Monday, June 28, 2010

21st Century Response to Risky Online Behavior of Our Students: Information from McAfee’s Youth Online Behavior Study

As students become more engaged in social networking sites, school administrators are likely to find themselves dealing more and more with irresponsible behaviors like cyberbullying which in turn spills over into the school building. McAfee’s study The Secret Online Lives of Teens makes it clear that teens are more willing than ever to divulge private or personal information about themselves in these online communities, engage in online behaviors and hide them from their parents, and engage in becoming members of social networking communities. The fact that more and more of our students are now engaging in social networking sites should mean that we as educators need to take the lead and not ban participation in social networking. Instead we need to be teaching our students how to engage in social networking in a safe and responsible manner. Some of the findings of note from the McAfee study include the following items:

  • 81% of 16 to 17 year old teens report having at least one membership to a social networking site.
  • 91% of all kids say their parents trust them to do what’s right online.
  • Even though parents are less likely to monitor their children’s online behavior, as they get older young people are more inclined to hide what they do online from their parents. By the time they are 16 to 17, 56% of teens hide their online activities.
  • 73% of 13 to 17 year olds in 2010 say they have an account on a social networking site compared to 59% in 2008.

There were other findings of interest in the study, but I think those listed above should be sufficient to guide some common sense proactive measures we need to think about as administrators.

First of all, the number of our students who are members of social networking sites is not going to decrease. It is going to increase. As administrators, our proactive stance should be to embrace social networking as a fact of life. It’s here. We would do much more for them if we teach them how to be responsible members of these social networking communities. We need to help them become responsible cyber-citizens and how to capitalize on the strengths that social networking can bring to learning.

Secondly, although the survey reported that kids believe their parents trust them with their online activities, the fact that as they get older they hide these activities suggests otherwise. Educators need to be proactive and begin to educate parents on what social networking is, its promises and possibilities. We need to enlist parents’ help in our efforts to teach young people responsible cyber-citizenship.

It is time for administrators to acknowledge the realities of social networking and encourage the educational establishment to take on the task of proactively teaching our young people how to be responsible in all of their online activities, including participating in social networking.

For additional information on the McAfee study, see here.

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