I recently returned from the Boston area where I gave a speech at St. Mark’s School, the boarding school I attended back before computers were as common as cell phones. The school’s administration had decided to stop trying to fight the losing battle of trying to keep the kids off of social networking sites via the school’s network and, instead, try and educate the kids on how to use these sites, and the internet in general, more responsibly.
My talk focused on a lot on what I discuss here on the blog, e.g. the intersection of online and offline behavior, and I also tried to get them to take the long view of the internet as a way to build their own reputations. (Not sure how successful I was on that score.)
All of us, both young and old, are figuring out the ramifications of all this social media stuff as we go along. There is no road map towards the future and there is no history to guide us. I think we all owe our young people our full attention to these important issues, and we must do away with the attitude that social networking is “stupid” or “just for kids” or a “waste of time” or any other of the dismissive characterizations that I sometimes hear. One cannot educate from a position of fear and even just a few minutes spent on Flickr, Facebook, Ning or Twitter will go a long way to opening up one’s eyes to the possibilities and opportunities that social networking can offer. (OK, maybe not Twitter! It really IS hard to explain unless you’ve tried it.)
It’s not necessary to spend hours and hours a day updating your status and checking on your friends. But we do owe it to our kids to at least educate OURSELVES as to what all this stuff is about if we want to raise digitally savvy kids who are ready to thrive and compete in the years to come. Technology marches on with or without you: none of us watch black and white TVs or dial rotary phones anymore. As kids, maybe we drove our parents nuts blabbing to our friends on the phone all day and night. Now kids text and use Facebook and other digital ways to communicate with each other. Our job is not to learn how to eavesdrop. It’s to understand how to use today’s version of the telephone.
I am looking forward to getting out to more schools and talking to more kids, parents, teachers and administrators. And a special thanks to my new St. Mark’s Twitter followers. They help me stay connected and informed, and I hope I can do the same.
Have you had trouble seeing eye to eye with your kids about social networking? Do you think your kid’s school does enough to prepare them for a life lived online?