Teaching Students Safe Digital Communication in a Media-Driven World

Teaching Students Safe Digital Communication in a Media-Driven World
Oct 23, 2018

Welcome to the world of “21st Century Salem Mass.”

Students today are constantly exposed to individuals in the news who are accused of crimes and wrongdoing against others. The drama of online indictments of wronging involving every type of bias and boundary crossing now dominates the news cycle. Today’s most current dramas involve a Supreme Court Nominee accused of sexual harassment and assault of a woman which took place over 35 years ago and a United States Tennis Association (USTA) umpire who was accused of being a thief and a sexist by the world’s greatest female tennis player during the finals of the US Open. Every alleged victim now has the ability to strike back digitally, and even the score in the name of justice, whenever they want. Individuals gain support in the digital court of public opinion, which is driven by 24/7 reporting by cable news, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram and thousands of other digital news feeds we thumb through every day. The publicly indicted, whether guilty or not, are instantly condemned to wear a digital scarlet letter of shame and scorn.

The advent of a new justice system.

The military has always had its own system of justice, much more severe than the public justice system. Refuse to fight or commit treason and you were thrown in prison or shot. In the old West, where courts were not always easy to access, cattle rustlers and horse thieves were often hung for their crimes. The mafia has long had its own private code of justice for those who cause harm to the family. Mob law always involves some form of corporal punishment (physical punishment and sometimes death). Then, of course there is school-yard justice, where students settle their differences physically on the playground. Next, we have gang justice, whose system of street justice too often ends in murder. Wear the wrong gang colors and you can end up shot or dead. Now, a new form of justice has emerged; we call it Internet justice. It is the fastest and easiest justice system man has ever created, and it is permanent, with permanent dangerous ripple effects. More often than not, it is based on the age-old concept of getting even, “an eye for an eye”.

The appeal of online judgement.

Students, along with the rest of us, are constantly exposed to online dramas with little more knowledge than the context provided by the comments and opinions of the “online hoard”. The online hoard does not care about the truth; they just want to pile on the “likes” and see their name in the comments feed. Sadly, as humans we find the most unexpected allegations to be the most interesting and memorable. If Charlie Brown were accused of being a sexist by Lucy, it would no doubt go viral and we all would be followers. We are now all spectators of online theatre; without personal connection or empathy for the players, we simply pick a side.

Modeling the behavior of others.

Students learn acceptable social behavior by modeling the behavior of adults such as their parents and those closest to them, aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers, sisters, teachers, friends, etc. They learn to model how to be polite and respectful based on historic cultural norms (saying please, thank you, and other respectful greetings etc.); they learn the boundaries of acceptable, respectable, interpersonal behavior. As human beings we seek to be liked and accepted by our community, so we conform to the social norms of our community in order to get the support necessary to survive and thrive. But importantly, our behavior is visible and we are therefore continuously accountable to ourselves, and those around us.

Modeling harmful online behavior.

In today’s digital world, our leaders, our politicians and those we hold in high esteem, too often use the digital media to serve themselves and their individual interests. They use today’s digital communication tools to give them an edge in the swamp of indiscretion that is the Internet. With mobile phone in hand, they strike quickly and often, garnering the support of the online masses to ensure their success; no matter the cost to those they erroneously fame and defame. Their judgment and followers prematurely tip the scales of justice in the court of public opinion. These leaders and politicians do not consider the pain and shame of the aspersions they cast. They care not about the families and children, who by no fault of their own, end up branded with the same scarlet letter as their condemned parents. The bottom line is that they are not held accountable for their online behavior, their online prejudice and the damage it does to others.

The double jeopardy of the Internet.

Today’s students have to not only watch their backs but also their “digital backs”. We have to teach them how to behave online and constantly remind them that their digital communication is permanently recorded and defines who they are to all they come in contact with throughout life. The “backyard” of the Internet is constantly filled with strangers and myriad dangers, which no fence can protect us from. When students are attacked or defamed online, it creates stress, which can lead to exclusion, anxiety, depression and other unsafe outcomes. So how do we teach proper online safety, communication and behavior when students are constantly bombarded with divisive digital communication and drama outlined above? How do we teach when we cannot readily see their online interactions and communications?

A new strategy to ensure students make the fewest possible digital mistakes.

We are tasked as parents and educators to teach and guide students as they grow socially and emotionally. Before the Internet and social media, it was much easier to guide and advise our children and students. Their social problems were out in the open, and recognizable. The wisdom of experience was easily applied from one generation to the next; that has all changed and with it a need for new school safety strategies has arisen. We need to develop and practice new and improved digital communication habits.

Interpersonal engagement, positive digital habits and healthy relationships.

Interpersonal relationships play a key role in our social and emotional development. We must be able to engage with those around us in conversations about sports, debate issues, the arts, education and much more. Understanding student similarities and differences are key to building trust and respect. Restorative practices are proven to facilitate the establishment of strong interpersonal relationships.

Positive digital communication is the only way to create safe digital habits. Students can and must learn to use smart phones and the Internet in a positive manner, they must show self-discipline and resist the emotional urges to use the Internet to seek revenge and do permanent harm. We are all creatures of habit. Habits are the automatic decisions human beings make without thinking. Students need to be able to practice positive digital communication, over and over again until it becomes habit; they need to be rewarded to turn those routines into life-long habits. Students need to utilize safe communication environments, like the one Bridg-it provides, to learn and practice proper online communication.

In order to maximize school safety and student wellness teachers and school leaders need to facilitate and encourage the development of healthy relationships among students in a school community.

In conclusion:

Parents and educators need to proactively promote and incentivize healthy online and interpersonal relationships from an early age. Communication, both verbal and digital, is the primary tool through which to build healthy relationships. Consistently engaging with students is challenging, but Bridg-it’s school safety platform and applications make it easy.

Teachable Moments

  • Compassion: We can teach our students to be upstanders by practicing compassion online and in person. Watch this video then walk through this Bridg-it restorative activity with your student or child. Video // Restorative Activity – Truce Video

Neil deGrasse Tyson Quote

To see if your school system is participating in Bridg-it or to request a referral, please contact info@bridgit.com. To schedule a demo, please Click Here. If your school is not signed up, you can reach out to your school’s Superintendent, School Safety Officer, or Principal and request Bridg-it be launched in your school.