Slice of Life: Young Users in an Ad-Driven, Privacy-Invading Digital World

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I was nearing the end of a class-long lesson on issues of privacy with digital apps and websites — which included instructions on how to ensure greater privacy controls for Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and more — when a sixth grader raised her hand.

“Now I’m scared.”

She said it with a laugh but I knew she was worried, if not scared.

It’s a reaction I try to avoid, framing much of our discussion in our Digital Life unit around the positive elements of what social media can do — around connections, around sharing, around empathy and understanding, around learning. But I know all of our talk of data mining by companies like Google, web browser cookies, and targeted advertising with technology will rattle a few of my students, particularly if they have never considered the issues before.

“You don’t need to be scared,” I assured her, and the others. “You need to be wary. You need to understand that you have some control over what you share. Who you share with. Why you share. Be wary but be empowered.”

They laughed again when I noted there is a sure-fire way to avoid all of the privacy issues of the Digital Age: completely unplug and don’t use technology. The looks of disbelief on their faces told me the reality (which I already knew).

Privacy Slideshow Apps and Internet(View the presentation)

I suspect some of these insights on privacy and agency will sink in now, and some will sink in over time. I hope some rushed home to check their privacy settings (that’s what I encouraged). I hope others installed ad blocking extensions (another action I suggested). I hope some had conversations with parents and family about the issues. I hope some of them, some day, will be the ones pushing back against the large companies.

We teach with hope that change can come.

Peace (discovering it),

  1. This is such an important conversation, and one that needs to happen in every middle school! I talk a bit about this in my internet safety lessons with my elementary students. Thanks for sharing your presentation!

  2. So important! Over the weekend I received a doc shared with me via a student who also shared it with two other students. I was pretty sure it was not sent by the student whose name and email was attached and this was confirmed today. The doc was fairly innocuous, but still… another reminder for the third graders about privacy and the importance of securing passwords.

  3. This is fabulous, Kevin and your timing is impeccable! I look forward to sharing this with my 5th grader and reviewing my own social media and browser settings in the process.

  4. With great power should come at least a little wariness 🙂 Bravo to you and your students for striving, in fits and starts, for that blend. Thanks, too, for sharing presentation!

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