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Is this your daughter? Is this your student ? She’s a student from Sydney and my guess is she’s in about Year 7. She has an iPhone and uses Instagram. How do I know this? Because her collection of uploaded images, this being one of them, was easily accessible, to not only me, but anyone anyone else in the world who simply clicks on her name. That’s how I found her, by clicking her name left as a hyperlink invitation after she had ‘liked’ a photo of an Instagram user I know.

So here she is, showing herself off for the world to see, posing provocatively for the camera in her school uniform in the classroom, I have blurred her face to protect her identity and privacy. This picture was not the worst I found while searching the web of users linked to her. I am happy to spare you those. Does this girl realise just what she is up to? My guess is she doesn’t. What was she thinking as she uploaded this photo? Presumably not that I might be viewing it one day. Did you know that not only can one view all the photos of your own followers and their followers, but if someone then likes a photo you have access to their portfolio as well. There is the option to mark oneself as a private user of course, whereby people have to ask to follow you. But this relies on your personal network of friends which may limit the number of followers you might have. Part of the kudos of this social media app is to have a lot of followers, therefore many young students have little desire to use this option. Does this student realise that this picture is put there forever? Probably not. Or perhaps she does and simply doesn’t care, after all, 12 year old students tend not to think too far ahead.

What implications are here for her, for this girl? Perhaps none but to my mind, showing off like this age 12 might lead to who knows what age 15. So again I keep coming back to why is she doing this? Why is her online digital footprint going to forever contain images like these.

My guess is that at her school ICT is locked down, contained and controlled. Blocked and filtered. My guess also is that her iPhone was once her parents and one of them passed it onto her without realising or thinking about its capabilities. I am also fairly confident that no-one is taking responsibility for teaching this girl about her digital footprint. Her school believe they have taken the responsible high ground by blocking and filtering and although she may have completed various cyber safety courses, I suspect she doesn’t see the threats portrayed in them as very real, as this worrying online activity clearly indicates.

I though can be fairly sure that my Year 6 students will not be doing this in year 7. Why? Because we are a blogging classroom. Daily my students experience the world of the internet through our class and their personal student blogs. My students learn to deal with spam comments by tracking their digital footprint. They learn to ensure they use correct spelling and grammar when commenting at other school blogs. They learn daily with constant reinforcing that what they do online stays there. The mantra of their digital footprint rings loud in their heads with every opportunity I give them to lead open and honest online lives.

So if you are a teacher or better still a leader, think about this girl. Her parents do not understand the capabilities of the latest phones, do you? Her teachers are probably not aware of this students online activity either. Is it not time we stopped locking down, shutting up, blocking out and restricting our students? Is it not time we took the open and honest approach of teaching by example, of letting them create their own digital footprints from an early age?

How far does it have to go, what damage has to happen before someone somewhere with authority has the good sense to say enough is enough. We need to stop closing our eyes, shutting our ears and start accepting that teenagers are social beings who want to and need to connect with each other. They just need to be guided how to do this safely and appropriately – the classroom is the place to do it.

Update: A must listen to podcast by the Ed Tech Crew with Danah Boyd on this topic can be found here. The interview is at the end of the podcast and you must listen to the last question.

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6 comments

  1. Anthony

    Great post Henrietta … being a ‘friend’ of some 14 y.o. boys on facebook is equally eye-popping. Certainly, I can’t imagine too many would say to ones face what they will happily trot off online … it will come back to bite them one day. Did you know that if you do not delete your tweets after 23 days the the US Library of Congress will retain a copy FOREVER, and yes they mean forever. A deal twitter did with the US government.

    I guess facebook might have a similar type deal and it is not like you can just delete your accounts and stuff goes away … even if that were possible you digital footprint sits around on cached servers for ages.

  2. Shirlpj

    I have a teenage boy and girl and they still do ‘foolosh’ things online, thankfully just inappropriate posts and immature comments. I regularly get them to Google themselves to check out their digital footprints, and to see what future employers, educators will be able to see. As teenagers, they and their friends unfortunately only live in the now. I am a parent that is aware and I am trying to ensure my kids are too. But I share your frustrations at what I see of the posts and images of their peers. It doesn’t seem that there is any cohesive format to educate them as to how they are seen by the world.

  3. Jasmine Dwyer

    Great post Henrietta. Helps reinforce that we we need to be vigilant, rigorous and unwavering in teaching even our youngest about our digital footprints. Thanks for bringing to the forefront.
    Jasmine

  4. Sue Heysen

    Great social comment in light of our technologically embraced global environment and what our students are already using. Care and smart thinking are what students need as well as a developing sense of responsibility for their actions.

  5. At Leadership team meeting today, I introduced my plan for bringing blogging and Edmodo to school. Leadership was very keen but we did discuss the need for cybersafety. I talked about Blogging and Edmodo as a way of teaching the kids responsible online behaviour so this type of behaviour, so common in their “shouldn’t be on Facebook under the age of 13 but I am any way and mum doesn’t know or care” world is common place. We talked about the importance of educating the children, the parents and yes, many staff members who take all this for granted.
    As you say, Henrietta, this child is probably in a locked down school system that doesn’t teach sensible responsible behaviour but instead bans access which doesn’t teach them anything. Give them meaningful experiences for an online experience through allowing access, teach them how to use it responsibly and use these experiences to stamp out this immature, dangerous digital footprint. Timely post. Thanks

  6. Melanie Hughes

    Really great article Henrietta, Highlights the need for teachers to be digitally literate, to know what’s possible so that they can educate kids.