How to Teach Your Students to Think Before They Post

October 17, 2013
Kathleen Costanza
Common Sense Education Blogger

CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, Policy, Students

Late last month, California passed the “Eraser Button” bill, which requires social media companies to provide a delete button for users under 18. Our policy team advocated for this law, which means young Californians will always have the chance to retract posts they regret.

"Kids so often self-reveal before they self-reflect," James Steyer, our founder and CEO, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Mistakes can stay with teens for life, and their digital footprint can follow them wherever they go."

The right-to-delete is only part of the law, which also prohibits sites from running ads on minors’ profiles for unhealthy products like alcohol, e-cigarettes, and tanning beds.

“It's a no-brainer that websites and apps that target kids or that know a user is a minor shouldn't serve these inappropriate ads,” wrote Steyer in a public letter supporting the bill.

The law is an important first step in protecting kids online and in increasing awareness of how the internet affects kids’ futures. Like anything, navigating social media is a skill that takes practice, even for digital natives. One mistake shouldn’t haunt kids’ search results for the rest of the lives. But, unfortunately, the nature of the internet is not very forgiving, which is why laws like the “eraser button” are needed to give kids a break while they’re still learning what to post.

However, the law only covers what kids upload or post themselves -- if it’s screenshot, or the post is shared, or spreads virally (as happens so often online), there’s no requirement for a site to remove the content. As many adults and kids have learned the hard way, nothing on the internet can ever be scrubbed away completely.

That’s why it’s so important to help kids learn to think before they post, and, hopefully prevent kids from posting regrettable things in the first place. Common Sense Media is dedicated to helping kids become savvy, responsible internet users and helping them understand the inherent risks that go along with using social media. Our lessons teach students to evaluate and think critically about the impact and potential consequences of their words and images.

Whether you live in California or somewhere else, here are some digital literacy tools to help you teach your students to think before they click.

  • Follow the Digital Trail introduces K-2 students to digital footprints by letting them follow the digital footprint of fictional animals that may have shared too much information online. Students learn to judge what kind of information is safe, appropriate, and kind by talking about the animals’ stories.
  • Digital Life 102 introduces some statistics about digital media use and compares different perspectives on social media. What are the upsides and downsides of social media in your lives? In what ways can social media affect relationships? How might it affect the country as a whole?
  • Trillion Dollar Footprint teaches middle schoolers what kind of impact digital footprints have on their lives and how they can take control. Through the a fictional scenario, students decide which of two characters will be better able to compete in the talent show, “Trillion Dollar Footprint,” based on what information they’ve publicly shared online.
  • Secret Sharer goes beyond teaching students to protect their own footprints and explores how they can protect the privacy and reputations of their friends, family, and even people they don’t know.
  • Oops! I Broadcast It on the Internet weighs the pros and cons of sharing details online. In the student videos, Eva and Brittney honestly share the difficulties they faced after they posted conversations, videos, and photos online that they later regretted. Students are introduced to digital footprints as well as four unique properties of the internet: a vast and invisible audience, searchability, replicability, and persistence.
  • Private Today, Public Tomorrow reinforces the reality that even if young people delete something they’ve posted, it’s far from being gone. Students decide what information is good and bad for their reputation, and create questions to ask themselves before clicking that fateful “post” button.
  • Overexposed: Sexting and Relationships helps high schoolers learn what it means to use digital technology responsibly in romantic relationships. Students learn from the story of Ally, a young woman whose choice to send a photo to an ex-boyfriend, who later sent it to others, deeply affected her life. Students also learn about the serious legal consequences of spreading photos or videos.