Sexting & A Safety Agreement for Families

February 15, 2016

After running a recent workshop on privacy legislation and educators, I was approached by an attendee. The person was currently going through a divorce, was just starting her teaching career and concerned about some racy photos she made and shared with her husband. They were now divorcing. She was wondering if she should be concerned about those photos. My response started with, “It would have been simpler if you hadn’t shared those photos…” (My advice continued, but that’s for another post.)

 

Sexting is risky business, there’s no denying it. We need to discuss the risks with our children as soon as they are ready, and have a plan in place to help and support them if they get in trouble. This post is provided as a tool to help families understand the issues and perhaps enter into an agreement (document template provided at end) with their children to lend support should it ever be necessary.

Sexting & The Issues

Sexting is the practice (even if it’s just one time) of sharing intimate, explicit images, videos or messages with one or more others. The practice of sexting between romantic partners or as a means to flirt and attract romantic partners has been on the rise—especially among older teens.

Often people share sexts under the assumption that the person(s) receiving the sexts will keep them private. When relationships breakdown, one of the parties may break that assumption of trust and share that ‘private’ sext with others. In fact, the top 3 justifications 18-54 year olds gave for non-consensual sharing of personal data were:

  • a partner lied (45%)
  • a partner cheated (41%)
  • a partner broke up with them (27%).1

The same data showed that 10% of ex-partners threatened to release intimate photos of their partner online and of those, 60% followed through and shared them. 1

But it’s not always relationship breakdowns that cause sexts to be made more public: loss of personal devices holding sensitive information like sexts (e.g. cellphones, tablets, computers) can leave parties vulnerable—especially when said devices have little to no password protection. (TIP: Use strong passwords- See http://www.howtogeek.com/195430/how-to-create-a-strong-password-and-remember-it/ ). Some people share their passwords—to their phones, or online accounts—and later find out someone breached that trust and shared content (like sexts) they wanted kept private. (TIP: Don’t share passwords guarding personal information—your devices or accounts. My one exception: my kids share their passwords with me.) Then there’s always the risk of a hacker revealing content—especially if any of the parties involved store their sexts online or in the cloud (E.g. In 2014, a hacker breached Apple’s iCloud and publicly posted private nude photos of female celebrities).

The risk of sexts:

  • They are permanent digital records of intimate/explicit things;
  • They are easily copied & distributed;
  • They could be shared without your consent;
  • They could be shared with unforeseen people: friends, family, future/ current employers, the world;
  • They could be shared in ways you never intended (like posted publicly online).

While sexting may be done consensually, age differences between the participants may make the practice a legal concern–this varies by country & legal jurisdiction (e.g. child pornography). Another concern is that social and peer pressure can be used to extort sexts from otherwise uncomfortable or unwilling participants. Englander (2012) writes that among 18 year olds, “Indisputably, the most important motivation for sexting…was pressure and coercion”. 2 The two main reasons for sexting were:

  • “because a date or boyfriend/girlfriend wanted the picture (66%)”
  • to attract someone you’re interested in (65%). 2

Youth are still discovering what constitutes a respectful romantic relationship. Sometimes the partners requesting the sext through pressuring and coercion may be unaware that they are crossing a line toward sexual harassment. In the case of youth and young adults who choose to sext, they may not be fully aware of the permanence of the content in the sext, how readily it can be distributed, and the potential impacts if shared.

Youth and young adults aren’t necessarily thinking about their future careers when they sext. Sexts made public can affect your employment—future or continuing—in trust professions like teaching. In British Columbia, you need look no farther than the Shewan Decision (1987)3 to understand the ramifications of how sexts in the wrong hands, or made public could affect your job. Other examples of trust professions where sexts-made-more-public could be an issue: counseling, law, law enforcement, medicine, politics, etc. Members of these professions are held to higher standards than the general public—particularly teachers who are seen to influence the development of children and youth.

Youth Reluctance Reporting Problems

Unfortunately, youth are reluctant to report problems that arise from sexting—especially to parents/caregivers. They are concerned that:

  • Someone will “judge” them for sexting.
  • Someone (parents/caregivers) will take away their devices or technology.

A Sexting Safety Agreement (V 1.0)

To support families in navigating risks associated with sexting and to encourage youth to report problems to caregivers, I’ve drafted a Sexting Safety Agreement (V 1.0)  along the lines of the M.A.D.D.’s Contract for Life (an agreement between caregivers and youth to manage the risks of impaired driving). This is one of the first documents I’ve released under Creative Commons licensing: BY-NC-SA (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike).

 

Footnotes

  1. McAfee, 2013, Lovers beware: Scorned exes may share intimate data and images, http://www.mcafee.com/us/about/news/2013/q1/20130204-01.aspx.
  2. Englander, E.K. (2012) Low risk associated with most Teenage Sexting: A Study of 617 18-Year-Olds, Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Centre, Bridgewater State College, Bridgewater, MA. Available at: http://webhosbridgew.edu/marc/SEXTING%20AND%20COERCION%20report.pdf
  3. In the late 1980’s, a nude photo of a teacher in the Abbotsford School district was submitted by her husband (also a teacher) and published in a magazine as part of an erotic photography competition. The teachers were disciplined by the Board and it lead to a series of court cases. Ultimately in the BC Court of Appeals, Shewan v. Board of School Trustees of School District #34 (Abbotsford), 1987 159, the court stated: “The behaviour of the teacher must satisfy the expectations which the British Columbia community holds for the educational system. Teachers must maintain the confidence and respect of their superiors, their peers, and in particular, the students, and those who send their children to our public schools. Teachers must not only be competent, but they are expected to lead by example. Any loss of confidence or respect will impair the system, and have an adverse effect upon those who participate in or rely upon it. That is why a teacher must maintain a standard of behaviour which most other citizens need not observe because they do not have such public responsibilities to fulfil.”(page 6; http://caselaw.canada.globe24h.com/0/0/british-columbia/court-of-appeal/1987/12/21/shewan-v-board-of-school-trustees-of-school-district-34-abbotsford-1987-159-bc-ca.shtml)
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There’s Regulations & Then There’s Best Practices

