We face many challenges bringing up children in the age of the internet. One of the most pressing challenges is that our kids will be, or already are, creating their own online persona on sites like Facebook and Twitter, sometimes armed with information and facts about the opportunities and risks, sometimes not.
Many will enter in to the process with little understanding, awareness or concern about what their activities online may lead to, or have an impact on, later in life. Many will enter in this online world through their parents; many of whom are already reserving Facebook pages for their kids.
Online reputations are easy to create, time consuming to grow and maintain, but can be dashed and destroyed in minutes. Our persona(s) online can also have direct and dire consequences on our personal lives too (search online for high profile stories of people who have lost jobs through loose social media comments; their are loads of them)
As parents I think we have a strong obligation to explain and outline the potential damage our children could be doing to their future and current self. We should explain the dangers of meeting up with strangers, we should explain about identity theft, phishing attacks and all of the other nasty things that can happen online. We should explain to them about strong passwords and cryptography and daisy chaining of accounts. We should talk about basic security like https and good house keeping rules like firewalls and anti-virus. We should explain about relationships and interpersonal communication.
Or we could let them enjoy themselves and not freak them out.
Finding a balance is what’s needed. And that balance will vary depending on the individual.
We sacrifice a significant amount of our security to live an online persona; so too will our kids. It’s our jobs as parents to help them through this by giving them the tools and information to be safer online, but not to scare them away from the benefits that the internet can bring.
But all of this teaching and education should not lie solely with the parent. Those who can influence and direct our education system will need to step up and get involved too. But teaching web security and web safety in schools will raise an interesting challenge of consistency between school and parents.
As with all mass standardization (i.e. the education system) it often takes a while to get the material and information in a structure that can be mass-produced, mass-distributed and mass-taught. Will the online social channels, society itself and security threats have moved on by the time it is taught…I suspect so.
I think our children’s future will be challenging but exciting and full of opportunity. If we can keep them safe online, encourage them to build real-world relationships and treat their online persona with respect – they will explore ways of using the internet we can only dream of. The challenge is in ensuring we don’t have burned out, stressed and paranoid kids and teens.
Schools will have an increasingly important role to play in our children’s safe future online. Are they up to it?
I hope so.
Whether they are up for it or not though is somewhat irrelevant if we as parents are not.
After all, education begins in the home.