Badge Modernization: A Sign of the Times?

This post is a revisit of a topic previously shared on GirlGuidesCANblog as it relates to Media Literacy Week, November 5 -9. This year’s theme is Privacy Matters, and shines a spotlight on the privacy knowledge and skills that youth need for their online activities. —————————————————————————————————–

We need to talk about girls and Internet safety, but it’s not what you think. It’s bigger.

Girl Guides of Canada offers programming for Sparks, Brownies, Guides, Pathfinders and Rangers, along the themes of online safety and web surfing, as well as offering a Cybercitizen Challenge. All great programming, yet in a world where the level of online connectivity has grown at the speed of light, it might be high time to revisit the scope of these badges.

cybercitizen challenge

cybercitizen challenge

The idea of internet safety to anyone over 18 years old can be summed up with these general “Golden Rules”:

  • never share your password;
  • always close your browser window after you check your banking on a public computer; and
  • never connect in person with a stranger you meet online.

These same rules, however, will mean little if nothing to a 15 year old teenager. Warning her to be careful online will result in an exaggerated eye roll, a “whatever” or if you’re lucky, a simple “grunt”. It isn’t that she won’t follow your advice (well, maybe), but for her these rules are only one small aspect of being born and raised in an online world. It’s like telling an experienced driver to watch out for potholes or to slow down at a yellow light – obvious warnings that generally get ignored. The only way to talk internet safety with her is to reconsider what safety means to a child who is connected 24/7 to her friends, and to her friends’ friends, and to her friends’ friends of friends…

Internet “safety” must now incorporate skills for a teenager to learn how to walk the line between reality and the online world. Like most kids her age, a girl will likely portray herself as an über something-or-other, usually in direct contrast to her real-life. It’s where she can feel (pretend?) to be more daring, sexier, super outgoing, outright heroic, etc. Yet  while role-playing is a natural way for a teenager to test out who she really is, confusion and related anxiety arise when a teenager tries to live as both of these people, every minute of every day.

So we need a NEW Golden Rule: #1. “Keep mentally safe”.

This would empower a girl to understand how to manoeuver between her experiences online and in-real-life, so she doesn’t get lost in who she really is (be it the fearless warrior or the shy girl).

Likewise, we need to broaden the scope of “internet safety”. I suggest Golden Rule: #2 “Know when to disconnect”.

This will help a girl recognize that while the virtual world is attractive and allows her to explore different persona, she still lives and breathes in the real world and needs to know how to live there – to the max. She should learn to identify when and how to disconnect; how to cultivate in-real-life relationships; how to have a conversation in more than 140 characters; and what it means to be present at an in-real-life community activity.

I can’t think of any better way to do that than have her join a youth organization – but I may be biased!

By Talya, GGC staff


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8 Responses to Badge Modernization: A Sign of the Times?

  1. Well said Talya. These are also valid for those who grew up with a typewriter not a keyboard. Each generation has her own inner safety trigger and ‘staying mentally safe’ and ‘knowing when to disconnect’ are easy to relate to for all generations. I might react sooner than my teenaged niece and later than my mother but it is my safety zone and choice to disconnect.

    • Thanks Linda. You are so right! Disconnecting from anything we do that tears us away from reality for extended periods of time, is important! Maybe this badge needs to be “bigger” than Internet Safety, and more about: In My Community/Key to My Community, etc. Cheers! Talya

  2. As a Guider and a mother of a nine year old, I am also finding it increasingly difficult trying to keep up to the cyber world of social media. I find it rather disconcerting to see so many of my daughter’s classmates with Facebook profiles, even though they are well below the age of 13. And sadly, many of these profiles are not privatised and can be viewed easily by anyone online. They text, tweet and post pictures on a continual basis without any thought of the ramifications. Many times I have to wonder, “Where are the parents?” and “Why does a 10 year old have an iPhone in the first place?”
    I may be old fashioned (I, too, was raised in the era of typewriters, rotary phones and tape decks), but I have refused my daughter access to creating any social account online because I believe that she’s just too young! Personally, I don’t understand the need to be “plugged-in” 24/7. I have a Facebook account to stay in touch with friends and family who live at a distance, but I have abstained from Twitter, MySpace, Pinterest, etc. In truth, I have a cell phone that’s so old, it’s not even capable of texting!
    One of my main concerns regarding social media is that it’s not that social at all. I’m watching my own Guide unit becoming more overstimulated because they never seem to have any “downtime”. My Guide meetings are strictly “technology-free” and I watch many of the girls getting agitated because they’re worried about what they’ve missed from not being online for two hours. Two hours! And these girls are only 10 years old! They’re sitting in a room with 16 – 18 other girls doing fun activities, but their focus is elsewhere. This can’t be healthy.
    Suffice it to say that I strongly agree with your new Golden Rules. Many kids are aware of cyber-bullying and staying safe online because schools now focus on these two issues. But what seems to be missing is the mental safety and learning how to disconnect. Children at the Grade 4 – 6 levels shouldn’t be concerned with what’s happening online. They should be outside with their friends, running and jumping and playing … in the REAL WORLD!
    I’m beginning to believe that rapid, uncontrolled technology use is aging our children too quickly and we won’t see the true consequences until it’s too late.

