The Age of Digital

The Age of Digital

I was born in 2003, and by the time I started Kindergarten I had begun playing with technology. In grade 3, everyone I knew was spending their time on Animal Jam or Club Penguin and by middle school, we all knew how to work a computer well enough that teachers started asking us for help when they had problems. Despite how early we started accessing the online world, digital safety wasn’t taken very seriously.

Digital safety has never been realistic in my opinion. Teachers repeated over and over that anything you put online was on there forever. We watched countless movies where girls would be bullied over text or where somehow the whole school saw their private pictures or about how creepy old men would try and get you to meet them at a park. But none of this was realistic. There were no mass texts getting sent to the whole school telling us some girl was a loser and men didn’t lie about their age, they knew how to make young girls trust them without that. Teachers didn’t seem to understand what really happened online. They didn’t know that a 14-year-old needed to learn about grooming or that half the time there was no crazy rumour or picture that started it, and that cyberbullying was much more subtle. Here are some examples of the videos we would watch in class. These aren’t the exact videos but they’re very similar.

In grade 9, we had an assignment meant to teach us about our digital footprint; we would Google ourselves and see what came up. It was meant to be a reflection on how much of our lives could be found by others, but this didn’t shock us at all. Of course our whole lives could be found online. We each had several social media accounts and since we’d been born every news article had been posted online. It was no surprise when I could find information about soccer tournaments from when I was 9 or school awards from grade 1.

At the end of high school, the tactic moved away from scaring us about how easily everyone could find us and more into how much technology knew about us. We watched The Social Dilemma in my grade 12 Social Studies class, and I remember the class debating with the teachers about how we didn’t mind scary accurate algorithms and that it didn’t phase us that social media apps were intended to make us addicted to them. We had made these conclusions without a bunch of researchers telling us. It was tiring to be taught these things as if we hadn’t had first-hand experience for almost a decade. They dumbed everything down, and it should come as no shock that this just caused kids to rebel. If you tell a teenager not to do something they’re going to prove to you that they can.

Scaring kids into obedience doesn’t work. What I would have found helpful were lessons on how to create a life separate from social media; how to set healthy boundaries. I would have liked to know that bullying isn’t just an online troll telling you to die, but that it’s also the girls in your grade sending your post around and laughing at you behind your back. I would have liked to know about how to make a positive digital footprint and make the internet benefit me. Digital citizenship is so often approached from the negative side and it’s no wonder that people can’t escape the toxicity of the online world when that’s all they’ve been taught. Digital citizenship can be difficult to understand as technology surpasses us, but we don’t need to understand every app to teach children about what real bullying looks like or what it looks like to be manipulated or coerced online. I believe shifting our lessons towards developing lasting and positive online impressions will help children understand the benefits of the digital world.



4 thoughts on “The Age of Digital

  1. Interesting take. I do agree with you about most of the ads, and scaring kids not doing much good. so just to play Devil’s advocate, do you think the people involved in human trafficking ever troll the internet for victims? When I grew up there was no internet, so we had the scare adds about drugs.

    1. Oh 100%. There’s some incredibly scary things out there. When I was in middle school they had to warn us about this app that would challenge you to dares that eventually told you to commit suicide and they would apparently track your address and stalk you. I think those things should of course be taught, but to me issues like human trafficking are so much broader than just digital. We need to start teaching kids about online behaviour and their digital footprint but we can’t overlook the issues of self respect, boundary setting, and recognizing inappropriate behaviour from adults. I personally think digital citizenship should lean more into how to create a positive environment and that other issues should be addressed in all of their contexts, not just digital.

  2. I agree Ava, instead of scaring us of the internet, it would have been helpful to learn how to create a positive social footprint. Great post!

  3. I agree with you Ava a 100%. Scaring students about the dangers of the internet will, of course, scare them at first, but that fear easily fades away. Just like you, I have been on the internet ever since I was like very young (I was born in 2002) and I could tell everyone here that students and kids do not care about the dangers of the internet unless it happens to them. I remember back then when everyone is romanticizing the “Deep Web”, or “Dark Web” and I admit I was too. This is an example of a bad digital footprint. I am glad that people are taking it more seriously that these sites are no joke and that we should be mindful of what we view online. So, teaching students how to safely wander around the web instead of teaching the dangers is a better education for them. Great take!

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