How do you teach technically educated children to navigate safely through the digital world? You bring the teenagers into Germany. On a recent day, 18-year-old Chantal Hueben stood in front of a group of fifth graders and asked them to brainstorm about the WhatsApp messaging system, which most people use to participate in a group chat for their class. They discussed topics such as cyberbullying and what material could be posted.
"Many are not yet fully aware of the impact that their messages can have on others," says Hueben, dressed entirely in black, except for white sneakers. "We teach them not to place anything privately in the classroom, not to send pictures of others and not to offend anyone." The session at the Gesamtschule Borbeck high school in the West German city of Essen is part of a large-scale program in which teenagers teach their younger classmates how to stay safe and healthy online.
As they age, they also take part in workshops on media copyright issues or sexting, and at the end of eighth grade, they do a test to get a laminated & # 39; mobile license & # 39; to be able to use their smartphones at certain times at school. . The exam comprises 10 multiple choice questions. People ask what to do when someone sends an embarrassing Snapchat photo of a fellow student. The answer, of course, is not to forward the photo to others.
More than two-thirds of children in Germany have smartphones at the age of 11 and, like children around the world, are criticized by the huge number of messages they receive and do not know how to handle inappropriate and hurtful messages. Because many parents and teachers do not have digital skills and cannot agree with what it means to grow up with a smartphone, the German government decided that peer education was the best approach.
In Borbeck, with around 1,000 students, it is considered one of the most advanced schools in Germany when it comes to learning digital skills. There are 32 students who teach in the & # 39; Media Scouts & # 39; or media scout program. "We are also students, so we have this buddy and an example relationship with the younger children that certainly motivates them to learn from us," says Hueben. With the program, Germany is ahead of many other countries where & # 39; media skills & # 39; are often taught by teachers and are more about reading or viewing news media instead of personal impact.
It was founded in 2011 by the government in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In Germany, education is managed by the 16 individual states of the country, and now 11 of them have similar programs in hundreds of schools. In North Rhine-Westphalia, 766 schools have so far participated in the media exploration program. More than 3,120 high school students were trained to be scouts and around 1,500 teachers acted as guidance headers to help the children grow up as adult world citizens.
"It would be great if the media scouts would be located at every high school," said Sven Hulvershorn of the media authority office for the West German state, who oversees the media scout program. "We are not there yet, but we are working on it." Apart from teaching children how to cope with the daily stress of digital communication, experts in Germany agree that it is necessary to coach them in how to protect themselves against online bullying, sexual predators or fake news.
"We had a complete ban on telephones at our school for the first time," explained Vera Servaty, media scout media expert, at Borbeck high school. "But the reality is that media is a central aspect of the students' lives. If the school does not help them navigate through the media and also does not offer parents help, how should the children learn responsible ways with the digital world? "
The program is more developed than in many other countries. In the United States, many schools have not fully embraced peer-to-peer tutoring in social media, says Liz Kolb, professor of educational technology at the University of Michigan. American schools are required by a federal program to learn appropriate online behavior, but that is done by teachers and while some schools offer peer-to-peer tutoring, it is not on the scale of what Germany does. "Schools are pretty much looking for their own way, because there really is no strong mandate to have a particular curriculum or specific goals," Kolb said of the US "It is absolutely necessary and schools see that it is necessary, they just don't do it "I don't know how to fit it into the already tight curriculum that they have. & # 39;
At the secondary school in Borbeck the co-investigators spend a few hours teaching the fifth graders not to let WhatsApp take over their lives. In addition to practical tricks, such as turning off the setting that tells the sender if a message has been read, the older students also talk to the students to learn to pause their smartphone.
After the end of the Hueben workshop, 11-year-old Simon Scharenberg looked relieved. He said he often felt overwhelmed by the hundreds of WhatsApp messages he received daily, most of schoolmates in class chat. He felt obliged to follow them all for fear of missing important information about homework or school activities. After the WhatsApp workshop, Scharenberg said he had more confidence about a break in messaging.
"I'll put my phone down in the kitchen when I get home from school," he said, explaining his new strategy. "Before I go to sleep, I will check all messages. But I will only reply if I really feel like it. & # 39;
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