February 3, 2016
Image of hand extended holding a light bulb with text: Pondering Best Practices

Image adapted from niekverlaan, 2014, lamp-432247_640.jpg, CC0, https://pixabay.com/en/users/niekverlaan-80788/

(BTW, the ex-high school English teacher in me is making me say: I know, strictly speaking that title is not grammatically correct, but it sounded better. 🙂 )

In this blog, I’ve previously delved (in some detail here) into the nature of BC educators’ compliance (or lack thereof) with BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA, or as some people may remember it, FOIPPA) . I have also mentioned that practically speaking, I don’t think we’ll reach “full compliance” on the Compliance Continuum due to the rate of technological change and our ability to keep pace (access to resources, time, and professional development aside, though clearly important factors 😦 ). What I haven’t really differentiated between is what might be considered “strict compliance” (following the letter of the law) and best practices from an educational perspective with regard to privacy legislation and the use of web-based tools by BC educators. I believe technology savvy educators should reach higher than strict compliance to address students’ & educators’ best interests. In honour of Safer Internet Day 2016’s (2/9/16) theme, “Play Your Part For a Better Internet”, I’m going to share some personal examples of this difference. It’s my way to ‘get involved, inspire, and empower’. I encourage you to share something in honour this year’s Safer Internet Day theme too!

When working with a school staff or faculty, there is what I’ll call a “strict compliance necessity” to make sure that people know their legal obligations like “knowledge, notice, informed consent” when using cloud computing or social media tools–especially those with data stored or accessed outside Canada, or those where the location of data storage is unknown; however, knowledge of such strict compliance requirements is information without context. In my opinion, de-contextualized knowledge doesn’t stick very well–and prevents people understanding why things are the way they are and what makes the specifics important in a particular context. It’s like learning the formula for the Pythagorean Theorem by heart (i.e. a² + b² =c²) without understanding the context of a right triangle. In fact, during school math, I had difficulty with that entire formula until I finally realized that it dealt strictly with right triangles and always referred to the relationship of 2 sides of a triangle to its hypotenuse: while the sides might change, the hypotenuse never did. (A little math lesson, too? 🙂 ) This is one of the reasons I now like to give some sense of the historical context that ‘grew’ FIPPA, its amendments & regulations when I present the topic to BC educators–not only the global context but also regional, as pertains to our particular province. Ensuring educators have some understanding of the context in which FIPPA legislation was written, has been amended, etc., is a best practice.

(Note: If you’re interested in approaches to privacy legislation, you should be following the current developments in the European Union since the “Safe Harbor Ruling” was struck down in 10/15. If you are following the current EU situation, and are familiar with the BC context, there are clear parallels between  the circumstances under which the EU’s new privacy legislation is unfolding and BC’s current FIPPA laws and regulations; BC was just a bit earlier.)

Now for an in-the-field example of strict compliance necessity vs. best practice with students… In strict compliance with FIPPA and FIPPA Regulations, nowhere does it direct educators to specifically provide students (and their parents/guardians where applicable) with the steps to delete accounts after a class or course–though Section 11 of the FIPPA Regulations speaks to providing “the date on which the consent is effective and, if applicable, the date on which the consent expires” (See BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Regulation, Section 11, http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/155_2012 ). It does, however, fit under the legally interpreted aspects of “knowledge” and “notice” for mitigating risks that are critical to the concept of “informed consent”. It is also a practice I encourage my graduate students to use in my OLTD 506  course (#OLTD506) here at VIU (#VIUEd).  When a course/class using a specific online tool comes to an end, providing support documentation or tutorials that walk students through the deletion of accounts or data–as is reasonably and practically possible–would be a best practice not only in British Columbia, but anywhere. In fact, teaching students how to manage the lifecycle of their accounts and associated services/products over time teaches good digital hygiene necessary for a digitally literate citizenry.

If you’re wondering what such a document might look like, here is an example I’ve drafted for our VIU Faculty of Education: Controlling the Lifecycle of Google Accounts_shared .

NOTE BENE: A ‘how to delete an account or data’ document such as this does not replace  the documentation required for obtaining informed student consent to use tools like Google Accounts & YouTube in a BC school under FIPPA. In our case, consent documentation was provided separately along with activity alternatives for students. Controlling the Lifecycle of Google Accounts_shared is provided to students as a supplement to consent documentation.

This document was designed for use with university students in classes where the use of Google and YouTube was encouraged. If you created a similar document, you would need to tailor your content to

  • the specific tool(s) you are using & their processes for deletion/ account closure
  • the level of your audience(s) (i.e. for students and caregivers)
  • your specific school policies, and/or regional laws/regulations

and the document should include the names & contacts for the relevant individuals who can lend support.

Let me know what you think of this post & shared document. I hope it inspires you to do your own thing to “Play Your Part For a Better Internet” on Safer Internet Day 2016.

