Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beyond "The Conversation" About Ethics

Sam and I read this article by David McMillan last week and found we had a lot to say about it (to each other, at least). Mr. McMillan's article calls for a clear, broad, open "conversation" about the role of ethics in social media. Obviously, we couldn't agree more! We have been having that conversation with our students and parents for a couple of years now, but there is always more to do, more to say, more to teach, and more to experience as social media evolves. McMillan offers the following 5 points we need to address:
1) In social media, there is no difference between public and private.
2) Just because you can post something doesn't mean you should. [that rings a bell!!]
3) Your online and offline selves might not be identical, but they're joined at the hip.
4) Will what I post cause harm to others?
5) Finally, call it the Social Media Golden Rule: post about others as you would have them post about you.  (McMillan, How to Ruin Your Life in 14 Minutes: Or Why We Need a Serious Conversation About the Ethics of Social Media)
Great points, all, and I would strongly encourage you to read the entire article for more details on each of the five. While Mr. McMillan wrote this in the wake of a particularly offensive, racist video rant posted online by two teenage girls, it saddens us to think that people might only pay attention to these things when horrid things happen. There are now plenty of "examples" of poor judgment and negative behavior online that we can point to and say, "See? This is what can happen if you don't think before you post." However, a review of these points, as McMillan advocates, needs to happen in an ongoing fashion, before things get out of control. Parents need to talk about it, teachers need to talk about it, EVERYONE needs to talk about it. We need to be far more PROactive in our approach, rather than REactive.

But talking about it isn't enough.

Kids need practice and real-life experience in situations where they have an opportunity to make good choices (or bad ones) and we can then talk more about it from a place of deeper understanding and personal knowledge. As with many things in life, these are more skills where "we learn by doing." Sometimes that means making mistakes, but if we can structure learning opportunities in a relatively safe environment (such as school, in a controlled/internal network), the consequences are likely to be far less severe.  Is that possible? We believe so, and Sam and I will each be sharing examples of how we have modeled the practice of ethical decision-making in some of our lessons.

It is important for us to recognize, in addition, that there is a fair amount of decision-making for which our kids are just not developmentally ready.  Long-term consequences? Our brains aren't truly wired to connect our feelings, actions and consequences until we are late into our teens or even our early-twenties. So how does one prepare an 8 year old for the types of ethical decisions they will be expected to make in the digital world? How does a parent respect their teens' privacy, when what they see their child doing online doesn't seem all that private? How do we stop reacting and start being proactive? The questions and challenges seem endless, but they are the very things that shape good teaching and parenting.

Talking about ethics and social media is a good start, and using resources like David McMillan's article to open "the conversation" is a fantastic idea. But this is not just a one-time, "thanks, I got it!" type of discussion. This is every day, real world, what-kind-of-person-do-you-want-to-be? kind of stuff.  It's HARD.

But we need to keep talking about it. And beyond talking about it, we need to help our kids practice and live it.

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