I am a great fan of Judy Blume. So much so that I have started reading her books (somewhat prematurely) to my four-year-old son. The most recent entry is Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great. It was timely, since my four-year-old is now learning to swim.
If you don’t know the book, then suffice it to say that a major part of storyline involves a young girl who is dragged kicking, screaming and punching to swimming lessons. More importantly, it highlights how water can instill extreme and irrational fear in a person; and extreme pride when this fear is overcome.
I get asked about Internet Safety alot too. One of the things I cover, fairly flippantly is that in order to protect their children from the risks on the Internet, parents have to learn about technology. Now, I realize that swimming may be the most important analogy. If you want to protect your children from drowning, you ought to 1) know how to swim yourself 2) teach your children to swim well and/or 3) force them to take swimming lessons. Why wouldn’t we see the same being done for Internet Safety?
Of course, there are fairly specific differences here. Beaches have life guards to protect young people from drowning, and drowning is a much, much more likely cause of harm or death in young people than anything having to do with Internet safety. Libraries cannot expect governments to put the kinds of resources into Internet safety as they do for swimming lessons.
On the other hand, school libraries, public libraries and I daresay, even academic libraries have a role here. The trick is that we may or may not be seen as the source for training in online safety. And a series of moral lessons on the hazards of online surfing is not likely to attract a lot of attention.
Perhaps we ought to say, “if you have kids, and surfing the web isn’t your thing, you ought to at least know how to swim the web.” After that, we should offer technology training focussed on the ability of parents to understand what the web does, how people connect on the web, and what, if anything, they can do to prevent anything from cyber-bullying, to media-stereotyping, to having the RIAA go after them.
Here are some potential modules for the training:
- What’s free and what’s not on the web (copyright and creative commons)
- Surfing with your clothes on (privacy and attention-getting on the web)
- Going from digital to real life (how to meet safely meet an online friend in the real world)
- Walking the Troll Bridge (discussing controversial issues online)
- Internet Ninjistu (maintaining anonymity on the web)
But, most importantly, libraries need strategies to encourage parents to swim on the web. They need to take a little water in their lungs to keep their kids safe. Yes, on the web you may encounter ads that will promise to enhance various body parts. You may even find porn or violence (although it’s a bit harder to find that stuff if you are not looking for it). The point is, as adults, parents ought to be able to cope with these issues — particularly if their kids are using it.