Lessons in Digital Citizenship should incorporate not only the rules of engagement but the consequences for foul play. While it’s paramount for students to know the risks associated with cyberbullying, communicating with strangers and sharing passwords, role playing is another fairly new behavior worth including in your digital citizenship lessons.
What is it?
Role playing might not always be as risqué as you might imagine, but it’s also not always innocent. Online role playing is where individuals or groups with common interests assume the roles of fictional characters. For instance, Gone with the Wind fans might exchange conversation on Instagram pretending to be Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. Sounds fairly harmless, right? The problem arises when the subject matter isn’t as light-hearted as high school literature. The topics for role playing are limitless, but the scariest part is that it happens amongst strangers. So even if someone isn’t entering a role play with malicious intentions, there is no way to know the person on the other side has the same intention.
Why does it matter?
The element of the unknown. How easy would it be for someone to prey on an innocent child and build a trust relationship solely based on a fictional role play? The commonality helps predators build credibility with the children they seek out. Then, before you know it, the person on the other end has convinced a child to connect with them on other social networks, exchange phone numbers to text or even meet them in person.
How to address it?
Start with awareness. Use your Digital Citizenship curriculum as a vehicle to make students aware of the associated risks. In addition to just telling them about it, share the consequences with them. Find real-life stories of role playing gone wrong. Help your students understand the reality of what could happen. Get parents involved. It can be difficult for parents to keep up with new online trends. Create a “Digital Citizen” newsletter and share tips with them for online safety at home. Enforce the use of private accounts. Children’s accounts should never be public. They should only connect to people they know in real life.
Having discussions about inappropriate behavior isn’t a new thing. The conversation has just expanded to the online environment. Help your students understand the risks of inappropriate online behavior and promote positive online interaction. Talk about role playing in the classroom and encourage parents to do the same at home. Set rules for online engagement and stick to the consequences anytime someone breaks those rules. Most importantly, use safety controls for online use to help deter risky behavior.