As we celebrate a year since the pandemic turned our lives upside down and brought us into our homes, one of the many remarkable changes that have taken place has been our increased reliance on the internet. As of March 2020, global internet traffic increased between 15-30 percent within days, fueled by the transformation of our homes into offices and classrooms, as well as our increased appetite for video streaming, games, social media and online shopping. At the start of the pandemic, children were moved to online spaces to maintain their progress as learners and stayed there to maintain social connections or pass the time when other options were not available.
When the new academic year began in the fall, students in the United States had different experiences – from in-person schooling models to entirely distance schooling models, including hybrids. These differences remain, but Internet use is on the rise among all children. As a parent, I think the kids have benefited from this new screen time where learning and healthy social relationships are nurtured, as I’ve seen it happen with my own kids. But I’m concerned that right now, as parents and schools are weighed down by the added responsibilities of the pandemic, many children have delved into the internet without being guided or the skills to navigate it deftly.
Social media bubbles, misleading advertising, risks to privacy and personal information, misinformation, misrepresentation – these are just a few of the issues that we need to better understand in order to counter or at least not get under control. by them. With 4.66 billion internet users, over 2 million mobile apps, and over 1.1 billion websites worldwide, there are plenty of people, content, opportunities and risks that remain largely uncontrolled and easily accessible to everyone, including the youngest of us. Giving our children the skills – digital and media skills – to have power over their own safety, well-being and success when we have propelled them into online spaces at such a young age is our collective responsibility and we can’t wait any longer.
Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication. Teaching these skills to everyone from an early age seems such an easy point to make. In reality, this is not happening on a general, systemic and radical level. I saw this when, before the pandemic, I walked into classrooms and shared my knowledge with students across the United States and beyond. I know from the thousands of parents I have interacted with over the past twelve years that they don’t know what their role is in helping their children learn these skills. I hear educators and school administrators say it’s necessary, but they often don’t have the resources to support it.
The lack of media literacy skills is where we are today, when people believe the first thing they see in a search engine is the truth, are mystified when something they have seen. in one application appears on another or are tricked by a manipulated video to engage in risky behavior during a pandemic or to question the outcome of an election.
Many of us make sure our children are ready for the world they live in. Organizations like Media Literacy Now lobby state legislatures to prioritize media literacy in schools, but only report 14 States demonstrating any form of leadership on the subject. the National Association for Media Education (NAMLE), of which I sit on the board, has increased its membership, raised awareness, supported educators and forged alliances to make media education highly valued and widely practiced. These organizations need and deserve our support.
My own organization has invested years in promoting digital citizenship, online safety and media literacy in communities around the world. We have also started to support this effort by developing free tools such as Trend Micro Control (real-time scam detection) and Trend Micro Family (safe internet filtering for children) which we hope can help with the effort. None of us are giving up on this fight, especially at a time when increasing screen time for children has been of great concern and as we begin our process of thinking about what we have learned from the pandemic and how. we will apply it over the next year.
According to Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, Executive Director of NAMLE, âThe future of our country depends on our children’s ability to successfully navigate the media-rich environment in which they grow up. We must make media literacy for every child a national priority.
Maybe it will be a wish come true soon.
Lynette Owens is the Founder and Global Director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Children and Families Program with a mission to help children around the world become great digital citizens. Founded in 2008, the program has now reached more than 2.8 million students, parents and teachers in 20 countries.