Stephen Balkam is Founder and CEO of Family Online Safety Institute.
Our kids are no longer growing up in a world where everything takes place in the backyard or neighborhood streets. Rather, their worlds are increasingly digital. They live in the world of social media, where boundaries are constantly being pushed and more information than ever is being shared.
It can be unnerving to allow our children to interact in an atmosphere where bullying, sexting and online predators make the nightly news. The media senses our fears and has played up the negative impact of the digital world. However, these reactions are not necessarily healthy or helpful. The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) seeks to provide a researched- focused voice in the conversation surrounding families and technology. Our latest white paper, "Calming Parental Anxiety While Empowering Our Digital Youth," helps parents and teachers guide kids in this new digital world by calling out common myths and providing principles to help families make good decisions about their kids’ online activities.It's no secret that the media likes to focus on the sensational. We hear about bullying incidents and assume that social media is the culprit. It's important to keep in mind that there are risks associated with things our kids do every day, from crossing the road to riding a bike. Instead of looking at the negative, we focus on the positive and teach our children the skills necessary to make positive decisions. The same should be true with social media.
Consider this: more bullying takes place face-to-face than through social media. A recent study shows that 18% of students say that they have been bulled in person, whereas only 5% have been bullied online. Additionally, it is commonly believed that social media can make kids feel isolated and depressed. However, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 78% of teens reported positive personal outcomes from social networking and 65% say they have had interactions through social media that have made them feel good about themselves.
In order to help kids and teens make smart decisions online, we need to guide them through the digital world. We need to help them build media literacy skills so they can have the effective digital training they need to become confident digital citizens. By focusing on the good of social networks, we can provide our children the freedom to use the Internet for good while fostering an environment that provides safeguards that families are comfortable with.
This year, FOSI launched a new website, A Platform for Good (PfG), emphasizing the power of the Internet to promote collaboration and learning. PfG equips parents and teachers to help teens responsibly navigate the Internet—using the Internet to promote good and connect online. PfG provides tools for teachers to use in the classrooms and resources for parents to connect with their teens to help them become responsible digital citizens.
Now, we need to work together to provide our children with a strong foundation that will enable them to convert digital citizenship to a means of doing "good" across their entire lives. We all have a role, from policymakers to parents, teachers to industry leaders—even kids! Take responsibility for your actions to create a safe place, conducive to collaboration and good.
The Family Online Safety Institute is here to help embrace the challenges that come with the new digital world. There is no doubt that caution should be practiced, but by coming together and using the Internet as a learning tool, we can help ensure a positive, enriching online environment for all.