Still Learning

A couple of weekends ago, I traveled to Los Angeles to be part of the Safe Smart Social Digital Citizenship Conference. It was just one day, but it was packed with expert advice from industry leaders. Although we talk about online safety all the time, we are still learning! Since we normally focus on preventing dangers online, it was a helpful shift in focus to hear from so many who are working to help teens utilize social media and the Internet in positive ways. Here are some things I learned.

Cops and school counselors have a LOT of wisdom.

They are dealing with the aftermath of students’ mistakes online on a daily basis, so they don’t tiptoe around the dangers. Police Lieutenant Timothy Martin from Huntington Beach, CA had great insight to share about “friends” saying “You’re only as strong as your weakest friend.” Meaning, your friends could tag a drunken picture of you online, even if you are smart enough to not take and post such a picture. Colleges do find those posts! Lt. Martin also gave us an update on what a background check looks like these days. Some employers go beyond asking for your public social media urls, they may also ask for your password to read private posts and direct messages (I’ve learned college athletic recruiters may do the same, esp. Div1).

One school counselor lamented about how parents at her school in Orange County, CA tend to think that they (the parents) don’t need additional safety training about their kids being online because their kids are “responsible.” She reminds them that other people are trying to trip kids up, saying specifically, “I guarantee your kids are getting spammed with nudes.” Very true. I clear out dozens of raunchy posts from my spam folder every week or so. No way do I want my kids to face that kind of open-door temptation. (Shout out to KidsEmail.org that offers spam-free email with parental control options of turning off links and pictures, and even approving mail from outside of your child’s contact list).

Young professionals have a lot to offer in the online safety conversation.

I really enjoyed meeting so many young professionals who really understand the role that personal technology plays in a teenager’s life. Nimisha Jain, a data scientist for Google, reminded us that to young people, the phone is an extension of themselves. This helps us as older adults realize that the emotional attachment teens feel to their devices and social media accounts, although perhaps out of balance, feels very real to them. (Hence the weeping and gnashing of teeth when their devices are taken away for any length of time).

Helping younger kids develop balance and healthy priorities with technology is beyond essential to building a strong foundation for their future. I love what Andy Crouch writes about in his new book The Tech-Wise Family about making sure technology has it’s proper place. There are many principles Crouch spells out about the proper placement of tech in our family structures, but here’s my favorite: “Technology is in its proper place only when we use it with intention and care.”

Lots of people are concerned about pornography.

While I didn’t hear anything specific about pornography from the panelists during the official sessions of the Safe Smart Social conference, I was able to be part of several conversations among the registrants and panelists throughout the day where adults were expressing their concern, and in fact shock, at the level of exposure young children are experiencing. One of my highlights at the conference was finally getting to spend some time in person one of the hero moms from Protect Young Minds, the organization that brought us Good Pictures, Bad Pictures. Throughout the day, we were able to engage several counselors and educators about this important resource and hear about how pornography is affecting their schools and students. These conversations are critical to the future generations! We love partnering with Protect Young Minds because they are passionate about helping kids preserve their emotional health by rejecting pornography, and they do a wonderful job equipping parents and adults to do the same.

Young people want to harness the power of the Internet for good.

I really enjoyed hearing more about organizations that are helping teenagers use technology to better the world and inspire positivity. One organization, Peer Spring, gives young people a platform to identify and solve real-world problems, then design and code technology for social good.

We also talked a good deal about content creation. Are we helping young people create useful or engaging tools with technology rather than just consume technology? How can we encourage content creation as parents and educators? Asking these questions puts us all in a more pro-active frame of mind. Instead of just NO-NO-NO, it helps us think carefully about where we can say YES.

Overall, every opportunity to get our heads together and encourage each other in keeping kids safe is going to be fruitful.

I would encourage any parent or educator to engage with Safe Smart Social and their many resources about digital citizenship, online safety, and building your kids online portfolio as they look to college years. You can attend one of their free webinars, or order their new book on Digital Citizenship here

There are also many other opportunities and organizations online that can help you grow in your understanding of technology as it relates to protecting kids. The key is to purposefully and intentionally be seeking out more information that can help you strengthen your strategy. We’re sharing great tips daily, so please connect with us on social media!

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