Nowadays, access to social media and interpersonal communication on the Internet (Social Networks, chats, online games, WhatsApp…) and the search of online information begins at much younger ages. Not surprisingly, children from 9 to 10 years old are completely capable of using computers and other devices such as smartphones with Internet access to communicate with a new different world which offers extraordinary possibilities, but may also lead them to many dangers. In order for them to make a responsible use of these tools during their teenage and adult life, parents and educators should guide and instruct them conveniently.
We must not forget that, if at school we try to stimulate communication skills with our students, we cannot separate these from other ‘new’ channels of interpersonal communication. Therefore, teaching them the proper and responsible use of this technology is extremely important and supposes a challenge for both schools and families.
At British School of Valencia we have conducted a series of training activities aimed at students and their families. Lectures on Digital Identity and Online Reputation Management for students aged 16 to 18 had to do with the Digital Citizenship and the appropriate use of the Internet lectures conducted last month for students aged between 8 and 13 (Year 4, 5, 6, 7, 8), 16 years old (Year 11) and their families.
Digital Citizenship, norms of appropriate technology use, summarizes the contents in the lectures that took place in British School of Valencia by Mr. Vicente García Platas, member of the Policía Local de Valencia, for students and families during the 18th to the 21st November 2014.
During the lectures, students learnt how to use the Internet responsibly and the dangers they face when releasing certain information to possible cyber criminals without them being aware of it.
One of the most important points of the lecture had to do with online privacy and the use of our personal data. Students were informed about the troubles of communicating with strangers through the Internet because they can never be completely sure of who they have on the other side of the screen. Providing personal information or even arranging a meeting with someone they don’t know is a terrible mistake. They can put themselves in danger without even knowing.
At these early ages, most children tend to play online games that may seem completely harmless but sometimes they are not. These games can be addictive and they also make communication with strangers much easier through forums and chats. It is vital that children learn that communicating whilst playing online games isn’t a problem if they don’t provide certain information that could expose them like sending pictures or providing personal data to people who they only know through the Internet. Whenever children want to play on these platforms, they must do so under adult supervision to guide them and inform them about what is right and what is wrong.
Other issues that were highlighted during the lecture and that we are hardly aware of, are that on the Internet anonymity doesn’t exist so we must be very careful of how we use it, what we send and what we say. Whenever we want to upload a picture on a social network in which we appear with another person, we must always ask permission before uploading it. We must never send compromising pictures to anyone, and if we receive them, we must not transmit them. This type of behaviour can turn against us and we can seriously damage somebody else with our actions. We have to be aware that once an image has been sent from our device, we lose its control forever and even though we remove that information it will never be deleted completely because our digital footprint is indelible and everything we publish on the Internet is public and can be used by anyone.
Another relevant issue that was discussed had to do with cyberbullying, which is also very present on the Internet. If we acknowledge a sudden change in attitude and behaviour in a child, they start feeling sad, they isolate, they don’t want to go to school or start suffering some type of physical illness, this child might be affected by bullying and it’s important that we realise about these changes on time and make them see that if they feel threatened or harassed they should always ask for help and never feel afraid or ashamed about it.
In conclusion, the time we spend on the Internet and what we do when we use it is our responsibility. We are the only ones who can control this and we must act correctly when using this very useful but also double-edged tool. We should always report any illegal activity that might jeopardise somebody else’s safety or even our own.