Parents would never dream of handing a child or young teenager the keys to the family car and telling them to drive down a busy freeway, but when it comes to technology, they are doing exactly that. While kids and teens have a natural affinity with technology, letting them be in the driver’s seat about it can be as?or even more?dangerous than letting them take the wheel of a car without a license.
And yet, there is no formal licence to prove that people are ready to handle technology. Even toddlers are using ipads before they can read. YouTube is becoming the new television. But often parents and teachers do not know how to provide guidance about how to use technology safely. Information Technology expert Paul Davis has made empowering children, teens, parents, and educators across North America his personal mission. His message, that technology is amazing but it also needs to be used responsibly, has not been discussed enough. His aim is to get that conversation going.
Davis discovered that he had a natural talent for computers in his teenage years and entered the field of information technology soon after high school. But when he became a father and saw how eagerly and naturally that his children embraced technology, especially because of the internet, he realized that kids were growing up in a wired world without any safe guidelines or boundaries. He switched his career from the corporate world to giving seminars and presentations on internet safety and cyberbullying, which he now does full-time. He says that “it’s not a job?it’s rewarding.”
He offers presentations for both parents and younger listeners, and speaks to both age groups separately. He uses liberal dashes of humour and a hefty dose of pop culture to make his points, but he also is not afraid to share truths that hit close to home, to the point where his audiences squirm uneasily in their seats. A key component of his talks involves discussing the effects of irresponsible use of technology and where it can go wrong. It is easy to do stupid stuff online, he says, but the consequences of doing that can often reverberate for years after?to the point where it can ruin entire lives.
Despite that technology is such an integrated part of life now that most people don’t give online safety a thought, kids, teens, and even adults do not understand what online privacy really means. Davis talks about the trails and digital footprints that technology leaves behind. It comes as a surprise to a lot of his listeners that everything a user does can be tracked in some way. He discusses how apps like Snapchat and Instagram are extremely popular with young internet users (much more than Twitter and Facebook), but it is a myth that what gets posted with these apps completely disappears soon after posting. The apps that appeal to young users are also what are most often used to engage in sexting and cyberbullying.
Davis relates the statistics that sexting is now so common among teenagers that it is the norm, not the exception. Davis says that 90% of sexters are girls, 10% are boys, and the overall number of people who engage in sexting is getting out of control. Davis also says that revenge porn, another damaging use of technology, is so prevalent that California legislated a state law against it. He says that new laws are needed urgently in other jurisdictions, including Canada, because current laws cannot keep up to the new reality of cybercrime and are often inadequate to deal with these crimes. Child luring, grooming, data theft, and “sextortion” are all too common, to the point where police forces across North America deal with daily incidents and it is impossible to keep an accurate account of how many people are involved in them.
The question is how did society get to this point? Davis is quick to give an answer. Much of the problem, he says, can be traced back to parents giving technology to kids before they are ready for it. A rough estimate from Davis’ younger audiences breaks the numbers down as follows: roughly 40% have a Facebook account, 25% have their own smartphone, 90% use technology alone in their bedrooms, and 90% view YouTube videos. What is striking about these numbers is that these young users are underage, according to the terms and conditions of the websites and applications they’re using.
The solution for this, Davis says, is simple, but it is not a popular option. It is up to parents to act as the gatekeepers with technology. He suggests the biggest way that parents can do this is to keep devices out of kids’ bedrooms and to not let them use it in their rooms alone (especially overnight). Parents are also urged to not let kids use technology while wearing headphones so that adults can listen in on, and be aware of, what they are doing. Also, parents should not let kids and teens access technology if they are younger than the suggested age guidelines. This also applies to purchasing gadgets and media for children. He says that kids are not allowed to purchase violent video games or smartphones on their own; parents must buy them?but then they must also shoulder some of the burden for responsible use of those devices, and the consequences of that technology. Davis said that enforcing “no tech” times and zones, such as at the dinner table, is also crucial for not letting kids turn into what he calls “cyberzombies.” Of course, teens especially will call their parents mean for being strict, but Davis says that police forces agree with him?this is the best way that parents can protect their kids from the dangers of being exploited online.
Davis does not let parents off the hook either. He says that adults are just as guilty of not knowing how technology truly works. For example, smartphones can track their every move. Even the vacation photos they post on social media can unwittingly open themselves up to too much information being shared, which can then leave them open to cybercrime, such as data theft, or even physical crimes, such as when opportunistic thieves burgle their houses while people are on vacation. He tells adults not to tag photos on Facebook; of either themselves or their children; not to share too much information, including employment information; and to keep privacy settings tight. One tip he tells his audiences is to periodically search for their names to see what information comes up. If they don’t like what they see, then they need to take steps to have that content removed from search engines. Information can be shared effortlessly, and there are countless ways to exploit that information that privacy is now a scarce commodity and should be guarded.
Davis points out that the dark side of the internet is always out there and is always finding new and inventive ways to get at users’ personal information. He says that people need to always be vigilant and not take their online privacy for granted. People need to be smart about using strong passwords and to learn the intricacies of their devices so they can be in control of them. So far, he has spoken to over 350,000 people in schools and communities but has also given workshops to the RCMP, the Canadian Border Services Agency, and the Department of National Defense. His presentations are always well-received, but he knows that his work needs to carry on. The message on how to be safe in our digital era needs to be heard by everyone.
To get a taste of Paul Davis’ presentations, view his TEDxTalk on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaEn0BQS0vY
You can also follow him on Twitter, @pauldavisSNS and https://www.facebook.com/pauldavistips/
Booking information can be found on his website: http://socialnetworkingsafety.net
Carla loves all things paper. She has a habit of impulse buying washi tape, patterned cardstock and other crafty items. She swears she will get around to using her stash…one of these days.