Helping Students Not Trip on Their Digital Footprints

October 01, 2013
Rebecca Randall Vice President of Philanthropic Partnerships and Regional Growth
Common Sense

CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, Research & Studies, Students

This post is written by Rebecca Randall, Common Sense Media's Vice President, Education Programs.

According to the latest report from the Pew Internet Project, most teens are taking steps to shape their digital reputation, manage their networks, and mask information they don’t want others to know. Yet here at Common Sense Media we hear from thousands of educators every year that teens – and tweens – continue to do stuff with technology that’s not always so smart. And I don’t mean dropping their $350 phone one week after getting it or forgetting it on the bus.

You can count on seeing a story in the news almost on a weekly basis about a teenager posting something on Instagram or Facebook that got them or their friends in trouble. Like the several hundred teens that broke into a former NFL player’s home and trashed it, with many of them tweeting photos and uploading videos of the melee. Or the group of students at Stuyvesant who texted each other with answers to the Regents exam.

From video of Weiner's resignation.

Sometimes adults aren’t any smarter. From the Anthony Weiner sexting scandals to the Taco Bell employee who got fired for posting a photo of himself licking a bunch of tacos, it leaves me wondering all too often what people are thinking. And these are just the stories of people being dumb. I’m heartbroken when I learn of students who are bullied online while none of their friends do anything to try to stop it. Or when I see photos on Tumblr glorifying self-harming behavior.

But I’m also given hope when I see just as many Tumblrs dedicated to supporting teens who are hurting themselves, or thinking about doing so. And I’m inspired by the teens who are getting involved in their local communities (and beyond) to fight for something they believe in, like Temitayo Fagbenle who created an online campaign to educate her peers about “slut shaming.”  Not to mention all the amazing maker parties cropping up around the country through youth-driven initiatives.  

What this underscores for me is that technology is what we make of it.  Like Uncle Ben in Spiderman said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” So it’s up to us—teachers, parents, and kids themselves—to make sure that we all think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly online. 

Digital Citizenship Week is a great time to engage and educate young people and their families, and connect with other educators, around these important skills. Whether you’re already doing something or just getting started, our free online toolkit offers something for everyone. From lesson plans to posters to parent tip sheets, we have everything you need to get involved. And because it’s Connected Educators Month, we’re offering lots of ideas for you to engage with other educators to share best practices, talk about the issues you care about, and more.