Digital Feet in Global Soil: How to help your gifted learner safely navigate the internet
by Stacia Taylor and Krissy Venosdale
Our children live in an ever-changing digital world and their digital footprint will move with them throughout their lives. They have access to most of the world’s knowledge at their fingertips. Our children are creating friendships with people from around the globe whom they are unlikely to ever meet in person.
Navigating the digital landscape with a gifted and accelerated child becomes tricky as parents as well as schools work to provide age-appropriate content while allowing exploration with intellectual peers. With appropriate tools and guidance, your child can learn to be a savvy digital citizen.
There was a time when parents of accelerated learners just needed to stay one book ahead of their children. We cannot stay one web page ahead of our children or one social media platform ahead of our children as it all changes very quickly. Here are some excellent questions to discuss as a family:
How do we monitor what our children are doing on the internet?
How much privacy should they have with their social media accounts?
How do we work with our schools and libraries?
At what age do we stop monitoring and give them the ability to forge ahead on their own?
Digital citizenship is a concept that helps teachers, technology leaders, and parents to understand what students/children/technology users should know to use technology appropriately. Why is it important to learn appropriate use from a young age? Because our children and students won’t always be monitored so it is important for them to learn good habits.
Monitoring at Home
It is always important to monitor the choices our children are making when using digital tools. Monitoring gives parents and teachers the opportunity to guide the child’s choices and discuss why some choices can lead to negative consequences. It is important that your family clearly state the boundaries for electronics use so your children understand your values.
Unclear rules leave a child feeling trapped and the parent feeling frustrated. Some families choose to use monitoring software for their family such as Net Nanny, AVG Family Safety or Social Shield. These tools help keep your child safe when navigating around the internet, and they do a great job. The downside to these tools is the very motivated child will find ways around them and may be on computers at friends’ homes and school that do not utilize the same software.
Parents should discuss at what age they feel it is appropriate for their children to open social media accounts. Parents whose children have been radically accelerated are thrown into a world where teens rarely communicate by phone but instead by Facetime, Vine, Snapchat, and Kik. Haven’t heard of some of these? There seems to be a new communication platform every week. You may feel your child is too young for these sites, but if they have been accelerated, the sites may be the way the class is communicating. Parents need to discuss how to compromise so their student can communicate and stay safe online.
Many parents require their children’s passwords to all email and social media accounts. While this is a good idea for many and gives the parent access in the case of a crisis, teens often feel it violates their privacy and set up private accounts (using aliases) to avoid prying parent eyes.
Monitoring software feels like a good safety net but because it limits where children can go, they are not building the skill of good digital citizenship. For the radically accelerated learner, teaching these skills becomes even more crucial. Many radically accelerated learners attend college at a very young age or even leave home to attend school in their early teens.
Conversations and examples of online responsibility are crucial as your children will be learning and studying with much older friends, and most colleges do not utilize monitoring software. It will be important that your children know how to remove their profile from objectionable social media postings and content by others. Building a relationship of trust around internet usage is important to keep the lines of communication open and lower the risk of hidden accounts.
Because teens value their privacy so highly, it is an ideal time to discuss what you post on public forums and how much information they have publicly available. Sahara Byrne, of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, has found the biggest “recipe for disaster” happens when a parent loves a particular monitoring software and the child hates it. This combination leads to distrust and a lack of open dialogue. Ideally, a family finds a way to compromise and meet the needs of all the internet users in the home.
Supporting In The Classroom
One of the key factors to supporting students in a digital learning environment is trust. It is common for schools to create guidelines such as an Acceptable Use Agreement. These types of documents can help provide policy for a school culture that supports digital citizenship but should never be the only guide for students. The most effective tool in the classroom for teaching proper digital citizenship is modeling. Modeling use with students, in combination with parent monitoring at home, is a powerful way to guide kids into becoming safe, responsible, and respectful global learners.
Tools such as Edmodo, a social network created just for education, and Twiducate, similar to Twitter, but for classroom use, can provide the proper forum for kids to test the waters of social media, understand proper use, and learn the value of collaboration through social media within the learning environment. Students should also understand that many websites, such as Twitter, have age requirements that prohibit students under 13 from joining. Teachers can utilize class accounts to connect with others and model use for students.
Filtering software that blocks students from access to content on the web is often put in place to provide a safe environment. But relying solely on that software to help kids learn how to navigate the digital world is a mistake. Educators should have conversations with students that will help guide their understanding, such as “What should I share online?” and “How can I be responsible with my role in our classroom social network?” By using the classroom as a training ground for the bigger world, students can learn to handle the responsibility and build their own digital footprint in a positive manner.
The power in the internet is that it provides kids a global audience for their learning and a vehicle for global collaboration when used safely, responsibly, and in an atmosphere of trust. By providing support and partnering parents and schools together, kids will have the tools they need to navigate the digital world.
Edutopia’s “Digital Citizenship: Resource Roundup”
Edutopia’s collection of articles, videos, and other resources on internet safety, cyberbullying, digital responsibility, and media and digital literacy. (Updated 10/2013)
Berkman Center for Internet and Society Internet Safety Technical Task Force Report
The scope of the Task Force’s inquiry was to consider those technologies that industry and end users– including parents –can use to help keep minors safer on the Internet.
About the Authors
Stacia Taylor is a gifted education advocate, consultant, and founder of Texas Parents of the Profoundly Gifted. Stacia serves as a SENG Liaison for Texas and Vice Chair for the Parent and Community Advocates Division of Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented.
Krissy Venosdale is an experienced gifted education teacher and current Director of Faculty and Instruction at Rainard School for Gifted Students in Houston, TX, and blogger at venspired.com . Her passion for educational technology and meeting the needs of gifted learners make global projects a perfect fit.