There’s a lot of truth in that old saying; ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’
I’ve been struck often lately by how similar some of the issues facing our children are, compared to what we experienced as kids, and yet how today’s adults seem to be reacting in fear and feeling unequipped to deal with the problems. Take the whole Momo Challenge. In case you (luckily) missed this, it was a strange mix of urban myth and online bullying and official police reminders about internet safety that snowballed into a hysteria … that lasted about a week.
Parents throughout my social network were reeling from the thought that someone was trying to encourage their children to self-harm, kids were coming home from school with stories about Momo sneaking into YouTube, misinformation was everywhere, and lots of people panicked. They read a headline, shared a comment from a stranger, and declared that YouTube would never be allowed in their home again.
But few adults I know took the time to follow the media reports back to their roots, to learn what was actually happening, so that they could talk to their children about the dangers. Dangers that were there long before anyone took a photo of a Japanese statue and created a fake avatar, dangers that will remain long after the name Momo has been forgotten.
This week, it’s an article circulating about how Google Docs are being used by school kids to make parents think they’re collaborating on school projects when they’re really just keeping ‘slam books’ up-to-date with technology. This threat to teenager’s self-esteem certainly pre-dates networked apps or even the 2004 pop culture portrayal of a ‘burn book’ in Mean Girls; diaries in which groups of ‘friends’ poke fun at others’ shortcomings date back to at least the 1920s. Urban legends like Bloody Mary, which isn’t all that different than most of the Momo ‘appearances,’ can also be traced back at least that far.
That’s at least 100 years of people trying to get their kicks at the expense of others, and we know that’s not where all this started. Removing resources like YouTube and Google Docs are not going to stop reckless, harmful behaviour, nor teach children how to deal with these types of people or recognize these hoaxes and manipulative schemes.
We need to raise our children to combat these negative influences using emotional intelligence and critical thinking. These aren’t aspects of daily life that can be automated. These are the core components that can allow us – at any age, in any situation – to respond to challenges, rather than just reacting to or being overwhelmed by them. We need to understand our own emotions, what triggers us and how do deal with those feelings. We need to question the information that is presented to us daily; where did it originate, what is the motivation behind it being shared, what role do we play in either supporting it or calling it out? These are not gut instincts; these are skills we can hone and improve throughout our lives.
Our children do not innately know how to discern fact from fiction; it’s becoming more and more difficult to do that as an adult. Yet, we must. That is our role, our responsibility. Blocking apps and demanding someone else – police, educators, technology companies – do something is not the way to teach children how to protect themselves. Those officials all have a role to play. We need to do our part, too.