that being said (in a drawn out, off-topic way), why can’t we simply dump this responsibility of Digital Citizenship accountability back into the parent’s laps, perhaps with a helpful note attached?

Let’s use this digital citizenship curriculum as an excuse to build a stronger relationship with our student’s parents. I believe that this positive connection to home, with a straightforward easy to implement program that will help keep their child responsible online will not come across as condescending, but instead will be a relief to busy parents who haven’t spent any real time reflecting upon their child’s relationship with technology, and what that might look like down the road. This is especially poignant with parents who have young children in elementary school, as starting a responsible technology use program at home will be much easier to sell to young child, than to disrupt a teen’s already established online presence. Plus, parents, once educated, can hopefully begin using the same routines and ideas to reflect upon their own digital use, and perhaps find that they have been providing a poor example to their children of how to use technology in a balanced responsible way.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, in an 2012 clinical report on talking to kids and tweens about social media and sexting provided some good ideas on how to integrate a healthy digital lifestyle into your home

  • Get a social media profile yourself (if you don’t already have one). It will provide you the opportunity to “friend” your kids and monitor them online. This is one way of modeling proper behaviour in social network settings, and will provide a ‘check and balance’ system by having an adult within arm’s reach of their profile.
  • Make the effort to speak about your own daily ongoings on social media, as a means to model, as well as a means of asking your own children about their own online interactions in a non-invasive way.
  • Keep the laptop and other digital tools in a public part of your home if at all possible. This will help you to monitor your child’s online social media use.
  • Create a strategy for monitoring your kids’ online social media use, and be sure you follow through.

What you might have noticed was missing was the need to approach this in a non-judgemental way where the child, especially if they are a teen, is a much a part of the decision making process as the parent(s) are. They also missed out on providing a scope and sequence approach where the monitoring of a child’s social networking is initially constant, in order to model and supervise best practices, and over time withdraw, once convinced that your child is capable and shows good judgement.

Simply sending home these bullets in the agenda wouldn’t be sufficient. In the next coming weeks I plan on finding much more information in order to provide parents an easy to follow, non-judgemental approach to educating themselves on best practices in digital citizenship, and how best to create a positive environment at home that supports and prepares their children to be capable digital citizens. This resource could act as double duty for a means of educating teachers into how to properly model and support their students, as we all know many teachers are parents themselves, and perhaps haven’t thought through how much of an effect it may have on their students or own children.  

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11 thoughts on “Making Parents Accountable: The Missing Piece to Digital Citizenship Education

  1. It seems that often parents hold the teachers accountable for a lot of things but don’t always seem to want to help fix the problem themselves. I agree that we can’t just send home a list of ideas to help improve digital citizenship for their student. We need to involve the parents more and teach them too. I am not sure how many parents would attend a digital citizenship seminar because in my experience I haven’t seen a lot of parents come to information nights or meet the teacher nights (maybe that’s just at the schools I’ve been at). But maybe they feel that those nights don’t offer them a whole lot of new information so it’s not worth their time to come. Perhaps a digital citizenship seminar would provide them something new, interesting and relevant making it worthwhile for them to come. Would be interesting to host an evening session to see what the turnout is and go from there.

  2. I totally agree with both of you that there is a need to include parents’ involvement in their child’s/children’s education and be active participants in terms of learning. When I was the Grade 1 Inuktitut teacher years ago, it was always a battle trying to invite parents to come to our class. I believe that is still the case in the elementary school here in Rankin Inlet. I have to admit that as a parent, I often don’t visit the school either. I need to get involved more, show my children that I care about their education. These are my thoughts at the moment.

  3. Jeremy, great post having parents involved in digital citizenship education is essential keeping students in how to be safe and ethical while engaging online. It would be nice to have parents just take on this responsibility, but I agree with your point that as educators we need to ensure that all kids learn these skills, and therefore can’t chance that the “homework will get done”. By providing tips and information for parents you are encouraging the conversation to at least take place – awareness is the step in moving everyone in the right direction. After a digital citizenship parent presentation I co-facilitated with police officers from the ICE unit, I had a couple parents who later emailed suggesting that these types of presentations should be mandatory. Although the parent had the right idea, I wish all parents would seethe need to get informed – but I suppose it’s babysteps!

    Incidentally, I noticed Common Sense media and Media Smarts have some great resources for parent exploration of digital citizenship.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Jeremy. I have to say- I haven’t figured out where I stand on this topic. As a mom, and a teacher that is kind of starting to realize more of the ‘big’ picture things with digital citizenship – I would be lying if I said I had it all cased and was doing a stellar job of digital citizen-izing (?) my children. I think I have a pretty good understanding of it in a ‘school/teacher’ sense – but that has not yet fully realized itself in my parental role. I constantly struggle with teaching them about balance and all of the other wonderful things- and how to not be the ‘technology warden’ in my house.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is- I feel that if someone who knows and understands the facets of digital citizenship can struggle with the when’s and the how’s, can we push it back to parents who may be closer to the ‘visitor’ end of the continuum than the ‘resident’ side?

  5. Thanks for all the comments! Glad I’m not the only one who feels like this is an issue that needs ironing out a little better. I’m not sure whether we need to persuade parents who are merely ‘visitors’ into full blown ‘residents,’ but like anything that might separate a child from their parents, a parent needs to embrace, or at the very least try to understand the interests their children have. I think looking back at this time 30 years from now, we’ll compare it to the seatbelt or driving lessons or something else similar, in that it’s common sense to have this, and a surprise that it wasn’t put into place as soon as the technology was invented.

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