Preparing students for their future instead of our past

As I write this, it’s the first week of March 2019.  The trending topics on Twitter include John Candy (who passed 25 years ago), Flames goalie Mike Smith (filled with vitriol following a difficult game), and a discussion of World Wildlife Day. In our traditional news media however, Momo - a meme based on an unrelated sculpture by artist Keisuke Aiso called “Mother Bird” - is “going viral” (quickly spreading as a virus would).


Last week a post on Twitter stating “PARENTAL ALERT: A viral challenge encouraging suicide and giving kids tips on how to do it is infiltrating children's video websites like YouTube Kids” began to make its rounds. Although it was a hoax, the legitimate fear that a post like this caused, quickly resulted in tens of thousands of shares on twitter and hundreds of thousands of shares on facebook within the first two days (Collins, 2019).


Twitter and Facebook are largely social media tools for adults. Kids prefer the more visual, in the moment tools like YouTube, SnapChat, and Instagram. Unfortunately, the internet being the land of opportunists the “popularity” of this meme prompted a number of users on sites like Youtube to create accounts based on the Momo name and to post abusive content. 


The spread of viral ideas like these aren’t new. Momo herself spread across Europe last year. And it’s hard to forget the Tide Pod Challenge that prompted youth across the world to attempt to eat laundry soap.


It’s not a secret that the the world our children are growing up in is significantly different from our own.  Children currently attending our schools, right up to the grade 12s graduating this year, have lived their entire lives in the 21st century.  As a reference point, here some major technologies that began within the first ten years of our graduates’ (born in 2000/2001) lives.

  • 2000 - End of the “.COM” bubble
  • 2001 - Wikipedia
  • 2002 - LinkedIn
  • 2003 - Myspace
  • 2004 - Facebook
  • 2005 - YouTube
  • 2006 - Twitter
  • 2007 - iPhone
  • 2008 - Bing
  • 2009 - Pinterest
  • 2010 - Instagram

(Harbott, 2012; Malone Media Group, 2019)


Growing up in any culture - specially a digital one - has an impact on how we live our lives and interact with others.  Last year, the PEW research group (Anderson & Jiang, 2018) surveyed teens throughout the United States about their online presence and revealed some fascinating trends:



Our youth have never lived in a disconnected world.  According to the PEW study, 67% of teens have their own mobile phone with 57% of them in use on any given day.  Many more have tablets, ChromeBooks, computers, and a variety of other technologies that provide nearly unlimited access to the internet. They live in a world that gives them answers to almost any question. More importantly it gives them access to any human being they wish to interact with.  It’s a world where youth have more voice and influence than ever before. This has been recently demonstrated by the activism of students at Stoneman Douglas High school and of course the Me Too movement. Unfortunately with the ability to influence comes the ability to be influenced.


This new and quickly transforming reality requires us to look at the problem differently.  New technologies pop up weekly. Instead of only limiting our response to playing “whack-a-mole” with filtering and blocking (which certainly has an important place in our schools), we need also to build capacity in our children so that they have the skills and competencies to navigate this landscape when they are no longer in our care.  As writer Ian Jukes (2011) once wrote, “we need to prepare students for their future instead of our past.”


For our schools, this means building competencies in our students within a safe and secure environment.  These competencies are in fact part of our new curriculum. For example, a student who is a Critical Thinker and an Information Manager is able to question and test the validity of information that they find online in order to spot “fake news”. They learn Collaboration, Cultural Citizenship, and Personal Growth and Wellbeing competencies while using digital spaces purposefully making collective decisions around important issues and to create original work.  Digital tools like Google Classroom, Moodle, and Microsoft Teams provide a safe place to digitally interact with a limited group of people.


At home, parents can help build these skills too! Here are just a few easy ways that you can work to build these skills at home.

  1. Talk to your children about these issues. What social media do they belong to? Who else belongs to their groups? What do they share? What do they think about what they’re seeing?  Both negative (for example Momo or the twitter attacks on Mike Smith) and the positive (the Stoneman Douglas media campaign) can provide excellent fodder for dinner table conversations.
  2. Make sure your children know to Shot, Block, and Share.  When someone is abusive to them on social media they can take a Screenshot (usually by pressing the home and power buttons at the same time) so as to keep a record (proof) of the abuse, block and report the abusive user using the links on their social media sites, and Share all of this with a trusted adult.
  3. Know the screen-lock code of your child’s cell phone so that you are able to periodically check what they are doing online.
  4. Don’t let your child use their devices behind a closed bedroom door.
  5. Share and talk about your own experience on social media. For example show them a viral post you’ve recently received and ask them to help you verify its authenticity.
  6. Have a discussion around some of the questions and videos at https://www.commonsensemedia.org/social-media


Ultimately the issues have never been about technology.  The issues are about people.


“The answer is to stop thinking about digital citizenship as a stand-alone technology topic and begin thinking about it as an essential component of a well-rounded… curriculum” (Mattson, 2018, p. 34).


Yours in learning,

Doug Stevens, Director of Distributed Learning



Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018). Teens, social media & technology 2018. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018

Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy Is “Not” Enough: 21st Century Fluencies for the Digital Age. The 21st Century Fluency Series. Corwin, A SAGE Publications Company. 2455 Teller Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91320. Tel: 800-818-7243; Tel: 805-499-9774; Fax: 800-583-2665; e-mail: order@sagepub.com; Web site: http://www.corwinpress.com. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/detail?accno=ED525899

Harbott, A. (2012, May 4). Visual timeline of Internet milestones. Retrieved March 3, 2019, from https://harbott.com/visual-timeline-of-internet-milestones-bad95e6df2de

Collins, B. (2019, 28). How “Momo,” a social media hoax about a paranormal threat to kids, went viral in U.S. [News]. Retrieved March 4, 2019, from https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/how-momo-global-social-media-hoax-about-paranormal-threat-kids-n977961

Malone Media Group. (2019, February 20). Malone Media Group | History of the Internet Timeline – An Ever-Evolving Digital World. Retrieved March 3, 2019, from https://malonemediagroup.com/history-of-the-internet-timeline-an-ever-evolving-digital-world/

Mattson, K. (2018, October). Embed digital citizenship in all subject areas. Empowered Learner, 2(2), 33–37.