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Teaching Digital Literacy: 

You can help keep kids safer online 

 

The current generation of tweens and teens live in a media-saturated world.  

According to a 2023 Gallup survey, 51 percent of American teenagers report spending at least four hours per day using social media, with time spent online increasing with age. Teens spend far more time on social media than they spend watching television, doing homework, or pursuing hobbies. In fact, 30 percent of teens spend upward of six hours a day on social media.   

Aside from the opportunity cost – lost time for studies, sleep, in-person socializing – what are the other problematic aspects of habitual media use?   

A new research brief from the Institute for Family Studies indicates that teens who spend more than five hours a day on social media were 2.5 times more likely to express suicidal thoughts or harm themselves, 2.4 times more likely to hold a negative view of their body and 40 percent more likely to report a lot of sadness the day before. 

Backed by these and other studies, in June, the U.S. Surgeon General called for a warning label to be added to social media platforms  

In “Digital Literacy,” ELT Instructor Franca Fiorentino, a member of Bellmore Merrick United Secondary Teachers, covers how to use digital tools safely and how to be a good digital citizen. The course also helps educators incorporate digital literacy into their lessons, regardless of their subject area. “Kids don’t understand internet safety, and they need help from adults navigating this landscape,” she said.  

Here Fiorentino offers some online safety tips for educators: 

1 - Kids act like tech-experts, but the reality is they are very susceptible to online threats. 

“Kids’ brains are not mature enough to discern between what’s real and what’s not real,” said Fiorentino. “They believe what they’re told.” Teach students the importance of protecting their privacy on social media and help them identify suspicious behaviors 

2 - The time it takes for children to find themselves in dangerous situations has contracted dramatically from what it was even a couple of years ago.

“The speed has changed,” Fiorentino said. “Turnaround time is a week now.” Whether it’s sextortion or inappropriate meet-ups, predators are moving with unprecedented alacrity, and adults must intercede quickly to prevent peril, she said.  

3 - The tech landscape is overwhelming, and it can be hard for educators to know where to start, said Fiorentino.

Fortunately, the New York State Education Department adopted K-12 Computer Science and Digital Fluency Learning Standards in 2020, which cover numerous areas, including safety, etiquette, privacy, laws and student health and wellness. “If educators just implement those standards into their lessons, it will make a huge difference for students,” said Fiorentino.  

4 - Partner with parents and help them understand the dangers of social media.

“Parents have to start doing their research. Read the journals. Watch the news,” Fiorentino said. “I don’t think parents should say ‘yes’ to their kids unless they know what they’re saying ‘yes’ to.”  

ELT coursework is offered year-round and can be used for undergraduate, graduate and in-service credit as well as to fulfill Continuing Teacher and Leader Education requirements. For more information, go to elt.nysut.org.