Posted by: schooleducator | December 11, 2009

Follow the Leader

A 5th grade student proudly announced the other day, “I got a Gmail.” She had an ear to ear smile and walked with a certain swagger that bespoke confidence and excitement at a world of possibility. “My mom has the password in a sealed envelope, so she can get into my Gmail if she needs to.” I asked her if she was okay with that agreement, and she responded, “It seems fair to me and I get a Gmail.”

Here’s a perfect instance of good parenting in action. A parent and child come to a “fair” agreement at home, with the understanding that the parent reserves the right to oversee the mail account, if there is a reason to intervene.

Another student, standing close by, explained that she has 4 different mail accounts for 4 different purposes. She described: “I have a Yahoo account for any online purchases, like iTunes, so all of my receipts go into that mail account and I can keep track of them. I have a school email account for all of my homework and school stuff.
I have one Gmail account for my school friends, and I have another Gmail account for my out of school friends.”

I had a look of complete awe on my face, as she recited her approach to digital life. She looked at me and said, “What?” I replied that I had never thought of having different mail accounts for different parts of my life, as a way to stay organized. “That’s a brilliant idea,” I shared. My mail account is a blizzard of inchoate information, ranging from school business, to ads for car rentals, non-profits, and books. “I need to start doing what you’re doing,” I told her.

The time-honored children’s game, Follow the Leader, is an apt way to
think about what’s going on here. Instead of kids, though, we adults need to start mimicking some of the behaviors of the kids regarding digital life. Imagine how much we can all learn from kids and in turn how much we can engage with them to guide their behaviors.

There are also times when we as adults stand as the leader and kids follow. An 8th grade student realized that he could not be at school for his student council speech and he sent me a panicked email the night before the speech. I suggested as an alternative that he make a video speech and we could show his speech to his peers. He took the offer, made the video, and won the election. He saw me a few days later, thanked me for the idea, and commented, “I never would have thought of that approach.”

One parent shared a healthy leadership approach to take with kids online:
“Consider engaging with them. Email and ask them things, which require a reply to you. If they are IM’ing, consider having an account and being one of their friends. Consider sending them text messages, if they are messaging with others. You will see how they engage. You are showing them by example, and they are probably going to respond to you as they do to others.”

The social networking site Facebook has taken the important first step of engagement, forming an advisory board with Internet groups, which includes Common Sense Media, a national, non-profit group helping kids and parents with safe navigation of digital media. Facebook Vice-President Elliot Schrage, quoted by CNN, stated: “We believe that the only way to keep kids safe online is for everyone who wants to protect them to work together.”

The game of Follow the Leader can flip easily between student as leader, educator as leader, parent as leader, and social networking site as leader.

One educator asks the key question about digital life: “When does the responsibility of a school end and the parents begin?” Another educator frames the dilemma of digital life for schools and parents: “Parents have no idea what rules to apply — and how to apply them — at home when their child is doing homework and multitasking with technology. Schools are part of the problem because they assign so much that is driven by technology. So they have to be part of the solution to help parents deal with their kids and the distractions caused by technology.”

However, the linchpin for success rests with kids, and communities need to engage with kids online to foster digital citizenship. Of course, kids know the answer to the tough questions about digital life. We need to follow their lead. For solutions to happen, schools, parents, and advisory boards, like the one Facebook has put together, need to follow the lead of the “digital natives.”

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