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Where Do We Go from Here?

by Luann Hughes

I can’t stop thinking about May 24. Nineteen innocent students and two faultless teachers senselessly lost their lives. One teen, only 18 years old, was so troubled that he shot his own grandmother and murdered 21 people in what should be a place of safety– school.  

I have been in public education for 42 years. As all of us who have been around for a while can attest, there are many changes and challenges that public schools have weathered. But this continuing trend of hatred and rage has me worried and heartsick.  

The Effects of Social Media and Online Content

We are seeing the profound effect of social media, access to inappropriate information, and easy anonymous communication on those that we in public schools want most to protect– our students. In our physical world, the boundaries and restrictions are easier to maintain. But, in the world of technology, “anything goes.”  The easy access to hatred and violence online can cause children to be desensitized and create the potential for aggression. Things that people would never say to each other in a civilized conversation in our society are celebrated on social media. Make no mistake, our students are watching how adults, including our country’s leadership, behave (or misbehave) online. 

Managing and Monitoring Online Access: How?

School districts spend thousands of dollars every year trying to keep inappropriate websites off the screens of school computers. Parents face an almost insurmountable challenge in trying to keep their children away from information that should never be exposed to those of such a tender age. Our children have access at their fingertips to things that can be very harmful to them (think sexting, cyberbullying, and pornography.) There are reasons why children SHOULD have restricted access to certain content until they are adults. Children do not have the skill set, maturity, or experience to handle it. 

Digital Citizenship Needs Action, Not Just Talk 

The time has come for us to recognize this problem and take action. Digital citizenship requires more than mere lip service in our state standards and local curriculum. It must be intentionally taught and supported in the classroom. However, teachers have not been provided with the right tools to help students navigate this brave new world that technology has brought us. Technology leaders and parents must demand that funding be provided and regulations enacted to keep our children safe and smart online, both in and out of school. Additionally, it is imperative that we find better ways to use technology for recognizing students who are crying out for help. We have left our students alone to manage technology that is too much for them for too long.   

Five Ways to Take Action 

Now we ask, “Where do we go from here?”  Here are some steps we can take to 

  1. Contact your state legislators.  
    • Let them know the importance of funding ways for students to ask for help online, or help other students by reporting what they see.  
    • Stress the importance of teaching digital citizenship and safety as a required part of the curriculum.
  2. Explore some of these free resources to learn more:
  3. Get students involved on your campus to help create a Digital Safety Awareness program.  
  4. Partner with your counselors or student services department to have digital safety and awareness sessions for parents. Even better still, engage and encourage parents to help lead these sessions.
  5. Speak up often about how to be safe and healthy online. You know that your students (and your own children and grandchildren) are listening and looking to you for guidance. Learn how your students can get help online and then share with them how to use those resources. Let them know that it is OK to ask for help or tell an adult when they know someone who needs help.

I have talked about this for too long without taking enough action to correct the problems that unsafe online access is creating for our students. I’m ready to take action. Will you join me?

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