My life changed for the better three years ago when my daughter was born, then changed even more (for the better again, a crazy better, but better) when my son was born two months ago. Having taught at the high school level for six years beginning at the dawn of cell phone era, I was at the forefront of the all the digital changes occurring with our youth….and it was scary. I’m fortunate to have found a home at Cyber Civics, where I can use my experience and skills to teach students how to use technology ethically and confidently and also share the program with schools across the globe.
Being in this field has opened my eyes to all the wonderful and positive ways kids can use technology, but I do worry that if we as parents and educators don’t train our youth on how to use tech effectively, we could be in trouble. I am hopeful however, especially with more and more schools recognizing the urgent and growing need to equip students with the skills to keep them safe and ethical online.
Looking at my two young children, who thankfully don’t know how to swipe a device yet, I can’t help but be hopeful for them as they’ll face even bigger challenges with the ever-developing digital world. Here’s a wish list of 10 things I’m hopeful will change by the time they’re asking for their first phone.
1. Stereotypes & Photoshop in Digital Ads.I don’t want my son or daughter to be persuaded by ad companies as to what is beautiful. Hopefully by then photo-shopped images will all be flagged.
2. Stop Spread of Misinformation (aka, "fake news"). A good way to prepare kids for online lies will be to teach them how to interpret and think critically about messages they will view. The 1st Amendment will remain, so we need our kids to be smarter than the sneaks who perpetuate and spread falsehoods.
3. End Cyberbullying. Bullying has and will probably continue to exist in some form, that's why we must teach children to be ethical and caring, especially online. Teaching them how to be upstanders is essential and stricter laws and penalties for cyberbullying may be needed too.
4. Dopamine and Social Media. Tech companies know they’re making their products highly addictive for kids…just like tobacco companies knew their products were addictive too. The ding on the phone from a like or follow is more exciting then receiving a n “A” on a test, how did we get to this? It's no wonder so many tech exec's send their own kids to no- or low-tech schools... mine will go to one too.
5. Privacy and Information Gathering Need to Be More Transparent. Who really reads the fine print on anything? Why can’t terms of agreement pages be easier to read, with bullet points instead of pages and pages of legal type documents. Everyone should know exactly what they’re giving up for a “free” app.
6. Better Flagging System for Online Predators. I imagine law enforcement works very hard to prevent predators online, but this is an epidemic and more needs to be done. I’m shocked to hear stories from my students about kids getting preyed on through gaming or other social media sites.
7. More Women in Tech! The tide is shifting, maybe in 10 years it will have been a seismic shift…hopefully!
8. Digital Literacy and Citizenship Lessons in Every Middle School. This is an upward trend, but more states need to be passing legislation requiring these topics be taught before students enter the crazy world of high school. Who wouldn’t want their child to be ethical, safe and smart online?
9. Kids Being Positive Producers Online, Instead of Mindless Consumers. This training begins at home and should be fostered in school. We need better parental role modeling too. What does your digital diet look like? Do you make more content than you consume? How much time are you in front of a screen? Is this how you want your child to view normalcy? Try to go 24 hours without tech as a family and you’ll remember all the wonderful activities you use to do as a child.
10. More Safeguards for Kids Using Social Media. We should be able to verify if someone
is actually old enough to use a site or app. Maybe the minimum age should be 15 in some instances? There should be better screening of posts before they go live. I don’t trust the tech industry to have the best interest of our kids in mind. I guess it’s up to us as parents and educators to drive these important points home to our kids through education and practice.
These are just 10 of the thousands of thoughts that go through my mind daily about my children’s futures. One can only hope for better safety in the online world. We can try, but in the end, kids need training and practice before having a phone constantly in their pockets. My favorite metaphor for this is driver’s ed. We don’t just give kids a car and send them on their way, nor should we with the awesome power of digital devices.
Peter joined the Cyber Civics team in 2016 with experience in both education and marketing. Peter has always had a passion for teaching and working with kids. In 2011 he made the switch from the business sector and earned his Single Subject Teaching Credential in English. He was a teacher and head coach for both the Boys and Girls Tennis Programs at Aliso Viejo High School in Aliso Viejo, CA for the next 6 years. Peter now works full time for Cyber Civics. In his role as Outreach Director he is in constant contact with schools, marketing the program, and helping schools onboard and implement. He also teaches Cyber Civics at Journey School, and makes presentations to schools and organizations. He resides in San Clemente, CA with his wife and tow young children and feels this is “the perfect fit” for his passions and skill sets. Peter earned a degree in Communication from the University of Portland in 2001.