If you would like to adapt this form for your own use, just contact me & I’m happy to extend permission.

(If you’re wondering why I don’t use CC licensing here, the research I’ve seen shows that “attribution” is rarely given as requested. You’ll see I gave attribution above to the CC0 image I used even though it wasn’t strictly necessary; it’s a thanks to the author from me. If you know of research showing the statistics have changed, share it with me and I’ll be happy to revisit my licensing commitments. 🙂 )


Raising Techno-Responsible Kids: Story 2

February 27, 2014

Bike with training wheels; social media logos on rear tire

While I was commuting into work Tuesday, I was listening to The Kid Carson Show (http://www.kidcarson.com/) on Sonic (Chilliwack, BC, Canada). The segment dealt with his 9 year old step-daughter’s request for Instagram—and his response. Much of the discussion and the commentary from listeners dealt with what I’ll call a binary approach—like a 0 or a 1—where our children are seen as either having no access whatsoever (0) or full unrestricted access (1). If you’re in the “no access” camp,  you should know the question is not whether your kids will get access to social media—regardless of type—but when, how, and how prepared they will be to use it.  Ask yourself, “If I’m not preparing my kids to use social media, who is? Whose values will they take into these environments? Who will help them learn how to make good decisions with these tools?”

Many of us overlook a middle ground where our kids can have managed access. Managed access could look like: 1) we post content on their behalf & share responses through our own adult account ; 2) we have an account that is shared between ourselves & our children; or 3) our kids have their own account and share their passwords and content with us. If you think about it, it’s a lot like how many of us learned to drive a car or ride a bike. We started out observing how a skilled adult did it—from back seats or kid seats. We might have tried it on a kiddie version under parental supervision—a Little Tykes car or a tricycle on the driveway. All the time our parents were correcting us where we needed it, supporting and directing. Then we got to a semi-independent stage where parents “rode along” in the front seat or ran alongside. They were chattering away to us even then about what was safe—or not. Eventually, when we had some skill, and they had some confidence in our abilities—we got the keys to the car or we got to take the bike down the road alone. Social media use is a lot like that.

Think of it as 3 phases based on maturity rather than years, and those phases are based on a parent’s knowledge, observation, and confidence in a child’s abilities and core values when using technology. In my work with my own children—9 & 10 years old now—I see these phases as:

  • Digital by Proxy
  • Digitally Coached
  • Digitally Independent

Out of the blue, would you just hand over the keys to your car one day and think your child had the skills to drive? In my opinion, kids don’t magically reach an age where they get the keys to the digital kingdom—they earn them. An approach I use is one where children get graduated, monitored access depending on the tool, their behaviour and maturity. The phases will vary tool by digital tool—and child by child.

Digital by Proxy

In the Digital by Proxy phase, I as a parent will post things on my children’s behalf through my accounts. I will filter content I post—say no pictures of their faces—and discuss why some things are safe to share and others not. I will act as a digital bridge between them and the online world talking through our values and having discussions. I use Twitter a lot and have done this with things my sons wanted to post on Twitter.  A few months back my oldest son (10) asked for his own Twitter account. We talked about why he wanted the account and whether he was ready for it—did he have people he wanted to follow? Did he have content he wanted to share? etc. Since the only person he wanted to follow was me (likely because I was posting content for him), I explained that most of my stuff was “ed tech” and would likely be pretty boring for him. He didn’t have content he wanted to share regularly, so we decided that if he did want to share things, we would use my account as we have in the past. We also agreed that I would share any responses to content I had posted on his behalf.

Digital by Proxy is not just about being a digital “stand in”; it’s also about discussing what it is to be a digitally responsible person. You need to discuss with your children moral and ethical questions about being digital as you encounter them.  For example, Tuesday was a snow day for all of us in the family—all schools closed—including mine. The Simi Sara Show (http://www.cknw.com/the-simi-sara-show/ ) on CKNW was discussing the story of a woman in Calgary who was being digitally shamed. (BTW a good free reading in this area is Chapter 4 in Daniel Solove’s The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet called Shaming and the Digital Scarlet Letter). My kids and husband were drifting in and out of the kitchen as I sat listening and tweeting. I shared snippets with them. It led to a good discussion over lunch on the ethics of digitally shaming people—even if they did do something wrong. My not-so-techie husband also weighed in on the discussion. It got to a point where we began to see the issue as a question of whether ends justify means and we talked about digital shaming as a type of #cyberbullying . As I said to my husband, “If we don’t like what someone’s doing, shouldn’t we talk to the person directly? If that doesn’t work—or we’re afraid to approach that person, we teach our kids to report behaviour to the designated responsible adults. Rather than digitally shaming people, shouldn’t adults do the same—especially if it’s what we want kids to do? If that has been tried and doesn’t work, that’s a different story.”

I’m big on digital proxy where the risks to children might be higher—e.g. exposure to baddies, etc.—or my kids’ maturity & skills are low (which makes me see the risks as “higher” than for a more mature or skilled child) and when they are unclear about uses for the tool. From the outset, it should always be about your kids being safe and responsible online—so they can get the most benefit with the least risk.

