The other day I was on the phone with my sister – our land line, not a cell phone – and I said to her, “You’re my person.” This is a well-known phrase from the TV show Grey’s Anatomy; Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang used to say it to each other to cement the closeness of their friendship.
Here’s a weird thing: my kids don’t use social media to be, you know, social.
The other day, I was scrolling through my own Instagram feed, while my youngest daughter was looking over my shoulder. She was asking why I follow every account I follow. I explained time and again that each account was a friend of mine – some closer than others, but, for the most part, people I’ve met at some point in life and who I wanted to keep in touch with.
My two oldest kids started grades 10 and 11 in September. As usual, they took their smartphones with them the first day.
When they arrived home, I asked them how their classes had went, and they said that every single class had talked about the Ontario government’s new policy about cell phones in school – that is, that cell phones are to be used only for educational purposes, or health or special needs, during class time.
My daughter – age 14 – is all about Instagram. It’s her primary source of entertainment: if she’s on her phone, she’s likely looking at memes or laughing at silly posts made by her friends. It’s also the main way she communicates with them, as they use its messaging service much more than things like texting or video chat.
I am lucky enough to work from home and have a flexible work schedule, so my kids have always been stay-at-home kids in the summer. They have some daily chores and other special work to do over the summer, but in general they have a lot of free time on their hands.
I read an interesting Facebook post the other day, written by a teenaged girl. She said quite firmly that it was important for parents to not have their children’s passwords, for their phone or social media accounts. She talked about building trust and how insisting on knowing your kids’ passwords is the first step to them sneaking around online and getting involved in things you wish they wouldn’t.
In its early days, the internet was often spoken of as a free marketplace of ideas, where everyone’s views and thoughts could be shared and compete on an equal footing. Today it’s an essential tool for accessing information and services, but its value as a vehicle of civic engagement and debate has in many ways declined.
I admit I was hoping to never get an email like this from the school:
“Some students in your child’s class have been involved in inappropriate online behaviour. Our Student Resource Officer will be doing a presentation on cyberbullying and leading a discussion about responsible actions on the internet. Please speak to your child about his/her activity online.”
A Day in the Life of the Jos is a comprehensive digital citizenship tutorial that prepares students in grades six to eight to deal with all of the issues they face when using digital technology – from online privacy, to cyberbullying, to recognizing what’s real and what’s fake online.