My students are a generation of producers, I knew this curriculum would engage them as such. They have grown up surrounded by technology; they know how to use and create with it. My interest was to help them create poems, art, or experiences that they would be proud to post online. I aspired to help my students discover an online “persona” that they would be proud of when they got older. I decided to embrace their status as “producers” and jump into them creating and posting safely.
Jaron Lanier ends his thought-provoking preface to his book “You Are Not a Gadget” by saying, “You have to be somebody before you share yourself.”27 Young students love to share small details about themselves when given opportunities to talk. This made me wonder: if my students had social media accounts would they be authentic or personas? I would guide my students to create a poem or other type of digital media that would reflect their authentic self. While being authentic may seem challenging to adults, it is extremely natural for young students to behave this way as they have not been influenced by outer forces yet. For the most part first graders do not behave differently to “fit in” in a certain way.
My students come to my classroom already knowing how to post something online, but they do not fully understand everything that this simple task entails. “A study revealed that kids who are mentored by their parents get into less trouble in their digital world.”28 This confirms that while students are aware of how to explore the digital world, they do need guidance to do so in an appropriate way. I wanted to address digital safety in reference to strangers, age restrictions on social media websites, and obtaining parental consent.
“Our kids have a digital reputation… we want to cement in their minds an understanding that what they create is associated with them. We don’t want there to be a huge fear factor attached to this idea- we simply need to encourage kids who participate in social spaces to produce positive content, always.”29 While it is inevitable that young people are going to post online, it is possible to steer them in a direction of positivity. It is also important to encourage them to post for themselves and not for others. They do not need validation through “likes”. Many young people are developing problems with their own self image as they get into upper elementary and middle school. A lot of this stems from wanting to be accepted, popular, and well “liked” online. Depending on the platform they are using, they may not even know the people who they are seeking validation from. This is unsafe.
On social media people can interact with two groups of people; people they know and people they do not know. Both groups of people can pose a threat to the safety of children on the internet. “35 % of third, fourth and fifth graders had their own cell phone, 11.4% responded that they had received mean or hurtful email or text messages about them.”30 When young people interact with each other digitally they may engage in cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is when technology is used to bully someone else online, many times more than two young people are involved in this type of behavior. Using technology to harm someone else is not something I want to encourage in my classroom. For this reason, my curriculum has a strong emphasis on positivity and collaborating with others. If students behave this way online from a young age, they may be less likely to engage in cyberbullying as they get older.
The other group of people who students may interact with online are strangers which can also threaten their safety. A study that focused on teens revealed that “32% of online teens have been contacted online by a complete stranger. Of teens who have been contacted, 23% say they were scared or uncomfortable by the stranger contact. Overall, 7% of online teens experienced disturbing stranger contact.”31 While this study was focused on teens it is still alarming to see that this many young people have been contacted by a complete stranger. It is important for children to know that strangers pose a threat online as well as in person. “65% just ignored it or deleted it. 21% responded so they could find out more about the person. 8% responded and asked to be left alone. 3% told an adult or someone in authority.”32 Out of the 32% of teens who were contacted only 3% of them told an adult about it. This is something that I would address with my students and let them know from a young age that if they are contacted by a stranger online, they need to tell an adult. I would also reiterate what we learn in our standard health curriculum that we do not talk to strangers. First graders do take stranger danger seriously, however, they do not think online strangers are as much of a threat. The reason for this is that they cannot physically see the stranger which makes them appear less threatening. It will be important to tell students that no matter online or in person strangers are not safe to talk to.
Many websites such as YouTube, Facebook, and other social media sites have age restrictions. While my students feel as though this is unfair it is really in their best interest and helps to keep them safe. “The minimum age to open an account on most social media sites is 13... Some others still allow children at the age of 13 to sign up but with their parent's permission. Despite these clearly stated and published age restrictions, there are a large and growing number of children under 13 that use social media networks… without their parent’s knowledge and consent.”33 Despite the age restrictions on social media sites or even video games, young people still find their way to them with or without parent knowledge. The reason that this is dangerous is because students do not know who is viewing their profiles or who they might be playing a game with online. This is directly related to being contacted by strangers online. Young kids are impressionable and can find themselves interacting with people whom do not have their best interest in mind. In general, it is not safe to be interacting with people whom they do not know and they need to treat people who they meet online the same way that would treat a stranger in public; with caution and look for guidance from their parent guardian.
This led me to re-think about what I wanted my end of unit activity to be. Initially, I wanted to post my students’ work online. I potentially even wanted to attempt this on a digital platform. The more I researched the more I realized that I did not want to do this. I felt super hypocritical telling my students that they were too young to use social media and then desiring to post their work online anyway. This led me to explore other options for my students to share their work with each other and a broader audience. I decided that I would take pictures or scans of my students’ work. From here I would create a slideshow from these pictures and scans. We would share this slideshow at our end of unit poetry slam. This would protect the integrity of my students and keep me from feeling hypocritical.
Based on my goals for this unit I would eventually be digitizing my students’ poems. Even though I would not be posting their poems online, I wanted to ensure the safety of my students and their ideas. In order to post photos of students online a media release must be signed by a parent or guardian. I would repeat this process before posting the students’ poems as well. This would reiterate to my students that they are still too young to be posting things online without their parents knowing. I eventually decided to host a poetry slam at the end of the unit. At this event I would project their works onto a screen through a projector, instead of posting my students’ work on the internet. Sharing this way would make it much more contained and shared on a much smaller scale. This would show my students that they are not old enough, even with parental consent, to post on social media just yet. They would learn instead that there are other ways to share themselves with the people who care about them.