I recently acquired my “New Driver” License in British Columbia. Getting this license required more work than I originally anticipated. I needed to read a book about driving, get lessons from my neighbour, have a practice test, and convince my adjudicator I was fit to be driving on the roads alone. All of this thorough, preventative education makes sense because when I am behind the wheel I am not only putting my life at risk but also the lives of those around me. When we realize that the risks of using the Internet, and more specifically social media, can be dangerous and even life threatening, it seems absurd that there is no mandatory education system in place.
Some threats online can pretend or disguise their appearance in a more devious way than the obvious threat of crashing a car. For example, they come in the form of online harassment and bullying, which parent’s have no chance to know about until it is too late, or online predators gaining young people’s trust by easily masking their own identity. The biggest risk to youth online is the isolation when using the internet. Much like the responsibility placed on a driver every time they pull away from the curb, alone in their car, the only person truly able to take responsibility for their internet safety while online is the user themselves.
In my high school I spoke to a group of grade twelve students on what it means to be safe online and if they felt they were safe while using social media. Many spoke about vague preventative tips they had acquired such as covering their laptop camera with a piece of tape to prevent spy cams from recording them. Other students spoke about the permanency of their online content and how this has helped steer some of what they choose to release online. When asked where they learned these tips they spoke fondly of a guest speaker who had visited the school over a year ago. This guest speaker had not been a mandatory event in which all schools must host, and yet its benefits were still being realized.
If one hour of education had a long lasting and extremely positive influence on multiple students in preventing threats to them online, it seems clear this should be the bare minimum we see within the mandatory school curriculum. Our school system is designed to set the next generation up with as many skills as possible to survive and thrive in our ever-changing world. Yet we are leaving a gaping hole in their preparation when we do not educate students on online safety as part of the mandatory curriculum.
It took me about twenty hours in total to acquire my drivers license. At the very least, spending one hour to educate youth on some of the most relevant risks in the world should be a no-brainer.