Digitally Coached

My response to my sons’ request for text messaging when they were 8 & 9, was different. Both had face-to-face friends they saw infrequently—friends from summer vacations and distant family—and nearby friends with whom they wanted to interact regularly. Text messaging is a great way to stay in touch with these people and in my opinion, their texting circle could be easily managed. Our agreement was that each boy could have separate texting accounts, but that I would set them both up, maintain the passwords, and have the ability to review their use. In the beginning—especially with my youngest, they would text some stuff I would call “junk”—gobbled-gook or inappropriate statements (in line with bathroom humour)—some of which was directed to me as their initial contact for texting.  I discussed with them that a texting account was a privilege & that they needed to show me they could be responsible with it. I check in on their texts from time to time. When they go a bit sidewise with their behaviour, we talk about it and I usually use the phrase, “That kind of behaviour shows me that you’re not ready for your own account [separate from me].” They know they shouldn’t use the accounts to say things that they wouldn’t say to people face-to-face (a house ground rule for technology use).  Some other ground rules for our texting use are that my kids may only text with people approved by me and who they know face-to-face (that includes my husband or I knowing the others face-to-face).  I have written about our ground rules before (https://jhengstler.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/trying-to-raise-techno-responsible-kids-story-1/ ).

Similarly, though both my kids have asked for their own iTunes accounts—and some of their friends already have them—I have said no. I have certain expectations about the choices my kids will make for their apps. I’ve discussed this before in my blog. Games that virtually humiliate victims, etc. just don’t make the cut. My kids ask for apps and have to be ready to discuss what the app is and does—and I’ll take a closer look if I think it’s necessary. In the beginning I got lots of requests for inappropriate apps and games—often because friends had them. When the boys describe an app or game that’s sounding questionable, I usually respond with something like, “That doesn’t sound too nice. Would we do that in real life?” Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve mentioned before, killing dinos to save the village—or zombies to save living brains—usually makes the cut, but virtually bullying a person in a virtual office by throwing things at them, or virtually kicking a virtual friend absolutely does not. If I reject an app or game, I discuss with them why it doesn’t make the cut. Popularity of an app or game alone is not a reason to have it, by our family standards. I know there are “parental controls” for kids’ accounts—but I think I’m a bit more thorough. In the beginning, my boys would ask for their own iTunes account, but as I said to them, “You need to show me you can make good choices about what to download.” I must say that almost all of their more recent app and games requests have been fully appropriate—and yes, some of them may be a bit more violent then I would have let them play a year or two ago.  Don’t tell them, but the time for their own iTunes account with some automated “parental controls” may be coming sooner then they—or—I thought.

In this Digitally Coached phase, I want my kids to be able to make mistakes that won’t cost them later—won’t damage the digital footprints they are creating. I want my kids to learn how to be respectful and responsible—even if they see people online who aren’t. I want my kids to see how digital tools can be used to connect them to a wider world and more perspectives in good ways and how to navigate and deal with the bad ones. I can do this by talking through their use alongside them—much like a coach. But to coach them, they must have a place and opportunity to develop and practice their skills—and I must have some skills as well.  I know some parents feel challenged keeping up with technology—but even if you are feeling overwhelmed, you can have access to a shared account, or monitor what your kids are saying and doing online. You don’t have to know how it’s done yourself but you can know whether  their content and behavior  are “acceptable” by your standards. Now I know that there will be some readers who will say kids can make end-runs around parents. That’s true, but if you are in a trusting relationship with your kids, it’s my belief that they will keep you in the loop with some accuracy.

The digital coaching phase is where the parent feels that risk can be comfortably managed and the kids will benefit from practice and access. It will vary by kid and by digital tool—and by parent. When a parent in your circle says, “Well, I let my son/daughter use that a year ago!” be prepared with, “I’m glad to hear you feel that confident about his/her ability to manage the risks at this age” and leave it at that.

Digital Independence

On the radio, Kid Carson asked me at what age I thought kids might be ready for their own independent accounts on something like Instagram. That’s a complex question and involves a lot of judgement. First you have to know your child and be able to judge his or her maturity level using a digital tool. If you have worked with your kids through the Digital Proxy and/or the Digitally Coached phases with online tools, you have more information by which you can judge the readiness of your child. Even when you feel fairly confident in their skills, it’s always important to review the values and rules you have in place. Remind your children of those values and rules in your discussions of stories in the news or media. Get your kids to weigh in on the stories. Ask them if they see their friends using the tools in “good ways” and “bad ways” & get them to give you examples and reasons why those uses might be good or bad. Ask them, “What did you do with digital tools today that helped someone?” and “Do you think you did anything that hurt someone or made them feel bad?”.  These kinds of discussions help surface the framework your kids are using to judge their own behaviour.

Before you allow your kids to have independent accounts, be ready for mistakes. Think through a few likely scenarios where your child might do something “wrong” by your standards, what the consequences might be for your child, and how they can rebuild your trust and confidence in them (if it was broken). Discuss those standards, consequences, and reparations with them upfront—negotiate as you feel appropriate. Some parents have been known to draft written contracts (See this article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janell-burley-hofmann/iphone-contract-from-your-mom_b_2372493.html ).  It’s up to you how formal to make that. In my house we’re happy with discussing  rules  and consequences and reminding our kids of those rules and consequences from time to time. What is important is that everyone is clear on the standards of behaviour expected and the consequences for not meeting those behaviours. I have revoked access to technology on a few instances–but the boys had ways to rebuild my trust and regain access later.

Ultimately, our kids will grow up. They will be in a society where digital tools and social media are widely available and used by most people. As a parent, I believe I should try my best to prepare my children to use technology in safe and responsible ways and to be people I can be proud of—online and off.


