As summer begins, many seniors are looking forward to what comes next. Their minds are no doubt on college and starting a new chapter in their lives. Other students may be looking forward to the summer for time to get a job, earn some money, and take on new responsibilities. Regardless of what this time off may hold, many find themselves immersed in the “real world.” And a detour into reality is sometimes a shock! I have read countless reports about teenagers finding themselves without a job or have their college acceptance rescinded because of poor choices made online.
A critical lesson we must teach youth deals with our digital footprints. I think many must envision these footprints as those cast in wet sand, quickly disappearing as the tide comes. What a false notion of a digital footprint! Instead, the image should be one of a footprint formed in wet cement. We’ve all seen a pristine sidewalk that has dog paws or footprints permanently inscribing the space. This is what our digital footprints look like! Years will pass and their presence will still be seen.
I once saw an interview with Will Smith where he talked about the difference between his childhood and that of his kids. He reminisced that when he was young, he could say or do something foolish but it would remain known only to those who saw or heard about it by word of mouth. That’s just not the case today. He went on to talk about the difference between his younger self growing up in today’s world and how he would have found himself in all kinds of trouble for those momentary lapses in judgment.
Think about the difference between sharing an opinion in class and sharing an opinion online. In class, the individual might be a little intimidated or unsure but as class ends, so can that moment in the spotlight. But to share an opinion online instantly puts someone in a more global spotlight. People you’ve never heard of could read your thoughts and pass judgment (good or bad).
Think of how moments have changed. Now, people capture everything with a photo so they can share their experience. You’ve heard many say it must not be real until it has been made public on social media.
So, how do we help our students be brave and share their ideas? How do we begin to build into our everyday curriculum the understanding of a digital presence and a lasting footprint? We have to help young people understand that the things they say (even online when they think nobody is reading it) can follow them and shape public perception of them as members of society.
Help students understand the lasting effect of the words they say. And give them the tools to make their presence (in person and online) one that everyone can be proud of!