Living in the Online World

Jason P. Lewis, Upper School Head

“Good afternoon, gentlemen. My name is Mr. Driscoll, and I am here to talk about internet safety.”
An obvious, audible groan emerged from at least half of the 197 Upper Schoolers in the Schoolroom. This is what Scott Driscoll anticipated. He has been speaking to kids for close to a decade and knows this is a topic that does not elicit enthusiasm from the gathered masses. So when he made this introduction to our Fessenden boys last Wednesday, he knew that it would be met with restrained apathy. But, what ensued was a presentation ripe with information that was necessary for our boys to hear—and one that they found quite interesting. Yes...a presentation on internet safety that adolescent boys enjoyed!
There are many similarities between our childhood and what our kids are experiencing today. Inherent in growing up are the developmental celebrations and challenges. Kids seek opportunities for independence while still relying on support from family and friends. And, the social pressures are felt with a disproportionate significance during these years. But, the existence and influence of the internet on today’s kids—which was completely absent in our childhood—cannot be overstated. Mr. Driscoll not only spoke about this impact, but he engaged the boys in a really thoughtful discussion about how to stay safe. He speaks with a true depth of experience, and he also speaks their language of Fortnite, TikTok, and Snapchat. He had their attention.
Mr. Driscoll’s talk highlighted the need for the boys to set up precautions in their online lives. This included: the need to be cautious regarding what and how they share, specifically in terms of images; thinking carefully about the information they provide when signing up for apps; and exercising discretion when interacting with others online, whether it is through social media or gaming. The other area of focus was on how they/we treat each other online. He spoke of cyberbullying and the emboldened feeling that is often experienced from behind a screen. With this came his challenge to each boy to be a “hero”—not only in treating each other with kindness, but in standing up for others who might be victims. Mr. Driscoll also shared an incredible true story that illustrated the impact poor decisions can have. (Ask your son about the girl whose photo was shared at school and what resulted.) Throughout his talk, Mr. Driscoll repeatedly referenced Fessenden’s commitment to honesty, compassion, and respect.
When our children are first learning to walk, we are right there with them, oftentimes padding the path with pillows to prepare for the inevitable fall. When they move on to a bicycle, it is always accompanied by a helmet and usually involves a parent running alongside to curtail any crashes. Kids need that same support and safeguarding when we give them a phone, tablet, or computer. Essentially, we are giving them the entire world in their hands. They can’t do that on their own. It is for this reason that we must—while respecting their desire for independence—make sure that we are educating them about what it means to be safe and responsible. This discussion on internet safety was not a one-off presentation; rather, it is part of an ongoing commitment to ensuring that our boys remain safe, responsible, and respectful as they explore the digital world.

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