Technology is an environment, not a tool and social networks are communities, not private clubs.
We decided to take a day trip one Saturday from Sydney to Mudgee. After leaving home early we stopped for breakfast at our favourite place in Blackheath, the Victory Cafe. I grabbed the newspaper to read over breakfast. On the front page was an article about a school’s response to students use of Facebook. Two comments struck me:
Mistakes made at 15 may be still retrievable by an employer 10 years …[students] are not fully mature, and the expectation that they will or even can foresee all consequences to their actions is unrealistic if not naive…Stupidities that were once forgotten now last, spread and damage in ways unknown before this decade.
Parents who are paying for the internet service have every right to insist they are a friend on Facebook. I would certainly insist on this until at least the end of year 10 if not later.
As we resumed our journey after breakfast, I kept thinking about the two statements, we were traveling west and crossing the Great Dividing Range which runs down the eastern states of Australia. It is a range of ridges and mountains that had proved a challenge to our early explorers, a barrier as they attempted to travel west and explore the land beyond the coastal regions.
I began to see crossing this ‘Great Divide’ as a metaphor of a generational disconnect with technology and young people, that generation is my generation. So here are my *thoughts on the matter:
1. Mistakes in life are redeemable. Of course as parents and educators we seek to equip young people to make good choices, however, they will, from time to time make mistakes that could have a significant impact later in life. If kids are kids, as they have been down through the ages, we must also teach resilience and give them the confidence that setbacks can be overcome and not limit their potential.
2. I am a Facebook friend to people in my community, across a range of ages. I do smile from time to time, as I read my friend’s daughter’s posts , but at least she has a good handful of responsible adults in her social network community. The best way to moderate young people’s social networking is to think of it as a community where we all belong, all ages. At our school we have a training program for parents to teach them how to use Facebook and encourage them and their wider family/community to be friends with their children. We also talk to parents about how many ‘friends’ are reasonable.
3. Speaking to my generation, that is anyone at 50, plus or minus 10 years, it’s time to get a fresh understanding of technology in our young people’s world. Back in 2007 I was interviewed by the The Australian newspaper concerning the government’s plans for Internet security, the paper quoted me:
Anne Knock, **46, of Maroubra, an executive officer with [Christian] Schools Australia, applauded the Netalert initiative as something that would protect children and “give parents tools that they can use to support their children; for kids, access to the internet is life”.
And I still believe it, even more so. Technology is a pervasive environment and social networks are real communities. Let’s adopt an approach that provides tools and empowers parents and promotes positive relationships for longevity.
*I do understand that the quotes in the newspaper were taken from a letter to the parent community, and recognized that the statements may have been taken out of context. So I am using them as a trigger for discussion.
** No longer “46 of Maroubra” – you can do the maths! And we moved in 2008.