I was told, “Facebook is a disaster!” Parents wondered how I could justify kids sitting around at school playing on social networks. And I understand. There is a cultural belief that social networks can be only used for wasting time.
Yet, I have to disagree with it. I like to think the metaphor of driving a car. Every person looks forward to the rite of passage of turning 16. Being legally allowed to drive alone is implicitly declaring a teenage to be a trusted adult. As a third grade teacher, I know that even 9 year olds look forward to that day. I could not imagine a world where, without any preparation or guidance, a new 16 year old is given a key, and told to be a good driver. That would never happen.
Instead, from birth, children observe their parents driving. They notice how a driver acts in the driver seat. Every 9 year old in my classroom can tell you the basic rules of the road. They will even tell me when their mom or dad was speeding, or maybe didn’t entirely stop at a stop sign.
A big milestone is the first day of driver’s training. Of course, during this time, students are placed behind the wheel of a real car and asked to practice driving on real roads. This is done under the watchful eye of a driving instructor, who probably keeps a hesitant foot near the emergency brake.
You can see where I’m going with this, right? The concern that kids don’t know how to act in social networking spaces, complicated by the fact that these spaces can have serious consequences, is the reason for this type of work.
The fact is, Facebook isn’t the problem. Neither is Twitter, or Instagram, or whatever space comes online tomorrow. Kids need to learn the rules of the road for a vista that has no speed limits or right of way. Kids need to learn how to navigate in this uncharted space, and have to learn how to figure it all out again when those spaces change. And with the “driving age” for many of these sites set at 12 years old, with no photo ID required, if not in elementary school, then where should these crucial skills be introduced?