A K-12 Primer for British Columbia Teachers Posting Students’ Work Online

May 17, 2013

cover_capture_sm.fw  There is little doubt in my mind that web 2.0, social media, and cloud computing offer powerful vehicles for teaching and learning—but only if educators use them responsibly, abide by the rules and regulations, and teach their students to do the same. According to lawyer, Pam Portal, “BC’s privacy laws are arguably the strongest in Canada” (Cooper, et al., 2011, “Privacy Guide for Faculty Using 3rd Party Web Technology (Social Media) in Public Post-Secondary Courses”,2). These laws and regulations protect the privacy rights of the individual in British Columbia, Canada. Our unique legal context sets the boundaries for what the K-12 should be doing online with student information, work, and data. If you’re not from British Columbia, or aren’t in touch with what’s happening here, consider us the “Europe” of privacy protection in North America. If you are an American teacher or a Canadian teacher anywhere but in British Columbia–you likely have more permissive regulations in the use of Web 2.0 tools–especially those that are housed in the cloud.

The institution where I work, Vancouver Island University (Nanaimo, BC, Canada), is in the vanguard of addressing privacy issues associated with use of cloud based tools at the post-secondary level in BC education. In 2011, VIU  published “Privacy Guide for Faculty Using 3rd Party Web Technology (Social Media) in Public Post-Secondary Courses” with BC Campus,  and our Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning (under Director, Liesel Knaack) has been running numerous training sessions to raise faculty awareness of their obligations in use of cloud, Web 2.0, and social media technologies—especially with regard to students. As part of that effort, and in discussions with Liesel, I began to develop some resources to streamline how faculty in our Faculty of Education and other post-secondary instructors could meet the new requirements–items like forms to guide instructors, and an information backgrounder to share with students.  As BC K-12 educators got wind of what I was doing, I had individuals from BC K-12 schools–public and private, traditional and face-to-face–contacting me to see what knowledge, resources and guidance I could share. At that point I was solidly focused on developing resources I could use with my faculty, and I kept hoping that ‘someone else’ would take on that mantle and deal with providing specific K-12 resources. I happily provided what I had–but it was from the post-secondary perspective. When I shared content, I’d repeatedly ask the recipients to share back what they developed. Many of these individuals were dealing with these issues off the side of their K-12 desks—among many other responsibilities. I checked back with a few of them and their content development had gotten sidelined in one way or another.

Working in a Faculty of Education as I do, I am reminded that I am only a step away from the K-12 context. Our Education students are doing practica in BC K-12 schools–some of them with institutionally loaned equipment—and I need to support their responsible use of technology under current legislation. In September 2013, I will be teaching a course in social media in our new Online Learning and Teaching Diploma (OLTD) Program, and I will need resources to guide my students as educators in responsible use of social media in BC’s K-12 context. Knowing my interests, parents have approached me to describe incidents where students are using social media and cloud based resources in their local schools without any permission forms or information being sent home. One parent described Googling her child’s name only to find a Prezi with scanned family photos and information—yet the parent had never been approached for permission–much less had discussions or handouts on the activity and its potential privacy risks. I have heard numerous accounts of teachers doing great things with Google docs and their classes–using Facebook or Twitter, but when I pause to ask them whether they sent out and obtained written permission slips, I either meet a dead silence or am told, “Oh, our school media waiver covers that.” The likelihood that a school media waiver meets the key criteria set down in our BC law and regulations for ‘knowledge’, ‘notice’, and ‘informed consent’ with regard to these types of activities in these technological environments is slim.

So, last month, I decided that “someone” was going to be “me”. I’ve spent about a month drafting this document I call “A K-12 Primer for British Columbia Teachers Posting Students’ Work Online“.

This document was possible only with the support of these key individuals:

  • Liesel Knaack, Director, Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia
  • Rebecca Avery, e-Safety Officer, Kent County Council, United Kingdom
  • Mark Hawkes, e-Learning Coordinator, Learning Division, Ministry of Education, British Columbia
  • Dave Gregg, e-Learning Officer, Learning Division, Ministry of Education, British Columbia
  • Larry Kuehn, Director of Research and Technology, British Columbia Teachers’ Federation
  • John Phipps, Field Experience Supervisor, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, British Columbia

Consider this document Version 1.0. I hope you find it useful and that you feel moved to comment and share your insights for a future version. You are free to duplicate and share it according to the Creative Commons: Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike licensing.

Julia


Trying to Raise Techno-Responsible Kids: Story 1

April 10, 2013
Image

Digital Footprints Copyright 2013, Julia Hengstler
(Permission: image may be reused with attribution and a link to this page)

  I just read a piece where a parent was dumfounded by what kids post on Instagram. The author called for parents to check all their children’s Instagram accounts–those of their friends, etc. So many people get hung up on what people–including kids–are posting on Facebook, what they’re putting on Instagram, what they are putting here, there and everywhere, that they can’t see the forest for the trees. People are focusing on what users are doing with specific TOOLS. Kids–and adults–need general guidelines to help frame behaviours. Kids are literal—they grow into the ability to transfer knowledge and think abstractly. (That said, I know quite a few adults who are still pretty literal.) You give them a rule for one tool—and it’s just that, a rule for ONE tool. As adults, and for myself as an educator, I feel an obligation to think wider and deeper than the implications of behaviour with or in one tool. We, socially, and as individuals, need to take a step back from focusing on the tools and look at the behaviours we want to encourage. Some additional details may be needed for specific tools, but the bedrock needs to be a general guideline or value. Ultimately, I have no idea what tools my kids will be using in adulthood–so I need to try to prepare them in a way that deals with current technology and will accommodate future ones as well.

