As we mark one year since the pandemic turned our lives upside down and ushered us into our homes, one of the many remarkable changes that has taken place has been our increased reliance on the internet. In March 2020, global Internet traffic increased by 15-30% in a matter of days, fueled by the transformation of our homes into offices and classrooms, as well as our increased appetite for video streaming, gaming, social media and online shopping. At the start of the pandemic, children moved into online spaces to maintain their progress as learners, and stayed there to maintain social connections or pass the time when other options were unavailable.
As the new school year began in the fall, students across the United States had different experiences — from in-person instructional models to fully remote models to hybrid models. These differences remain, but Internet use is on the rise among all children. As a parent, I believe children have benefited from this newfound screen time when learning and healthy social connections are nurtured, as I have seen happen with my own children. But I fear that right now, as parents and schools are burdened with the added responsibilities brought about by the pandemic, many children have delved deep into the internet without guidance or the skills to navigate it skillfully.
Social media bubbles, misleading advertising, risks to privacy and personal information, misinformation, misrepresentation – these are just some of the issues we need to better understand in order to counter them or at least not to be dominated by them. With 4.66 billion internet users, over 2 million mobile apps and over 1.1 billion websites worldwide, many people, content, opportunities and risks remain largely unchecked and easily accessible to everyone, including understood by the youngest among us. Giving our children the skills – digital and media literacy skills – to have power over their own safety, well-being and success when we 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, analyse, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication. Teaching everyone these skills, from an early age, seems such an easy argument to make. In reality, this is not happening on a broad, 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 elsewhere. 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.
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 app appears on another or are tricked by a manipulated video into engaging in risky behaviors during a pandemic or questioning the outcome of an election.
Many of us want to ensure that our children are ready for the world in which they live. Organizations like Media Literacy Now lobby for state legislatures to prioritize media literacy in schools, but report only 14 states showing some form of leadership on the subject. . The National Association for Media Literacy (NAMLE), of which I sit on the board, has increased membership, raised awareness, supported educators and built alliances to ensure that media literacy is 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 begun to couple this effort by developing free tools such as Trend Micro Check (real-time scam detection) and Trend Micro Family (child-safe Internet filtering) which we hope can contribute to the effort. None of us are giving up on this fight, especially at a time when increased screen time for children is of great concern and as we begin our process of reflecting on what we have learned from the pandemic and how we will apply it in the coming year.
According to Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, Executive Director of NAMLE, “The future of our country depends on our children’s ability to successfully navigate the media-rich environment in which they are growing up. We must make media literacy for every child a national priority.
Perhaps this wish will soon be fulfilled.
Lynette Owens is the Founder and Global Director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families program, whose mission is 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.
Posted on April 30, 2021