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A Whole Lotta Connecting Going on

17 Dec 2015 | Andrea Brands

Tagged: Digital Connections, People, Responsible Use of Technology, Technology,

Ever hear the expression “dig your way to China”? It was pretty common when I was a girl. My friends and I thought that if we dug hard enough, we would arrive on the other side of the world in a new land with a different culture and loads of potential BFFs. Geographical accuracy aside (from the U.S. we would actually dig our way into the Indian Ocean), the concept that we are all connected was well taken.

“If you have to ask yourself ‘should I share or not?’ then the answer is probably ‘No!’” McKenzie reminded us that “through the click of a button, billions of people could have any range of damaging information…think before you post.”

Today’s youth are even more connected than I was with my little shovel. Not only can they check the veracity of digging their way to China, but they can learn about global affairs, various cultures and geographical wonders with a swipe instead of a shovel. And they can meet loads of new friends in China and almost any other country, without leaving home. Just tap the latest app to see them live, and another app to translate languages. Global connectedness is the new norm.

But as easily as they can learn about different cultures and find new friends, strangers can learn all about them. It should come as no surprise that, as many of these digital natives navigate life online, they ponder the privacy and safety of their digital existence. Kids and teens actually think about this stuff. According to a study by the Family Online Safety Institute, teens are “taking many steps to protect their privacy and information online, particularly when it comes to the use of social networking.”

For a great example of these contemplative minds, I need go no further than Alana and McKenzie, two students from Coffee High School in Douglas, GA, who won an essay contest as part of our Digital You program. Digital You offers tools, tips, apps, guidance and community education events for people of all ages and levels of online experience to learn more about how to have a safe and effective online experience. Alana (read her essay) and McKenzie (read her essay) wrote about the consequences of oversharing personal information online and how your actions as a youth can impact other people, as well as your digital reputation for years to come.

In talking about oversharing sensitive information, Alana points out, “Delete does NOT mean deleted.” If you click send, it’s out there and nearly impossible to retract completely. She cautions you to think twice before you post, “If you have to ask yourself ‘Should I share or not?’ then the answer is probably ‘No!’” McKenzie reminded us that “through the click of a button, billions of people could have any range of damaging information…think before you post.”

McKenzie also explored destructive online behavior such as cyberbullying, pointing out how “people feel less threatened to send negative messages to a person indirectly rather than directly.” She encourages youth to report cyberbullying to a trusted adult.

These concerns are certainly more global and far-reaching than what usually occupied my mind as a youth. I hope today’s digital natives are proactive about their online safety so they are free to explore the world – with a swipe AND a shovel.

About the Author

Andrea Brands

Director, Consumer Safety and Education

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Since she began her career more than 20 years ago, Andrea Brands has had a varied career that includes high-level positions in government, political and corporate communications and public affairs – largely in the Chicago area of Illinois. She spearheads consumer education programs that include driver safety (AT&T’s anti-texting-while-driving campaign, It Can Wait) and online safety, where she has developed educational outreach programs for students, parents, external organizations, communities and seniors. Just recently, Ms. Brands was named AT&T’s first Director of Consumer Safety & Education, dedicated to empowering consumers with tools and information to help them use technology safely and efficiently.

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