This is the first of what will likely be a few posts on what I actually do with my own kids when I’m wearing my tech-savvy parent hat. I hope it makes you think.

When My Kids Got Their iPods

The first thing I did before handing over the iPods was to tie them to my personal iTunes account. I consciously set it up so that I would manage and monitor their devices and approve any app purchases and installs. The boys were 6 and 8 at the time.  [I haven’t yet decided when I will let them do some downloading and managing on their own. I’m not there yet.]

I knew from all the social media training, research, writing that I do—images are powerful tools. That’s nothing new—“a picture says a thousand words”.  As soon as my kids got their first iPods with built-in cameras about a year and a half ago, we had a couple cardinal rules from the very beginning:

  1. no pictures of naked bodies or naked body parts EVER;
  2. no pictures of any other kid without permission from the kid’s parents.

These were rules writ LARGE.  I explained that we don’t want people doing things with our images without our permission and that there were bad people out there who could use our pictures to do bad things.

I added another rule after the first week or two, because the boys were getting app recommendations from friends for first person shooter games, gang themed apps, etc:

3) we don’t download apps to do things electronically that we would have issues with in  real life.

Under this rule, I’ve allowed my boys to virtually kill dinosaurs to protect villages, and mow down zombies to protect the living—but no hurting virtual humans.

The boys had been SOO excited to get these ipods. In the first couple of weeks, my younger son absolutely bombarded me with requests to download this or that app. I couldn’t take it, so I designated every Friday as “App Day”. (Since then, the novelty has worn off and I just take the requests as they come.) About 3 weeks after my boys got the iPods in their hot little hands, we were commuting on the ferry to school and work. As we were waiting to disembark in the car, my older son asks me if I would download an app his friend had called Office Jerk. (We had a later incident with another app recommendation from the same friend–for a later post). Not liking the implications of the title, I asked my older son to explain to me a bit more about the game. My projections from the title weren’t far off. Basically, you virtually bully a character in a virtual office. When my older son finished his explanation, this is how our conversation went:

  • Me: “Isn’t that bullying?’
  • Older Son: “Yes.”
  • Me: “Is it OK to bully people in real life?’
  • OS: “But it’s not real! It’s just a game.”
  • Me: “What’s our rule?”
  • OS: “No apps for stuff we wouldn’t really do in real life. [Pause…..] So is it ok that Younger Son took a picture of his penis and used it as an avatar on the Star Wars game?”

I was dumfounded. “WHAT????” my inner voice screamed for about 3 real seconds.I do this stuff for a living, and here my kid was doing exactly what I thought was a HUGE techno no-no. What kind of tech savvy parent was I? [Let me just note here, that the Star Wars app in question was NOT networked or multiplayer and only functioned on the device itself. Thank heavens!]

  • Me: “Give me the iPod, YS. Right now! I want to see that.”
  • YS: “I already deleted it.”

He handed it over and the picture was gone. I kid you not—mere SECONDS  had elapsed—and  my youngest ( a fairly sharp laddie) knowing I was about to blow a gasket, had deleted it. As if that would mitigate his situation….

  • Me: “What rule did you break?”
  • YS: “The one about no picture of naked body parts.”

There was no hesitation in his response–so it was obvious to me that he knew and remembered this rule quite clearly.

  • Me: “What were you thinking?
  • YS: “I don’t know…”
  • Me: “That’s it. You are not getting your iPod back for 6 months. This is major.”

I could not believe that MY son could do this: I mean I train adults and students on technology use all the time. It’s my job–did I already say that? You’d be amazed by how many more times I was to say that to myself.  I was literally side-swiped. (Just realized the pun in there when reading for errors!)

So, within weeks of getting the iPod—a device he’d been pleading for for months, of hounding me for the latest and greatest apps in the first 3 weeks of ownership—my youngest found himself cut-off from the coveted device. By the time school and work had ended, and I was back home, I did relent somewhat. In discussion with my husband, I reduced the banishment to 3 months. For 3 months that iPod sat in plain sight on the highest kitchen cabinet where YS could see it daily and repeatedly. Periodically, my younger son would look at the iPod high on the kitchen cabinet and say to me:

  • YS: “It’s been 3 months, right?”
  • Me: “No. It’s been 2 weeks.”

A week later,

  • YS: “Friend X said that it’s been 3 months now. Do I get my iPod back today?”
  • Me: “Friend X can say whatever he likes, you have almost X more weeks to go.”

This little dialogue was a refrain in our house for quite a while—with the calendar check-ins dropping off until we got closer to the actual device return date.

From the day it happened, I spoke about this incident with my friends, parents of my kids’ friends, and colleagues.  Every adult in YS’s circle knew why he had lost his iPod and that he’d lost it for 3 WHOLE MONTHS! OMG! OS learned his lesson by proxy—and I think quite a few other kids did too. My friend, Kelly, said, “Do you mind if I use you as a cautionary tale?” A colleague, Sally McLean, was doing some professional development about the time that this took place. When I told her what happened, she asked if she could use my story during her session. I spoke about what I had done during a radio talk show. The host accused me of being a bit hard on my son.

I was hard enough to ensure that my son has the basic concepts that will help him deal with the major and far reaching issue of sexting when it comes up in his pre-teen & teen years. I have taught him that I take certain technology rules very seriously. I have taught him that images are powerful things and that images–especially those of children–require special care and handling. When the whole Amanda Todd  story arose, and I explained the course of events as I understood them, I asked my boys what Amanda might have done to have changed her story. Both boys promptly answered that she shouldn’t have shown her breasts on the video chat when the stranger asked her to.

