We are the first generation of parents and educators learning to live with social networks – the first!
It is surprising that there should appear in the world of education, where everything would seem to have been invented over 2,500 years, new resources driving us to such a thorough recycling effort. Yet it happens.
It would be hard to imagine Aristotle’s work if he had been able to connect to Facebook and enter into a dialogue with, say, a Persian philosopher, and chat on Twitter with Alexander the Great, while exchanging whatsapp messages with some erudite Egyptian priest from Ptolemy’s court. The change that these new forms of communication bring to our lives is so great that we need to stop, take a deep breath and, after a while, think what we mean to do, where we want to go, and what our attitude ought to be in the face of the overwhelming response that our children have given to those new forms.
We may think that this thing of the Internet and of the social networks has nothing to do with us. We may even think that they are here but we can ignore them; we may even be unaware of how or when they arrived here, and think that they form part of another world or that they are meant for others.
Whether we like it or not, we must accept that these tools are here to stay, that even if we close our eyes or look to one side, the situation has changed: the world is no longer a closed world, a limited world accessible to only a few. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
We Live in a Globalised World
We live in a globalised, open world, full of opportunities and with access to anything at any time!
Our children are on the social networks and will frequent them more and more, regardless of the stance we may take about them:
If we choose to ignore them, we will simply leave our children to face them alone.
If we choose to accept them, we’ll be in a position to help our children, to accompany them as they make progress, and to teach them where the dangers and where the opportunities lie.
The choice is obviously ours and it is a personal one, but we cannot tiptoe around the issue, render it unimportant, or behave as if it had nothing to do with us. Social networks are tremendously positive and can confer enormous advantages and give us the chance to share something with our children: something that is of interest to them and can allow us to participate in their problems, dreams or concerns.
It is not a matter of being there just to be there – i.e., to control our children, curb their freedom, and invade their privacy. They have a desire to communicate with the world and we should not exclude ourselves from it.
We should be able to establish a healthy relationship with each one of them, and ensure that we can not only speak with them about anything that may worry them, but also have a presence there as parents, not as friends.
The Paradoxical Reality of the Virtual World
There exists a dramatic confusion between the real and the virtual world. Parents and children, children and parents, we all think that what we do in the virtual world does not affect us in the same way as what we do in the real world. We must learn, we must understand, that whatever happens in either of these worlds has a repercussion on the other. We are not talking of two worlds, but of the same world in a different setting.
My image on the mirror is my real self. If the image appears nude, it is I who is nude. If I decide to dance sensually in front of the mirror, or insult or make fun of one of my classmates, teachers or superiors, and someone is observing my behaviour in the mirror, it is I who will suffer the consequences: to have to face up to the problems of the fact of living with other people, or fail exams, or come across unwanted contacts, or give an image of myself that leaves a great deal to be desired.
I and My Virtual Self
All these communications media are virtual! It is as if we had an alter ego to launch into the social networks representing us... an image on the mirror that does whatever we ask it to do, a kind of virtual self. Unfortunately this is not the way this works, and this alter ego will not accept any responsibility before any court for the crimes that we may have committed through our ignorance of the laws governing us.
Our children need to know, and we have to tell them, that in this virtual world there also exist norms of conduct to be followed, and that there are laws protecting intellectual property, the right to privacy, and the honour of the individual.
Our options to forget, to amend errors, to change our minds are not the same as they were a few years back. Nothing is harmless and everything is important.
Where Is the Risk?
The risk lies in the use we make of these tools: opinions, comments, teasing or insults one would not dare to say face to face, and in the harm done and the length of time that this harm may last, a factor of which we may remain unaware.
What may happen is that we value as insignificant the present and future impact on our lives of whatever we do, say, or post on the globalised world of the Internet.
Virtuality Generates a Feeling of Unreality!
It is in this matter that our maturity, experience, and knowledge can help us to accompany our children.
The Internet has changed our way of understanding such concepts as intimacy, privacy, intellectual property, or even trust and friendship. And it is important to note that we are still studying how to manage this! The world is undergoing a revolution.
A number of examples of this are experiences that we have seen this year involving the use of these tools:
- Positive: We were able to rely on the collaboration of over 500 alumni to celebrate a wonderful school anniversary. And a large part of the success of the call for the reunion we owe to Facebook.
- Negative: We have seen people suffer due to libels disseminated through gossip, informers, and such like. These things existed before, but the impact was slighter and of a discontinuous nature. We can now be the object of public bullying 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
What Are We To Do?
What are we to do? How can we protect them? Isolate them? Threaten them with all the dangers? Of course not!
Our children must learn about, and get to know, the whole marvellous world of opportunities and relations offered by social networks, but they should also listen to us and feel accompanied and helped by us.
By means of a screen and a keyboard, whether from a PC, a tablet or a mobile phone, we can do a lot of harm or a lot of good!
Our function as parents and educators is to teach them the right path and to take hold of the reins, in the same way that we do in any other aspect of their lives!
There is no doubt. We have run out of excuses!
Mother and ICT coordinator
La Vall School (Catalonia - Spain)