Stacked in Our Favor

Thoughts about libraries, education, children's literature, writing, art and being connected

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Online Safety and Euphemisms

Sometimes the way we talk to children amuses me. For example, people have no trouble seeing a child in a grocery store/park/church/zoo and asking “How old are you?” will become angry when the child asks the same question. “Children today have no manners!” humph.

It is no laughing matter, however, that children today have many different configurations of living arrangements. As the custodian of a great percentage of a child’s waking hours, those of us who work with them struggle to always find words that will embrace and affirm all of the children in our care. Instead of saying “Have your Mom read this to you” as teachers may have years ago, we now go through all kinds of verbal gymnastics to be inclusive. I, for one, think this is a good thing, even if it can get silly at times.

One of the terms that makes me giggle is “trusted adult.” We say things like “Get your trusted adult’s permission before using the Internet” or “Your trusted adult must sign this permission form.” I can imagine the people children identify as “trusted adult” might shift from day to day depending on who lets them watch TV or stay up late or have cake and ice cream. Still, the phrase is valuable because it describes not only a relationship of power, but also one of trust. You can’t always trust the people in charge of you. This term may empower children to seek out and engage in conversation with those who are trustworthy. Sometimes children understand the issues more than we would imagine.

The term also made me think of all the adults who are posting about children in their online interactions. They may or may not be blood relations. They may or may not be a family. They may be entrusted with the safety and well being of the child for part of the day. What information are the adults divulging that is detrimental to the safety of the children in their care? Many of us think long and hard before doing anything to compromise the identities of the children in our care.

One day I decided that if we are asking children to have trusted adults, we should step up to the plate and trust the children as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating letting them cross the street alone or make unguided decisions about meal choices. Yet children are worthy of trust and need to have opportunities to rise to the expectations. That is why you will see me post about my trusted teen (TT), my trusted middle-schooler (TMS), my trusted kindergartener (TK), my trusted preschooler (TPSK) and my trusted toddler (TTOD). I’m thinking about posting about my trusted retiree (TR) as well.

It sounds silly when you put them all together this way, but I feel we should be consistent with the terms we expect children to use and the terms we use to post about them. I want children to hear that they are worthy of trust, to feel empowered and to learn that they are not just helpless, dependent beings. They are also capable of being trusted, being dependable and being active members of their community. I also want them to know that I care about their privacy and safety. The best way I can let them know it is to demonstrate it in the way I share information related to them.