Is It Time for Schools to Teach Social Media and Tech Safety?

The technology in the hands of our students is beyond the wildest dreams of this 1970s and 80s child, in which Pong on Atari was once a high watermark. Some 40 years later, my smartphone-equipped 14-year-old son has the whole world in his hands. And I mean the whole world

Even as a young adult, I could have used what my son now takes for granted. When I drove to seven baseball stadiums in seven nights the summer after graduating college in 1990, my friend Chris and I did so with paper maps and our best guesses as to time and distance. (As an aside, Chris could tell you I was a horrible navigator, totally miscalculating our arrival to Kalamazoo, Michigan, while traveling into the wee hours of the night.)

With the great expanse in information also comes a great responsibility for adults to teach our children how to use these tools well. I know I’m not alone in having to take my son’s phone away once I found some inappropriate social media posts while perusing his daily smartphone usage. As much as parents talk with their children about what is acceptable in searching the world, playing games, or interacting with their peers, we know kids will make mistakes along the way that need to be corrected.

I wonder why schools have not taken a stronger role in creating a technology curriculum beyond acceptable-use policies which are usually signed by any student using a school-owned computer. Sure, these policies were created for a child’s protection at school, but what about all the hours kids communicate through Snapchat or play Roblox? Why don’t schools have a role in creating technological norms beyond making sure violent websites aren’t accessed during the hours of 8–3?

I am surprised our schools haven’t seized the moment to develop specific technology competencies around safety, time management, and positive peer interaction to go along with the explosion of one-to-one device usage. Stories abound of children being abducted by predators or losing themselves in games for eight-hour stretches. Sadly, all forms of social apps provide multiple opportunities for harassment and bullying.  Schools have left this burgeoning and ever-changing technological burden to parents and families alone, even though the consequences of poor use stretches its way into the school.

Caregivers are their children’s primary defense with technological uses and abuses, but they shouldn’t be the only ones. It’s time for school districts to create multifaceted technology safeguards all kids can follow both inside and outside of schools. Using the devices in hand as productively as possible while maintaining the physical, social, emotional, and academic health of students is a goal worth achieving—together.

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