I can happily say that we’ve not had any more explicit picture incidents in the last couple years. We’ve had about 2 issues with taking pictures of other kids—even friends—small potatoes in comparison with the first big rule situation we had. I’ll post about how I handled those another day. I’m happy to say that I have seen YS at school picnics asking parents if he could take a picture of a friend–and asking the friend too.

Hope this helps you frame some responsible device use for your kids and students! Let me know what you think or what you do to help guide responsible device use.


Digital Citizenship Tips for Families of Kids in Digital Environments

October 18, 2012

If you follow me on twitter @jhengstler, you may be aware that I have been fairly vocal about the Amanda Todd cyberbullying case. The case is a tragedy and my heart bleeds for Amanda and her family.

While this case has provided a rallying point for the issues of bullying, and cyberbullying, I have been working to widen the discussion to the notion of “digital citizenship” for BC schools. As a society, it seems much easier for us to identify inappropriate or unacceptable behavior, then to define good social norms (expected appropriate behaviors, etc.) for our use of technology. I believe that some kind of K-12 initiative around digital citizenship that defines core values and expected appropriate behaviors might be a good approach for schools to take to empower our society to deal productively and safely with technologies well into our future. It is clear that a discussion of cyberbullying, sexting and the like will need to be included, though exactly what “digital citizenship” might look like in our BC context is a matter for wider discussion (that I hope will happen soon). That said, I believe it needs to be strongly centered on our social values.

As with any issue that deals with values and how we behave, parents, guardians and families have a significant role to play. Below are some suggested digital citizenship tips and strategies that might help frame children’s use of technologies. These tips and strategies are adapted from my tweets on October 11, 2012 in response to a question posted to me by @LorraineJLola. 

Digital Citizenship Tips for Families of Kids in Digital Environments

1) Be clear on your family values—e.g. respect, tolerance, etc—discuss those with your child.

  • If you’re not sure where to start, look at some of the 8 universal values identified by the Institute for Global Ethics like love, truthfulness, fairness, respect, tolerance, responsibility, unity, freedom

2) Model what you want your children to do on or with technology. Show them through your use of technology the values and behaviors you expect.

  • Connect your behaviors to those values and speak to that connection.
  • You may have to get up to speed on a technology, but probably not your family values!

3) Teach that whatever we commit to digital environments is permanent & can/will be connected to us

  • There are no “do-overs” or “take-backs”—just damage control & taking responsibility.
  • No one is every truly anonymous–they share enough information that they can be tracked down.
  • Make sure what you do/say/post reflects well on you.

4) Teach that any information shared in “confidence” in a digital format is just a cut and paste away from being common knowledge for the world

  • If you want to share sensitive information with others, it may be best in face to face conversations.

5) Draft some rules for behavior and etiquette centered on your family values for how members of the family are expected to use technology in the house & out of it

  • Reinforce that the values & rules of behavior expected in face-to-face life still apply in ALL digital environments and with ALL technologies
  • Just because you can’t see a person you interact with, or know his/her real name, you are still responsible for dealing with them civilly and accountable for what you say & do

6) With smaller children (say pre K to grade 3?), have them interact on digital environments through you or while you directly supervise.

  • Discuss what they want to say, post, share before it’s done—when and how content or conduct is appropriate or not,when and how others’ posted content or conduct is appropriate or not.

7)  If you give younger kids access to their own technology, or time on their own with technology, create some type of approval system for accounts, app downloads, etc. where you talk about why kids are permitted or not permitted a particular one.

  • Don’t download apps or create accounts on systems that go against your basic family values.
  • Discuss how they violate your values and expectations.

8) If you allow children to connect with others online, start with people they actually know in the real world–people they might talk to face to face.

  • It’s easier to think of a person you connect with in the face to face environment as being “real” online–with feelings, thoughts, etc.
  • If there are issues that arise online with people they really “know” they could talk about the issue in person, you could contact the parent/guardian, etc.

9) If working with older kids, talk to them about what types of apps they are running, content they are posting online.

  • Have critical discussions about whether the way they are conducting themselves in these digital environments represents the values you expect.

10) Before cutting children “loose” in online ‘big people’ social networks with their own accounts, think about allowing them to use “fenced”  systems where memberships are restricted, you define who they connect with, and content is monitored–by the service and by you.

  • Have critical discussions about whether the way they are conducting themselves in these digital environments represents the values you expect.

9) Teach kids & yourself how to do screen captures from whatever technology you’re using should they ever need to capture “evidence” of an event.

  • You might want to capture a record of good conduct, behavior, community contribution for a child’s digital footprint, eportfolio, or school project.
  • You might want to capture a record of inappropriate behavior your child experienced–or committed–to discuss or protect.
  • NOTE: Adults must be very careful when evidence of sexting is involved—as adults collecting sexting evidence involving minor children could be identified as pedophiles. It has happened before to some school officials who were later acquitted. Contact the local police if you are made aware of evidence of sexting.

10)   Know your school’s policies for dealing with technology. 

  • What does their acceptable use policy look/sound like? Can you see your values in it?
  • Is there a code of etiquette or behavioral expectations? Does it resemble yours?
  • Is there clear language to deal with digital aggression–discipline, data collection, etc.?
  • If you feel the policies need revision (or creation!)—work with the school to draft new language–or locate people who can help.

11)   Know your children’s friends & cultivate their trust. Discuss your family values with them if they are visiting your house.

