Entering the digital age
Parents, educators and children gathered at Trillium Creek Primary School after hours Nov. 20 for the PTA Digital Life event.
Designed to help parents learn about the pros and cons of the digital realm and guide their children toward safe practices, keynote speaker Amanda Stein was quick to let parents know that social media is everywhere and that children need to be taught how to navigate it safely.
"Whether or not your kid is allowed to use social media, your kid is on social media" Stein said. "It's up to us as parents to know what the platforms are and what they're capable of."
From the big names of social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — that parents are more likely to be familiar with, to the lesser known apps like TikTok and Snapchat, Stein said that these platforms are not the only social media apps parents should be monitoring. XBox Live, YouTube and other websites with messaging capabilities all qualify as social media platforms, yet a show of parental hands in the audience indicated that many parents were unfamiliar with these lesser known social media sites.
"If parents don't know where their kids are going online, then it's hard for them to monitor it," Stein said in an interview prior to the event.
And while she touched on the problematic and dangerous sides of social media — online predators, fake news and cyberbullying — Stein also highlighted the positives of social media, including social networking, self expression and building community, citing the statistic that 61% of teens in a survey said that social media makes them feel more outgoing. She said these benefits are great for children and parents alike, if monitored and handled correctly.
"You have to put together a safety plan for your family so that your kids don't mess up," Stein said.
In order to help parents workshop the principles and suggestions given in the presentation, the audience broke into and rotated through three interactive groups: 1.) Privacy and You, 2.) Online Presence and 3.) Family Tech Talk.
The first group discussed the kinds of social media available and did an activity deciding how and what should be shared online, while group two got honest about their own social media presence and who controls people's perception of them and their accounts. Group three focused on a parental handout outlining how to have a guided conversation with their children about how to appropriately view and use videos, apps, other social media, and internet-enabled devices.
While lead through activities and discussions, parents were encouraged to create a digital action plan that worked for their specific families. Mother and PTA member Gail Greenman, a return participant from last year's founding event, said the event is a good place for parents and children to come together to think about digital responsibility — especially for parents who did not grow up in the digital age and want to know what to look out for.
"I have third and fifth grade girls here at the school," Greenman said. "I'm 45, born in 1974, and I didn't have all this growing up. Our big thing was if we got our own phone line, right? So there's this element of digital responsibility that kids need to learn because they're growing up with it and it's a part of their lives."
Stein touched on the fact that, regardless of how tightly parents may try to restrict their children's digital involvement, it's out there and easily available, making it critical to educate children on safe practices early.
"There's a lot of responsibility that they're saddled with at a very young age, and they really don't have the ability to understand life-long ramifications that comes with digital awareness yet," Greenman said. "They're navigating the world, and it's tough to navigate this digital world. So anything we can do to help these kids in this kind of space, I think is well worth it."
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