A Scary Reality

The internet is a scary place. Seriously. I've brought proof.

And of course, there's this.

And frankly, this terrifies me.

See why we shouldn't let kids roam freely on this place? Perhaps I shouldn't be so glib. Especially since so many are so serious about it. The thing is, the thing that so many fear so greatly isn't really real. People are fearing a false reality. Especially about student safety on the internet.

I had the opportunity to present at our first district Parent Share Fair this week, and I was asked to present on internet safety. Knowing what the standard presentation holds on the topic, I happily accepted the invitation with the intention of presenting a different angle. I wasn't going to be the usual authority coming in talking about all the predators there are to catch or scaring people to the point of absurdity. People do funny things when they get that scared.

I set my presentation up in three parts. How students are using the internet, the reality of the threats on the internet, and steps parents can take to help their children be responsible users and contributors in the medium. In the end, the parent responses were telling.

I was thanked for opening some eyes, and I was told this was very different than what was expected and what had been seen before. Because we didn't root our discussion in fear. We focused on the potential, the usefulness, and the realities of life online.

Ask a parent what's the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the term internet safety. I'd be as shocked as the folks above if 9 out of 10 times you don't hear something about predators. And that's what we have to address. Yes, bad things happen on the internet. And there is simply no minimizing how serious and how bad some of those things can be. But, we can address them in a way that doesn't preclude students from using one of the most powerful tools in the history of humanity. That's not hyperbole.

The reality is, it isn't what people think. There is no way I can state it better than the in-depth analysis and presentation of the realities of online predators than what you can read in this journal article. I'd highly recommend you take the time to read it in its entirety.

My message to the parents regarding online safety was essentially this. While we shouldn't pretend like there aren't any dangers at all online, we simply must understand the true nature of the danger in order to help our kids responsibly navigate the web. The reality is, there aren't scores of online predators snatching our people up. The instances of true abduction are unbelievably rare. The nature of online sexual crimes are much more akin to a statutory rape scenario than abduction. And the nature of that scenario requires ongoing interaction between a predator and a child. Which means we can teach our kids to end the interaction before it develops into the crime.

And let's also be clear about the realities of online sexual solicitations. Of the students in the study discussed in the journal article above, only 13% said they received any sort of solicitation online. And only 4% said they received an aggressive solicitation. That means that 96% of kids didn't experience even the first phase of an ongoing process that the majority of adults seem to fixate upon when talking about students using the internet. Again, that doesn't minimize the seriousness of what the 4% are experiencing, but it does put it into perspective. And understanding the true nature of what the 4% are encountering helps us work with our kids to develop the capacity to address the situations when they occur.

The more alarming statistic, to me, was that 33% of students said their parents know "little" or "very little" about what they do online. And only 5% of students said they told their parents when they received a solicitation online. That's something adults can address. And by doing so, can help develop the skills of responsibility needed in our students.

That gets to the heart of my message to parents. We simply need to be communicating with our kids about this. Talk to them. A lot. Keep talking to them about what they are doing online. What they are doing at school. What they are doing with their friends. It's a concept that's been around as long as we have, and that doesn't change because the internet came along. In fact, the internet simply amplifies it. It scales a means of communicating in a way we've never experienced.

And we can leverage that. And our kids can be safe doing so.

You can view the slidedeck from my presentation below. And I hope you help spread the word. Perhaps we can soon move beyond talking in terms of internet safety, and we can move to talking in terms of how we can help students understand life online. How adults can understand life online. And how we can all live it.

And I would be remiss if I didn't thank Dean and Scott for taking the time to talk with me and share their ideas and perspectives on the topic. They both influenced my thinking greatly, and I'm sure they could do the same with you if take the time to connect with them.

Internet safety presentation

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