I am one step ahead of my 10-year-old son on my iPhone skills, but that's only because I know my iTunes password and he doesn't. He can text faster on the cheap cell phone I bought him than he can type on the cheap laptop I bought him. How am I going to keep up when he starts using those tools to keep up with his friends? And how will I handle the kids who think he's weird?
Kids pick up technological skills faster than emotional skills, which can only escalate the damage they can do to one another without proper training on social media. That means we all need to learn up. I still find it odd that people announce major life events--pregnancies, engagements, deaths, births--on Facebook. But then again, I also learned to type in a high school class on an IBM Selectric. (My teacher thought I had an outstanding future as a secretary.)
Digital literacy needs to be a family affair, a school affair, a community affair. The most recent disturbing statistic on cyberbullying came from the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, showing that 25 percent of teens who dated said their love interests threatened or harassed them online. Other research shows as many as 30 percent of teens have been involved in some form of "sexting"--or text messaging of sexual content. The Web site "Love is Respect" spells out some of the signs of digital abuse, including "Puts you down on status updates" and "Uses sites like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and others to keep constant tabs on you."
The education system hasn't totally caught up with this phenomenon. The Cyberbullying Research Center has many suggestions for schools and parents, like making sure that cyberbullying is part of all anti-bullying training materials. But there are no easy answers. An insightful story on Spotlight" explains the delicacy of teachers' involvement on Facebook or Twitter. Should teachers just stay away? Or should they engage?
How can Luddite adults (like me) stay on top of the digital communications that tech-savvy kids use and learn from? How can schools stay on top of it? What are the essential skills that kids need to learn in a digital environment? How should they be taught? How can adults prevent emotional scarring from digital abuse? Can teen communications be monitored? Should they be monitored?