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As an educational blogger I would love to think, that once I reflected on an issue in education, and addressed it in my blog, everyone would clearly understand the error of their ways and fall in line according to my sage advice. Of course the reform movement would move forward, and I would expect a small plaque would be placed on a bench in front of the lobby of some school commemorating my great contribution to the system that we call education.

That being said, the reality is that many educational bloggers have to continue to reflect and continue to revisit subjects that are like festering sores on the body of education. As we move forward in time, we are confronted with new technologies and new ideas that force us to make changes in our lives. If we make no change, we are destined to live in a place that will no longer exist for the majority. The culture moves on leaving some behind. This may be okay for some adults, but it is not okay for the children we are educating for the purpose of not only living in the future, but hopefully thriving. It is always frustrating when answers to problems are so obvious to some, but a large number still don’t get it.

With that in mind, I am again writing about a subject that continually pops up in media, wherever media may be these days. I was prompted to write this post when I saw yet another blogger writing on this very same subject, forcing me to again comment, again reflect, and start my own post, again. The post was“When Should We Introduce Social Media?” by Brian Bennet.

As parents and educators, one thing that becomes immediately apparent dealing with kids, is that you cannot control, limit, or stop kids from growing up. It happens, and we must accept it as a fact of life. Along with that growing up, kids adapt to the culture to which they are exposed, and make it their own. There is nothing adults can do about that either. The best adults can do, is to try to prepare kids to make the right decisions and to be critical thinkers in arriving at those decisions. That will prepare their generation for moving forward without the adults’ generation which in reality will be left behind.

Unless we are Luddites,we have no chance of stopping the future development of Technology and all that it affects. Technology is a given in the future of our children. Social Media is one such effect of technology. It is here and it is being embraced by young and old. It is accepted and will continue in the future to be with us. We can debate its effect on society, its merits, its pitfalls, and its relevance, but we can’t ignore it, hoping that it will go away. The same can be said of most technology. If we can’t control it, we must certainly learn and teach how to deal with it. Blinders may work well on horses, but they look silly on people.

What individuals do on the internet, stays on the internet for the entire world to see. This is referred to as a digital footprint. Everyone should Google themselves to determine their footprint. Most people began leaving their footprints as they became involved with social media. They made that choice as adults. In this post however, I am talking about kids. Kids today begin leaving their Digital footprints on the internet at birth. Let that sink in, AT BIRTH! “You are crazy, how can that be?” you may ask. The proud parents of any new-born will predictably announce, for all to see, by the essential announcement tool at hand today, Social Media. They continue their storytelling of their never-ending adventure with their children with every new milestone or vacation recorded on Facebook, Twitter or personal Blog.

Of course, you say, but the kid is not involved with Social Media! Not so fast. The toy manufacturers were in this, and saw where it was going, and recognized its potential way before parents and teachers. Webkinz World has over 5 million members and Penguin Club has over 12 million. Surprise! They are Social Media Sites for toddlers and kids under 10. Chances are if your toddler is not a member, he or she knows someone who is, and that someone is telling your toddler all about it. Now here is a ridiculous question: When should we introduce kids to Social Media? A better question must be: When will we begin to teach kids to use Social Media responsibly? If they are social Media aware as toddlers, and they are watching their parents and siblings modeling the use of Social Media at home, the age of introduction is a moot point.

Now that that question has been asked and answered, we need to ask another more important one, so that we may address our responsibility. Social Media is here to stay. It is now, and will continue to be, in the lives of our children. When will we begin to deal with that? Blocking and filtering are just stupid. We will look back at those policies some day and ask; What the hell were we thinking? We need our kids to learn how to be safe, collaborate, interact, critically analyze content and most importantly create content. In order to learn that it must be taught. We do not teach by blocking and filtering. Leave the blinders to the horses.

I live on Long Island, New York. We are fortunate to own a second house on Fire Island. I know what that means to the future of my daughters. I made sure that they could swim before they could walk. I was responsible for their safety and ability to thrive in the environment in which they were to live. I also taught them about Social Media and the internet. They now teach me. When will this senseless debate end?

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Comment by TJ Wolfe on September 12, 2011 at 12:36am

Couldn't agree with you more! Young people are online and using social media to connect! As a middle school teacher I saw this all the time. I began implementing as much technology in my class as possible. When students became excited about our class together, other teachers noticed. I helped them as much as I could, until the planning of my own lessons became difficult. I decided to leave the classroom and go back to school to find a way to help teachers incorporate technology in their classrooms, in an easy and efficient way. I came up with a solution I believe helps any teacher, no matter where they are on the technology understanding and implementation spectrum. 

 

Again, I couldn't agree with you more, Mr. Whitby, young people are online and using Social Media (SM), but who are they going to learn from when it comes to their digital footprint? Teachers need to consider spending time understanding technology themselves before they can tell their students what is good and not good on the internet and through SM. Please visit www.thecatchsystem.com for details on how I think teachers can be helped in their learning and understanding of technology! Thanks for the great post!

Comment by Lori Callister on September 7, 2011 at 1:14pm

Your comments are spot on. Dr. Patricia Agatston, a national cyberbullying expert, notes that cutting off access will never be a solution. She says students who are at risk at home are the most at risk to be cyberbullied or to be a cyberbully. She spoke at a breakfast at ISTE 2010 about the research on students and technology use, what puts youth at risk online, the key components of cyberbullying behavior, six key findings from the field of prevention, and what you can do as an educator to help keep kids safe. It was sponsored by Learning.com, and is posted here for you to view: http://bit.ly/nCiDhR

 

Comment by Chris McEnroe on September 2, 2011 at 1:57pm
Hi Thomas.  I don't think the debate will ever end completely.  I think educators who see the value and imperative of social media need to proceed and create a body of work that demonstrates the value of the tool, and then be prepared to make good, persuasive arguments when we inevitably need to address folks who resist the idea.  I often get frustrated when I feel like I have to convince adults of what appears obvious, but my job is to convince nonetheless.  So I find it more useful to focus on making the best case I can and offering it for what it's worth and simply move forward in my own teaching.
Comment by Tracy Mercier on September 2, 2011 at 5:52am
I agree! Our fears attempt to control what children do and in the end it makes things exponentially worse. Will teaching children how to use social media appropriately eliminate cyber bullying and other digital offenses? Probably not, but it will dramatically decrease it. When you show children HOW TO use something they typically use it in that way. I also think one aspect of using social media in the classroom gets underplayed. Kids, like most adults, have this perception that social media is just for frivolous socializing. However, if we teach kiddoes the potential for social media - learning and sharing - they will see it's power, use it that way, and appreciate it. When we show the power and potential, we change it's purpose and ultimately how it is used.

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