by Larry Magid
This post first appeared in the Mercury News
What are your plans for this coming Tuesday? That’s a rhetorical question, but whatever they are, I have one more thing to add. Feb. 7 is Safer Internet Day, when people all over the world will pause to think and talk about how to make the internet a safer and better place for their families, communities, workplaces and schools. There are both in-person and virtual events around the U.S. and other countries, but even if you don’t attend an event, you and your family or colleagues can participate simply by having a conversation about how you can use connected technology in a safer and more impactful way.
Safer Internet Day (SID) started in Europe in 2003 and is now celebrated in more than 100 countries. Globally, it’s coordinated by the Brussels-based Insafe/INHOPE Network, with the support of the European Commission. ConnectSafely, the nonprofit I lead, has been the official U.S. host since 2014.
Tuesday’s plans include in-person events in schools across the country, a national virtual event at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time and a virtual local Bay Area event co-sponsored with My Digital TAT2 at 7 p.m. Pacific time. The national live event is co-sponsored with National PTA and aimed mostly at parents. The national event features digital parenting experts Kerry Gallagher of ConnectSafely and Carrie Neill of National PTA. The local event features a panel of tech-savvy teens. There is also a school program expected to reach more than 20,000 students from Maine to Hawaii. Educators can learn more at sidusa.org/students.
What you can do at home, work or school
Whether or not you can attend a virtual live event, there are things you can do at home, work or school on Tuesday. It doesn’t have to be a big formal thing. A conversation, even if it’s just for a few minutes, can go a long way toward helping you and others think about how you’re using connected technology and what you can do to practice and promote good digital habits.
You can talk about anything that concerns you, but for our programs this year, we’re featuring resources on five major issues: Media literacy and critical thinking, civility, picking on peers (cyberbullying), wellness, identity and self-respect and scams, predators and creeps (online security).
All it takes is a simple conversation
A simple conversation, perhaps over dinner or during breaks at work or school, can go a long way toward reminding everyone to think about what they can do. If you have kids or grandkids, get them involved in a conversation. Don’t make it a lecture and don’t drill them with invasive questions. Instead, ask them what apps and services they use, why they like them and how they protect their privacy, safety and security. Kids’ answers might surprise you. Contrary to what a lot of adults believe, surveys have shown that most kids do care about privacy and safety, though they think about it differently than adults. While adults worry about their information being misused by businesses and governments, kids are more concerned about how adults and peers might react to what they post. And that could be a good thing if it causes them to think before they post. Young people have told researchers that they’re also concerned about security and avoiding online creeps.
Safer Internet Day is a great time to ask your kids how they use technology. Get them to share their excitement, and consider trying out some of the apps and services they use to get your own first-hand experience. But if you do, don’t stalk them. Think about how you would have felt about adults inserting themselves into conversations when you were a teen. Parents and grandparents should refrain from commenting on a teen’s social media posts or interacting with their teen’s friends unless they get permission from the teen.
Resources for families
ConnectSafely is offering lots of resources to help families have these conversations at sidusa.org/family-program. Resources include video interviews with experts, discussion points, parent guides and concise “Quick-Guides” on the popular apps your kids use, along with topics such as misinformation and media literacy, combating hate speech, cyberbullying, online safety for seniors, LGBTQ cyberbullying, safe online shopping and much more.
One of the videos is with Dr. Mitchell Prinstein, the chief science officer of the American Psychological Association. It’s no secret that the pandemic and its aftermath have had a big impact on teen mental health, and there has been a lot of discussion about both the positive and negative impact of social media on mental health and well-being. Prinstein argues that “screen time, in and of itself, is not the problem. It’s really more about what you do during that screen time.”
We have additional well-being resources from pediatrician and Digital Wellness Lab CEO Dr. Michael Rich, who argues that social media is neither good nor bad. It’s how you use it that matters.
And if you’re curious about the metaverse, you’ll find insights from human rights and virtual reality expert Brittan Heller, who said that “the way your brain interprets an immersive experience is very different than the way it interprets your Facebook feed or reading everyone’s posts on Twitter. An immersive experience is predicated on presence, and your brain interprets it as if you are actually there.” Another video provides hands-on advice on using Meta’s popular Quest VR headsets.
There are plenty of other resources available at sidusa.org and ConnectSafely.org, but parents and other caring adults don’t need to go to a website for the most important information. You already have it from decades of experience in the real world. Young people can learn from your wisdom, and you can learn from their experiences. We’re all in this together.
Safer Internet Day events are supported by Google, Meta, TikTok, Twitch, Amazon Kids, Discord, Roblox, Zepeto and Trend Micro.