The internet has become as essential to our lives as water and air. In less than a lifetime, we’ve learned to connect with people across the globe almost instantaneously through laptops, video games, phones, and many other devices that did not exist five or ten years ago. But with great power, comes great responsibility. Fake news and deep fakes spread across the internet can influence the opinions and actions of millions. And seemingly innocent videos targeted at kids makes you wonder what’s wrong with people.
In our home, technology is treated as a powerful tool, a privilege, and a huge responsibility. We’ve set up a few rules about internet and device usage but we allow our kids the space to build, play, explore, fail, and try again… I keep asking myself, “Is the internet safe?”.
When we search the internet, we are often in a physical setting that allows us to lower our guard and lower our defenses. We are deceived that the internet is safe because while we browse, we are in our home, in the car, or surrounded by people we trust (who are also often on their devices). In fact, searching the internet can be far more dangerous than we suspect because unlike a social setting where individuals are physically present and can read body language, voice inflection, and facial expressions, the anonymity of the internet creates a barrier that prevents us from picking up on social cues essential to successful human communication.
Recently my kids searched and read false information on the internet that they took as truth. They know that if they have a question about something unfamiliar, they should ask their parents first, but this time they didn’t, and though it wasn’t disastrous or critically harmful, the next time it could be. So we talked about it.
This is what I said about searching the internet alone...
One of my children did something and did not tell me about it for several months. They’d held their deed and the pain surrounding it so tightly that at one point they were physically ill. My goal was to get them to free themselves rather than “come clean” or “tell the truth”. How could I build trust with my child while also obtaining the full story of what happened?
In elementary school I was called Bucky Beaver and Captain Bucky O’Hare... it was because I have two really amazing front teeth that were unnaturally large for my face at the time. Without braces, my face eventually grew around those teeth helping complete the warm smile I’m know for today. So naturally when I had kids I looked for my signature buck teeth in their ultrasounds and as their baby and permanent teeth came in. Without fail, my strong genetics prevailed and combined with their father’s toothy grin to form what I call “an investment smile”... big teeth that will look amazing later with care.
We hear a lot about allyship. Allies are people (or groups) that might not experience a political, social, or economic pain point directly but can apply empathy in their dealings with a person or a community to help them improve a situation or state of being. Think of them as a friend in need or an advocate. These people are capable of taking their privilege and applying it to a situation in productive and uplifting manner. Anyone can be an ally because everyone is born with different privileges and depending on the situation, we can use that privilege to help someone in need. But how do we raise kids to understand their respective privileges? What strategies will ensure that kids use their privilege to help, not hurt, others?
First and foremost, kids are smarter than we give them credit. They spend time applying the lessons and values learned at home and school as they navigate the world. Their naivety and their ability to relinquish constraints allows them, in many instances, to act with a strong moral compass and the genuine desire to help others. Children are more than ready, capable, and open to absorb the values and concepts required to create a caring and empathetic adult ally.
SPOILERS WARNING: Just FYI, I’m assuming you watched the movie or read the Manga. I don’t give away the entire movie. What I say can pretty much be found online if you do a general search, so read at your own risk.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the role that cyborgs and artificial intelligence (AI) will play in our lives in the decades and even millennia ahead. One question I regularly grapple with: Why are we so obsessed with creating better AI and robots and not raising better people? Have we given up on ourselves? A quick glance at the trajectory of humanity, would beg for the greatest minds to start solving the emotional intelligence questions about human development than figure out how to make our lives more convenient. Kindness is convenient and it is not in abundant supply.
When most sci-fi movies show us that it doesn’t end well when humanity goes up against their superior creation, it seems most certain that we are driving innovation off a proverbial cliff. How can we reinforce lessons on empathy in humans and remind those building our future overlords, that empathy, emotional intelligence, and kindness must be major qualities in the coding?
“Well, I mean, All Lives Matter...”
My daughter said this in rebuttal to seeing a Black Lives Matter sign on the church lawn of an all white church. I knew she did not get that statement from me, it must’ve been something she brought home from the lunch table or the playground at school…
“It’s true", I said, "All lives do matter. But to say that in response to Black Lives Matter is not only insulting to me and your dad but to every black relative whose DNA you carry with you today. Where the **** did you hear that? I know it wasn’t uttered by anyone in authority in this house.”
She was puzzled, her sister was shocked, and I was incensed. I wasn’t mad at her. I was mad at myself. I was once again failing my black child.
I made the enlightening mistake of spending one morning on the trending hashtag “#ExposeChristianSchools”. The hashtag discussed the personal experiences and the nature of (mostly) evangelical K12 education across the United States...
It was an illuminating discussion on how US history, civic responsibility, (sex ed) and the purpose of our democracy is being taught to large numbers of kids across the country. Besides the fact that there are a ton of separation of church and state violations in ideology and practice (thanks to Betsy Devos), in some states it seems like America has a ginormous uphill battle.
Why should any of us care?
Recently, my daughter ran for student body president. Her challenge was to convince over 800 kids that she should be their champion and leader in the student government. Although she ran a really impressive, thoughtful, and mature campaign, she lost to an opponent that she didn’t even anticipate having a chance. She learned valuable lessons about having a gimmick, ignoring the exit polls, and never counting anyone out. But besides that, she learned a valuable lesson about how citizens go through the process to access power to make change. She learned how to run for office.
My mother-in-law is a matriarch who has spent her entire life caring for family members- her parents, her siblings, her children, nieces and nephews and even friends. She has a heart of gold and is willing to provide for those she holds closest to her heart. A decade ago she moved in with us to help when I was pregnant with my second child. Her help with our young kids and cooking meals was the reason our family stayed afloat and I could go to grad school. Over time, I thought about how I could ever pay her back. She has since moved out on her own, but I try to make certain I extend myself when she is in need. For a woman in her seventies, she’s extremely independent and self sufficient, so it’s hard to label myself a traditional caregiver. But when it comes down to it, I think she and my family see me in that role.
We’ve all had a moment when we read a headline that made us raise an eyebrow; heard an advertisement that was stretched beyond truthful; or listened to a politician or news anchor that was completely biased. We throw around fake news so readily when we don’t believe information online. But do we know what the term “fake news” really means? Is it news we don’t agree with or news that spreads false information or is it parody? In this era, the news never sleeps. Since online information is available everywhere all the time, how can we decipher between news and information that is valuable and that which is not?
The problem isn’t just the sheer amount of news and information coming at us. It is that much of what we see online we want to believe it. Media that gains the most traction is entertaining or creates a visceral reaction and we consume that media in good faith. When news and information sites use their platforms to stretch the truth or spread blatantly false information it is hard to determine what is truthful and what is not. The fake news ecosystem preys on some of our deepest human instincts, which encourages us to make decisions against our best interests, believe false information about groups of people, and allows us to perpetuate our own ignorant biases.
I'm a former teacher and former college athlete, currently working in edtech. My mission is to get parents to partner with their child's teacher.