Someone encountering the Internet for the first time might be forgiven for assuming it was created specifically for teenagers. Indeed, the Internet could reasonably be said to have been aging backwards since its birth – the domain first of scientists and the military, then of university students in the 1990s and now children and teenagers.
Summer can feel very long sometimes. Heck, I’ve been there. I clearly remember the days when the kids seemed crazier than a pack of wild squirrels, leaving piles of household detritus in their wake while I followed them helplessly, longing for a hot cup of coffee and five minutes in the bathroom without someone knocking on the door.
If anyone still doubts that youth need to learn how to evaluate online information, those doubts should have been dispelled by a recent hoax perpetrated by the group called the Yes Men. This group, which has a history of staging fake press conferences, decided to draw attention to Canada’s position at the Copenhagen conference on climate change by creating a number of fake Web sites purporting to be, among others, the Copenhagen summit site, the Wall Street Journal, and Environment Canada’s site. While it didn’t take long for Environment Canada to make a statement exposing the hoax, by that time many journalists had reported the story as fact and the story had been widely distributed by wire services.
“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”
We generally think of our kids’ online and offline lives as being two separate things. In reality, they constantly overlap, flowing back and forth face-to-face in the schoolyard and through texts and social networks at home. But on the Internet there are lots of moral and ethical choices that don’t have to be made offline.
We don’t always hear the clock ticking when we’re online and young people are no exception. Between doing research for homework, talking with friends, updating social networking pages and playing games, it’s easy to see how kids and teens might lose track of time. Excessive Internet use, however, can negatively affect young people’s school work, health and social lives. Unfortunately, adults don’t usually discover this problem until it’s become serious.
There are two main strategies for addressing online hate and cultures of hatred in the classroom: teaching youth to recognize and deconstruct it, and empowering them to intervene by answering back to it.
It’s tempting for parents to act authoritatively and lay down the law on the number of hours their kids can spend on the computer. But in order to effectively address excessive use, there needs to be an active, voluntary commitment on the part of the young person to control their behaviour. Otherwise, kids will just find ways to work around their parents – and be left to their own devices once they’re old enough to leave the house.
Young Canadians today are growing up in a culture where gambling is legal, easily accessible – especially online – and generally presented as harmless entertainment.
Schools are fully aware that the Internet is a treasure trove of knowledge and don’t hesitate to recommend it for research. According to a 2008 study, 77 per cent of teachers assign work involving the use of the Internet. Unfortunately, school curriculums rarely include teaching how to do research on the Web, so parents need to learn the skills for guiding their children as they go online for school assignments.