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Nurturing a digital media literate next generation

As parents and educators, we have a daunting task ahead of us: to equip children with the skills and knowledge they need to learn, develop, thrive and stay safe in this digital age.

So how do we prepare the future generation for such an age?

We arm them!

We arm them with digital awareness; critical thinking skills; clear, accurate information; communication and citizenship skills; and important values, such as respect, responsibility, and resilience.

And we do this in an open, honest, safe environment that also leaves room for having fun!

Read more: The 9 elements of Digital Citizenship your students need to know

Changing curriculums

Relationships and Health Education will now (finally) be statutory in all British primary schools from September 2020. Good schools have always placed importance on personal, social and health education (PSHE). Now all UK schools must ensure that developing the whole child and a focus on life skills are also now a priority in the curriculum.

As part of Relationships Education, schools now have a clear obligation to teach objectives such as understanding the importance of respecting others, knowing that people sometimes behave differently online, keeping safe online and understanding how information and data are shared and used online.

Read more: Digital security and safeguarding student and staff data

While the statutory Health Education curriculum ensures that children know that the internet is an integral part of life and has many benefits, time spent online and the content we view can impact our mental wellbeing.

But will teaching this knowledge to children in isolated PSHE lessons solve our current problems and prepare them for adult life in the digital age?

The problems

  • Education professionals are often spending valuable time, solving issues which have arisen from social media, online behavior and misunderstandings from digital communication.
  • The media frequently reports on the fatal impacts of social media gone wrong; of the negative impact on developing minds and mental wellbeing due to the endless reminder of unobtainable life goals and unrealistic body images.
  • The 'mob mentality' of groups of people behind the screen can effectively erode children's self-esteem and, just as in real life, it is not necessarily the strangers we need to worry about, but the friendship groups and gangs that emerge within the school grounds.

Read more: How to address cyberbullying and online safety in schools

The solution

As we read yet another article warning about the negative impact of screen time on children, or the damaging effects of young people using social media, we need to reconsider our focus - as parents and educators.

Limiting screen-time, blocking certain sites on our children’s devices, telling children over and over about online dangers and trying to remove technology from the classrooms are only part of the solution.

Our children have a right to effective and impactful online awareness. Social media and digital connectivity is an integral part of our daily lives. Primary schools are looking for tools to effectively teach media literacy and promote digital intelligence. Our children need to learn to live with, and through, technology.

Read more: 4 modern literacies students need to learn in school

Let’s help children to:

Manage an online life — as a child in an adult world, this needs to be structured and organized. It is part of our everyday business, our everyday communication, our everyday relationships, our everyday knowledge retrieval.

Develop empathy and digital resilience — children also need to develop an inherent understanding of why we need to function online with empathy and those on the receiving end need to build the resilience to cope with poor choices.

Read more: Teaching empathy for better learning outcomes

Gain experience of the real online world — through social media simulation, children are supported in effectively navigating their digital experiences.

Understand the importance and impact of their behavior online — the lure to hide behind the screen might be tempting; we need to foster the idea that it is entirely unacceptable to behave in a way that would not occur face-to-face.

Nurturing a media literate next generation

When children have been taught in a way that emulates what happens in real life, the risk of understanding getting lost in skill transference is minimized.

Children have a right to the educational role model they need in their school environment which will set them up for life-long learning. As their parents, carers, and educators, we can act as children’s media mentors — building their knowledge, skills, values, and confidence, guiding and advising them in their choices, and allowing them to become independent, responsible digital citizens.