May 10, 2013
Honourable Prime Minister Harper:
Over the past five years we have seen an infiltration of mobile technology use within schools and family homes where youth are focusing on chronic communication with others using social media websites and various applications for voice, text and photograph sharing.
Many of the children in Canada who utilise social media and mobile technology use and share daily ongoing events on a nonstop clock that interferes with education, sleep, family engagement and traditional social development. With the children that we have worked with in Canada, we note that the only time children are inclined to put a mobile device down without the draw of looking at it, is when sporting activities are taking place – it’s very hard to text while in the faceoff circle.
As we have seen in many tragic incidents, the role of social media and mobile technology has allowed children to become documentarians and journalists without the benefit of life experiences to assist in judgment of how to share these events especially when the events are of sensitive nature.
Many advocacy groups have been delivering education and training initiatives for the better part of two decades around Internet Safety but many programs have had to evolve to factor in the use of social media and the innovative programs developed by school districts to address bullying online have seen successes and failures – unfortunately the failures have not addressed the correlation between social media use, bullying and mental health which has led us as a society flailing in attempt to assess this form of harassment affecting children and adults known as cyber bullying.
Bullying and harassment in elementary and secondary schools is a chronic problem for school districts, parents, and students across Canada and with the amplification of social media playing a distinct role in sharing of information, we are seeing cyclical events where social media delivers the news while playing the role of news generator. The comment that “It started on Facebook…” is one regularly heard by administrators and counsellors in schools. Cyber bullying incidents are continually on the rise and with some recent noteworthy events we have seen where children have chosen suicide as an option for their pain.
This has raised the concerns of parents to the point where the correlation of social media abuse, cyber bullying and mental health is playing a significant role in our everyday lives. Many parents are hesitant to see Digital Citizenship become a topic in elementary schools because the idea is still “They’re too young!” but in actuality, the subject needs to be discussed and talked about and integrated within the curriculum at an early age. Technology is often being introduced to children in their early formative years. Learning how to use the internet properly (digital manners) is an important part of the learning process.
The Canadian government, in partnership with police, non-profit and community organizations, can play a critical role in ensuring that our schools and communities are safe places for all students. Federal leadership can insure that the issues are minimized with tools and guidelines designed for proactive education and will help nurture a climate and a culture of positive social media use in our schools.
However, legislation may not be the total answer – verification would play a much better role in helping parents and youth navigate the social media landscape. Imagine social media issues being discussed in a school where the information is readily available from the websites through police because the parents involved have verified the use of social media by their children where the onus of the parent is to verify the account belonging to the child with a credit card.
If parents and guardians were held accountable for the use of the Internet by their children we would see significantly less issues associated to online anonymity freeing millions of dollars in school and police resources where investigating children can take a healthier and proactive approach to social media education with parents. Also including mobile device providers as partners in providing information to families about the appropriate uses of a cell phone and/or mobile device.
Although the idea of verification online is usually reserved for celebrities and those of significant noteworthiness online, the hope that social media websites and telephone providers can be held to a new standard of accountability where allowing children onto their networks is a daunting one.
We believe that while laws and appropriate, inclusive school-based policies can be a focal point for addressing bullying, education strategies, training programs, and community involvement are necessary complements to any effective response. When it comes to the providers of access, telecommunication providers, social media companies and those who choose to facilitate environments where Canadian youth engage need to be held accountable for the actions of their membership, we could police this from afar and send requests to websites like Facebook or Twitter but knowing that a child is verified by their parent who is stepping forward and co-signing on the ability to communicate might just make going online a safer experience for our kids.
We as global citizens are working towards building a safer community (both in the real and virtual worlds) for this and future generations. Our children are precious and we cannot afford to lose them to ‘preventable’ behaviours and actions. Everyone needs to work together to bring about the changes needed to ‘make the difference’.
Jesse Miller Carol Todd