Educating to use safely, not prevent.

This week we posted a picture from our school Twitter account asking users to spread our tweet across the globe. As you can see, the results are pretty good. We were tweeted 128 times at last count and made it to lots of different places around the world. I even put the locations of some of the retweets onto a Google map so that the children could really get a feeling for how far and how fast information travels online.

So why did we bother?

Spreading information around the globe, via the internet, isn’t something we should be encouraging our children to do, right? We should be preventing them to use sites like Twitter and Facebook, right?

Wrong.

I’m of the firm belief that educating children to use the internet safely is far more important than trying to persuade them to avoid it.

The internet is a source of information that shouldn’t be discounted simply because it’s also got the potential to be dangerous. Crossing the road also has the potential to be dangerous, going to the shop can be dangerous and walking home from school can be dangerous. We don’t suddenly stop children from doing these things. Instead, we educate them about looking for cars, crossing in safe places, avoiding strangers and absolutely never telling people where they live. All the information that’s on the internet is surrounded by the potential for danger. But it’s also this information that has the potential to provide children with an interesting extension to their knowledge.

Not only does the web host a heap of information, but it’s the place of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of jobs in the present and even more in the future. The fact of the matter is that many of the children we teach today will work using the web every day. I do… and I don’t even work in an internet industry. If the children know how to work the web, and do so effectively, then, as teachers, we’re doing exactly what we should be: educating children for their future.

In addition to all of this, telling children not to do something simply gives them the idea that there must be something worth doing on there. It’s the forbidden fruit. Putting the internet into the ‘untouchable’ category only means that we’re more likely to find children frantically trying to access different websites just to find out what’s out there. Lots of children already use the internet on a daily basis, and many probably have accounts on social networking sites before their age restriction settings ‘allow’. I know I lied as a child to access such sites. It’s not accessing these sites that’s the problem; it’s what children do on these sites. If kids use such sites but don’t share personal information, and are used to thinking about safety (maybe so used to thinking about safety that it becomes autonomous) then what’s the problem?

When I showed the class the results of our Twitter experiment I was met with cheers and gasps of excitement. We’d reached Australia and America! That’s really far away! We’d been seen by hundreds of people in hours! Wow!

This was quickly followed by a stunned, serious, reflective silence as I said “what if I’d put your full name, address and what time school finished on that piece of paper?”

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