  3. Anonymous says:

    While I agree that everyone should be outside more and that it is vital that everyone knows and follows the golden rules on and off line, I think dismissing the online world as not real is both reactionary and reductionary. More and more of adults’ so call “REAL” world is online. Banking, working, communication, shopping, learning are all ways the internet is used daily (to name a few). What makes that not real? It is real and important. More to the point it is real for children as well. It isn’t unreal when someone unfriends you or bullies you. The forms you fill out store and use that information, posted pictures are there for everyone to see, often forever. So as leaders we need to help our girls learn both how to build and sleep in lean-tos and how to navigate the realities of virtual life.

    • Dear Anonymous,

      Thank you for helping to illustrate my argument. I completely agree that the online world is “REAL” to many adults, including myself, but I’m not speaking of adults here … I’m referencing children. Sweet, trusting, innocent children who are being allowed online at (what I believe, at least) too young an age. I live in the online world everyday as a part of “banking, working, communication” et al, but I’m an adult who understands the difference between what is real and what is not real.
      So, how do we solve this dilemma? Who knows? I remember a world before “social media” when online billboards were the height of technology and Commodore 64s were “leading edge”. I’ve worked in industry for many years and have watched this technology expand at such a rapid pace that neither education nor federal laws can keep pace.
      As I Guider, I really have no idea how to teach young people to use this technology intelligently, because it’s simply growing too rapidly and globally. As a parent, I choose to restrict my own daughter’s exposure until she’s a bit older and more mature to understand her actions and any correlating consequences. Because, as you stated, anything you post can be stored forever and come back to haunt you at a later date. As an example, wouldn’t it be heartbreaking for a parent to have their child’s university application denied based on pictures or posts that were made years earlier when the child (or their friends) weren’t mature enough to understand? That is REAL and, once done, can’t be undone.

  4. Thank you both Sandi and Anonymous for bringing about this important discussion regarding how we interact in general (beyond just what’s real/is social media really social, etc.) I hope it has offered Guider, parents and girls some food for thought about questioning what we do in our daily lives and what we are/aren’t missing out on because of those actions.

  5. Ashes says:

    I teach a course on Internet Safety. When teens and preteens hear the words they think of two things viruses/malware (well that’s their parents problem, isn’t it? they’re not paying for a computer to be fixed), and sexual predators (and they all think they’re smart enough not to fall for that).
    While those are important topics, what really gets their attention is when you talk about aspects of Internet Safety they’ve never considered.
    In essence the goal of online safety (in my humble opinion) is to avoid being: Exploited, Ripped Off, Scammed, Bullied, and Disrespected.
    How many children and teens unknowingly fill out surveys and profiles online with their personal information? How many enter contests? Heck, a lot of adults who use the internet fall into these traps. That information is sold to advertisers and marketers, it’s used to flood your inbox with junk mail and download adware on your computer which will slow it down.
    Is your first and last name in your email address? Is your age or the year you were born? You’ve already made two pieces of personal information readily available to identity theives.
    Do you know what a Web Crawler is? It can readily copy information you post online (even if you delete it later). Everything you say online is permanent.
    Do you know what Social Ads are, and that Facebook is set up to automatically allow third-party websites to use information (including your profile picture) in their advertisments? Unless you have changed your privacy settings it could happen right now.
    There are so many common issues adults (let alone children and teens) are unaware of. Like with any form of safety, it’s about equipping girls with the knowledge and skills to understands threats, and stay safe.

    • Wow! Ashes you have pointed out to many (all?) of the threats that most people don’t even consider. Let’s hope that this list helps others to reconsider before sharing personal/trackable/private information online! Bravo and well stated comment!

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