That is a question that has been asked since cell phones became a part of everyday life. So what’s the answer?
Imagine that the average guest in your school could electronically ‘find’ a child on the Internet? Most responses are doubting. Adults will say ‘kids are smarter than that’ or “I taught them to keep their information safe’. Kids will tell you that they are always ‘safe’, or more likely ‘I am not stupid”! But safety isn’t as obvious at it might appear when it comes to the Internet.
In ESC’s Digital World program for 6th graders we put this concept to the test with an activity called “6 Click Challenge” (NetSmartz). As a guest in the classroom, the instructor has access to students’ first names, as many people do. On day one, the instructor asks for a couple of volunteers who use social media frequently, and ask what their favorite social media platform is. The fun begins the next day when the instructor shares with the volunteers and the other students what information they found out in just ‘6 clicks’, or searches. Of course no personal information is shared! Students are completely shocked when the instructor tells them what kind of dog they have or their little brother’s name!
We have found that students DO keep very personal information off the Internet and social media. However, they do not (and at younger ages cannot) think critically about how ‘basic information, posts of less-safe friends, common pictures or snaps, and friending habits can be combined to ‘find them’ electronically. And just as importantly, studies show that bullying behavior, changes in self-esteem, and even mental health and attention span can all be affected by children’s social media and Internet use.