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news & tips

A collection of helpful articles on teachers and teaching

Your Father’s Famous Four Questions (Part 1)

Last month, I had the fantastic opportunity to participate in CUE’s first-ever Rock Star Teacher Summer Tech Camp in central California.  The days themselves were amazing, but an added bonus was the time spent at Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino, where we stayed during the three-day event.

One night, I got a chance to sit down to dinner with two colleague friends and Lori Getz.  Lori and I were delighted to learn we had both earned our Masters degrees in Educational Technology from San Diego State University (though she had completed the program a number of years before I did).  We sat and talked for hours, but one thing she shared really stuck with me.

You see, Lori’s area of specialization is Internet safety and cyber education.  We four technology-loving educator types had a great conversation about kids and Facebook and what we should be telling (and modeling for) our students.  And Lori shared with us her “Father’s Famous Four Questions.”  The post she wrote on these questions we need to ask our kids is great, and I think you should read it.  But I also wanted to share my take on these important points Lori makes about parenting and teaching in the digital age.  I’ve decided to address each of her father’s four questions with its own blog post.

Rave clothingWhen we were kids, every time we walked out the door, our parents asked us a number of questions.  They felt it was their job to be informed about what we were up to; we respected their need to know because they were our parents.  We lived in their home, we ate their food, we answered to their authority.  And if we lied and got caught, we had consequences . . . if our parents were doing their jobs. Let’s revisit the questions our parents used to interrogate us with at the front door, but in the context of our current Internet age.

I ended up writing so much about these questions that I felt a need to break it into four separate blog posts.  The four questions are:

  1. What are you wearing?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. Who are you going with?
  4. What time will you be home?

Question 1: What are you wearing?

This question addresses how our children “put themselves out there” on the Internet.  Lori Getz makes some excellent points about screen names; these are often the first impression an Internet user makes on others, so a screen name should not be sexually provocative or otherwise vulgar or offensive.  But I see more of my students (I teach grades one through eight) crossing a different line when it comes to their online appearance.  Pictures, videos, and words stand a greater chance of getting MY students into trouble online.  Many of us parents can remember being turned around at the front door, forced to go back and remove some of the makeup or change the outfit, or maybe just COVER UP, for goodness sakes!  Remember those days?  Frankly, I am shocked by the kissy-face pictures and near-soft-porn videos and webcam stills I see young kids posting online.  These same children would find it creepy if the same images were displayed, larger than life, on a highway billboard.  Yet they think nothing of blasting such depictions of themselves on Facebook.  What does your child “wear” online?  What about your students?

girl using laptopSomething else my students are often guilty of is taking pictures of lots of their friends and then posting these online.  My students go on missions trips with their churches and Outdoor Education trips with the school.  They bring their cameras, and I support and encourage that.  However, just this week I have been reminding the sixth grade girls in my charge on our four-day excursion that they may NOT take pictures in the dorms.  Other girls are changing or otherwise not looking their best.  I reminded one young lady just a few hours ago that she needs to ask people’s permission before taking their picture.  Too many of these images show up online, tagged with names, and I am fairly certain that the parents of the children in the pictures wouldn’t approve.

I know a lot of students who don’t post pictures or videos that concern me.  However, their words are a different story.  Each time someone updates their Facebook status or answers a Formspring question, they are on the virtual catwalk, parading around a different side of what they’re wearing: their views, opinions, sense of humor, prejudices, and social gaffes all become a permanent part of the Internet.  It’s not like when you say something without thinking in front of just a few people.  Only those people heard it; you can correct yourself, apologize for coming across badly, and save face.  Click “send” or “update” online, and potentially ANYONE will know EXACTLY what you said.  Think you’re safe because you keep your Facebook wall “friends only”?  It only takes one “friend” to copy and paste your update, forward your text, or take a screen shot of your wall and BOOM, what you said is out there for an audience much larger than you ever intended.  I am especially concerned for the youngest users, many of whom are below Facebook’s minimum age of 13, who say and do things without thinking . . . because that is exactly what childhood is: learning from a series of your own mistakes.  We know from brain research that the frontal cortex (the area where personality, conscience, and good judgment reside) is not done developing in humans until the mid-20s.  This is why we look back on high school and college and cringe a bit.  Yet all these underdeveloped brains are living it up on the Internet.  And it’s all potentially permanent.

This simply means that parents need to be just as involved as they were when they used to stop us at the door to interrogate us.  We all know those kids we grew up with whose parents didn’t restrict them enough, and we all saw how that usually turned out.  And none of us wants our kids to become THAT kid.  I believe that, under the right circumstances, teachers can supplement this guidance as well, as long as their message is consistent with that of parents, and the educators don’t cross any lines of propriety in their relationships with students.

In my next blog post, I will tackle the second question: Where are you going?

Image of rave clothing from Flickr user s2art, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

Image of girl using laptop from Flickr user P i c t u r e Y o u t h, some rights reserved, Creative Commons.

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