Students filling school hallways, each armed with smart phone in hand, are becoming increasingly aware of the potential pitfalls of social media, and a recent high-profile court case has driven home that lesson.
Last week, a 17-year-old girl was convicted on distributing child pornography after texting nude photos of her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. Teens across the city, and the country, took notice.
“For every kid it’s a wake up call,” said Harrison Kettyls, Grade 12 and school president. “It says we better tone it down, we better watch what we’re doing, because this could happen to us.”
The case hit home for Grade 12 student Abby Isbister, “because she’s our age.”
Despite a number of high-profile stories close to home and across North America about cyberbullying, the students say the misuse of social media is the exception to the rule, and youth are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of online life.
“Most kids, they’re not abusing it,” Kettyls said. “I rarely see or hear of kids cyber bullying.”
Teachers and parents play a role, but more than anything, they admit, it’s seeing the consequences of misuse that gets the point across and changes the ways students interact with social media.
“I think people originally thought it was harmless,” Kettyls said, “and now people are starting to realize, especially when it’s something like this, something in Victoria, at a neighbouring school.”
“(That’s a) big red flag that goes up,” Isbister said.
Lambrick Park principal Kevin Luchies said the issue of making wise choices with technology has been on the minds of students and staff well before the recent court case.
“And it ought to be. When you’ve got children harming other children, and then children harming themselves, it’s definitely newsworthy,” Luchies said.
Despite its importance, the principal is quick to point out the majority of students the majority of the time are using social media appropriately, and people shouldn’t make assumptions about all youth based on a few negative examples.
Greater Victoria School District assistant superintendent Patrick Duncan said there has been increased attention paid to what he terms “digital citizenship” as technology becomes more prevalent in the lives of students.
There is no formal social media education in place in SD 61, but starting at the superintendent level, schools, administrators and teachers are encouraged to talk to students about social media and its appropriate uses.
“We want to create critical thinkers in our schools, we want to make sure they understand the power of the Internet and also the dangers that are within,” Duncan said. “We’re all growing together.”
The 17-year-old’s conviction hasn’t promped new discussions around social media, Duncan said, as it was already happening. “(The case) highlights the need, shows that we’re on the right track, and reinforces that the conversation is important,” Duncan said.
At Lambrick Park, the students are themselves working towards increasing awareness of social media. A six-student committee devised a “student contract” of six rules intended to help guide students in their use of social media.
The rules revolve around treating others with respect, balancing the use of technology with other activities and using social media in appropriate ways.
The project had been in the works long before the so-called “sexting” trial made headlines, and is about to be rolled out not as a set of authoritative rules, but as a covenant developed by students for students.
Luchies believes in this approach and said the real answer, even with all the modern technology, lies in the age-old approach to life: treating one another with respect and kindness.
“Everything is informed by being generous and kind and loving with one another.”