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The Young and the Riskless: Educating America’s Online Youth

Posted At: October 21, 2009
by Josh Morris

There is a need for the education of our youth concerning the risks associated with creating profiles and posting personal information online. “I stress to my students all of the time the importance of trying to maintain their reputations; trying to make them understand that once something is in cyberspace, it is hard to retrieve it,” said Anita Boyd, Advanced Placement English teacher at Laurel Christian School, in Laurel, Miss. Personal brand management is a necessary term to be learned and practiced by young teens and new Internet users alike.

As parents and teachers try to keep themselves aware and their children safe, newer threats to virtual privacy and safety are inevitable. Rapid technological advancement is creating generational differences, forcing children to learn from trial and error, not from Mom and Dad. Unfortunately, this problem has only recently caught the buzz that social media initially had as it became the biggest trend of Generation Y’s young lives. High school curricula are the perfect platform for implementing a course designed to address the issue from the root of the problem, by targeting uninformed minds.

Brian Stanton, an English teacher at Morse High School in Bath, Maine, acknowledged that, “In our advisory period we are often asked to talk to kids regarding cyber bullying/stalking/sexting and so on.” Battling the friendly foe of the Internet is best left to those qualified for the job: those who have been there, done that and accepted that friend request. Stanton said, “They do not have the benefit of wisdom from a past generation.” That past generation is people like me, my classmates and other young professionals who play witness and victim to the true threats of social networking sites and online profiles.

College graduation is upon us, and as we look forward to the next chapter in our lives, we are forever forced to look back upon the decisions made in previous chapters. Our parents aren’t holding grudges and our friends have learned to forgive and forget, but the Internet isn’t always as generous.

Just as fast as young teens are discovering the benefits of social media, my generation is being made aware of the pace at which potential employers are doing the same. According to a CareerBuilder survey in a article titled “Digital Dirt,” in 2009, 45 percent of employers used social networking sites to research candidates. But college graduation is entirely too late to be taught the risks of social media, and employment concerns are barely the surface of potential problems.

Offering high school students a course centered on personal brand management and Internet trends is rising in importance. The Internet is not completely negative and can be a great place to communicate, share and self-promote, but it must be understood to be used appropriately.

“Students do not think before they write or post photos. A course could be a way of showing them moderation, but it could also provide education for any holes in their knowledge,” said Boyd. In November, Morse High School will follow a growing trend by giving every student a laptop computer for their personal use. There is a definite need for social media and the Internet to become a foundation for everyday learning, just as much as Shakespeare and Hemingway are.

The attention must now shift and focus on a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach. Pictures are more than frozen in time when they’re frozen in cyberspace. Deactivate a Facebook account and two months later, the same e-mail address and password can retrieve the same removed photos, information and friend connections. There is no deactivating the threats of the Internet. Students at the high school level must be reached because as Stanton said, “They interact without regard to consequence.” He also stated, “Awareness is valuable when gained.”

Those of us who possess such awareness should feel a commitment to protecting the dignity of less familiar followers and the integrity of the communication tools we’ve come to use, love and at times obsess over. Parents and teachers alike should be eager to help guide and educate the younger generations using knowledge and skills acquired from our generation’s mistakes. Capitalizing on this opportunity to influence vulnerable young minds will eventually lead to the confidence to friend request a potential employer rather than live in denial of their online reputation.

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