  • Your child’s friends might tell you things about your child—even if your own child won’t.

12)   Know that cyberbullying—digital aggression—is significantly different from any schoolyard bullying you might have experienced

  • It’s 24/7 & follows you everywhere. There is not walking away from it.
  • “Just turn it off” or “Just delete your account” is not a sufficient response.
  • People may believe that they are anonymous in digital environments and may conduct themselves in ways they never would face-to-face.

13)   Don’t be afraid to ask for support to educate yourself or keep your children safe

  • Educate yourself if you think you need to know more about a digital topic: many experts will reply to your emails or posts on their blogs.
  • If you think your child is at risk, involve police, child welfare, mental health professionals

That’s all I have for now. Anything else you would like to add?


Policy Alarm: Beware Collecting Sexting Evidence

September 26, 2011

Fire Alarm altered to read "Policy Alarm: Pull in Case of Sexting"This post is meant ring an alarm bell for all the teachers and administrators out there who might be in a position to collect evidence of sexting from students. But first a little background if you are new to this topic:

What is “sexting”?

Sexting is the practice of sending sexually related content through digital means. Most commonly, sexting involves the transmission of nude or partially nude pictures or videos. It can be over cellphones, through email, on social networking sites, etc. Increasingly, youth with digital tools are sharing this type of content without any thought to the ramifications. A recent research study conducted by MTV & AP found that:

  • about a quarter of all teens 14-17 years have engaged in sexting activity
  • girls are more likely to post nude photos of themselves
  • most share the pictures with significant others (boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.)
  • 29% share sexts with people they never met–only know through online contact
  • 61% of sexters say they have been pressured to do it at least once

Is “sexting” illegal?

Depends on the ages of the individuals involved and where they live. Basically, when it involves images of nude or partially nude children under the age of consent, it is likely covered under your local laws dealing with child pornography. This means that those found in possession of sexting evidence created/transmitted by minors will be treated under the local child pornography laws–e.g. if charged, be required to register as a sex offender, etc. Various US states and Canadian provinces are looking to change the relevant laws so that minors in possession of sexting content from other minors are not treated as severely as adults found in possession of the same.

Why should you care?

If at any point you are made aware of evidence of sexting, you will need to react in some manner. How you react may mean the difference between a future in education or in court. You need to be VERY careful how you handle that evidence–especially how it’s collected, how it is stored and WHERE it is stored. This is a discussion that most school boards and teachers’ associations should be having right now–if they haven’t already. Your district, your teachers’ association, your administrators’ association should be very clear regarding the legal framework you are working under with regard to sexting, collection of evidence of sexting, and transmission of sexting evidence to police, RCMP or other bodies.

What you absolutely don’t what to have happen is what happened to Ting-yi Oei in Virginia. He was a long time veteran vice principal whose entire career and future was called into question when he collected evidence of sexting and ended up in a witch-hunt accused of possessing child pornography.(Read K. Zetter’s piece in Wired,  ” ‘Sexting’ Hysteria Falsely Brands Educator as Child Pornographer.”) In a recent Canadian case, Richard Cole, a secondary school communications teacher in Sudbury, Ontario collected evidence of sexting from student emails on the network and found himself and his harddrive (that contained personal information) the subject of search and seizure. (Read more on the Cole case in Kirk Makin’s online Globe & Mail article.)

Does Your School Have a Policy?

If so, review it! If not, get on it!

If your school or district has a sexting policy in place, be very clear on how evidence is to be handled and collected. Make sure that there is a clear directive to collect evidence from an administrator. For example, a policy, an email–just some record that indicates that YOU personally were required to collect the evidence. Your school should also clearly define where that data will be stored and a chain of custody for that data, and how that data will be transmitted to authorities when necessary. For example, you should NEVER store that kind of evidence on your personal digital devices that you bring to school. If your school encourages–or even just tolerates–individuals using their own devices on the job, your personal devices are not the place for that evidence to reside. Storing on your personal devices can call your motivation into question.

Review your school or district policy for any point at which you might become vulnerable to accusations of possessing, storing or transmitting child pornography.

If you are looking for some examples of how to deal with sexting, take a look at the Miami-Dade School District’s approach here: Empowering Students to Engage in Positive Communication: A Guide to Combat Student Sexting. District administrators are charged with ensuring that the fewest individuals possible handle the evidence, and that it is “immediately labeled and placed in a safe and secure location”. Faculty who confiscate equipment must “immediately“[their policy bolding] turn over the equipment to the principal or his/her designee. Pages 15 and following are particularly relevant. Even schools that already have sexting policies, might have something to gain from a review of the Miami-Dade approach. Their appendix, “Comprehensive Procedure to Combat Sexting Action Plan” (p. 23)  defines benchmarks, action steps, and key deliverables in a manner I have rarely seen with regard to moving from policy to practice and page 24 has a “handout” to raise awareness of the issue.

In all cases you need to be aware of the legal framework within which you and your school are operating. The US National School Boards Association’s Council of School Attorneys published “Sexting at School: Lessons Learned the Hard Way” (February 2010) which provides some excellent ideas for the development of sexting policy and procedures. I wish we had a similar resource for my British Columbia & Canadian context. (I have hopes that we will see something like that soon.) Even if you do have a local legal framework, I firmly believe you also need to be aware of how such cases are handled elsewhere. The time is coming when a “reasonable” administrator or educator could be considered responsible for staying current on how other jurisdictions are handling sexting–especially when such knowledge could reasonably prevented a negative situation.