Here is an email Sam and I received from a student last week:
Is it illegal to use YouTube to Mp3 converters to put song on to your iPod? I've done some research, but I haven't found a definite answer.How great is that? We both had an opportunity to respond, and while Sam went into great detail on the issues of copyright, illegal music downloads, getting permission from the owner, etc., I had only to chime in with, "Everything Ms. Harris said is right." I felt it was important, in addition, to thank this student for contacting us in the first place. She had done some preliminary research on the issue, and when she couldn't find solid advice one way or another, she asked for help. It's exactly what we would have hoped for, and I was so impressed that she took the time to do so.
The second recent example came in the form of a quick email from an 8th grade student who had "heard some things" about how Facebook handles your photos and was concerned about protecting her privacy. Rumors fly through cyberspace at the speed of light, and it seems we can never keep up with all the things for which we should be watching out. In this instance, what impressed me was that this student contacted a trusted adult for help when she wasn't sure what to do. It takes me time to figure out what's accurate and what are false rumors, so I can only imagine the perception of a 13-year-old when confronted with the latest "WARNING" about privacy settings and the sharing of information not intended to be public. It's tricky to navigate all the various settings, and even then, it's tough to know if they are actually working the way you thought they would. When emails and stories start showing up online, or your "friends" post them to your Facebook page to help you out, it's important to take the time to get the facts. But even in this instance, as I looked for evidence to support the claims being made, I came across several years worth of Facebook rumors related to this same topic. So was this just the latest panic about an issue that surfaces at least once a year? Or did something change and this is now a legitimate concern? Our best advice to students is to keep checking their privacy settings on a regular basis. Things change regularly, and we need to be aware of how those changes impact us. Search legitimate news sources for clarification, and do your best to keep yourself in the know. Ignorance may be bliss, but it's not a good excuse for making big mistakes with personal information.
Having said all that, I can't imagine these questions being raised a few years ago. I'm sure the questions existed, but kids weren't asking for our input. However, we have now spent the last two years having some fairly in depth conversations about behavior, online privacy, digital footprints, and making good digital choices. Talking to kids works. Building relationships with them works. Engaging with them at their level, and discussing sometimes uncomfortable topics with them, works... And the best part?
It doesn't feel like work. :)