April 30, 2009
Social networks, instant messages (IM), blogs, online forums, games and other Web sites have an incredible power to keep tweens and young adults connected, communicative and productive. Yet with all the benefits come threats and misuse.
Campus safety professionals have been challenged to enlighten youth on the unintended negative consequences of publicly sharing private information. There are also serious concerns around phishing, pharming, shoulder surfing, identity theft, online stalking, cyber bullying and more.
While there are inherent risks in Web-based and mobile technologies, each school can take measures to ensure online safety. It starts with education and awareness. Safety and security professionals must understand this generation and how they interact in the current online environment. Campus administrators must also be able to connect with Millennials in meaningful and appropriate ways, provide the right resources and encourage a community of trust and dialog. With the right level of education, students will become preventive, take more responsibility for their own safety and well-being, and influence their peers.
Millennials Are Open About Their Lives
Most experts say the millennial generation was born from 1982 to 2001 and grew up during the 1990s and 2000s. This generation of students uses its computers, mobile devices and smartphones to do everything from bank transactions to getting news to communicating with friends. Millennials view the world much smaller than even five years ago. They’re multicultural and more open-minded than their parents and older siblings.
And, they’re open about their lives. Today’s students are willing to publicly share their life viewpoints and romantic lifestyles more than previous generations. Additionally, as the Web and technologies evolve, Millenials are more likely to share even more of their lives and details with others. Millennials are operating in an open environment where anyone can be a content publisher, and, for the most part, many students take advantage of the ease and ability to do so.
But the cavalier and desensitized notion of privacy for this generation causes concern. Web hygiene just isn’t all that important to them. In fact, experts say most subscribers to social networking services ignore security as a concern. This openness, coupled with overly trusting tendencies, can be scary for parents, campus administrators and public safety officials.
At the same time, this openness, collaborative tendencies and technological prowess provides opportunities for connecting with students to improve safety awareness.
How Your Campus Can Connect with This Generation
By effectively enlisting the eyes and ears of their own student bodies, campuses can become more successful in their online safety education and crime prevention efforts. There are many tips campus public safety officials can share with students to help them navigate the issues that can arise online, whether it’s derogatory messages written on a Facebook or MySpace page, online stalking through inappropriate use of GPS/location technology on cell phones, false association or phishing scams.
While having the right information to communicate to students is critical, knowing how they gather information and learn is important to making the kind of connection that can make a difference. Here are a few steps:
1. Be Authentic
Millennials are adept at tuning out self-serving or unappealing messages. Presentation, content, style and tone are important. Students like to hear from people their own age but also appreciate unbiased information from subject matter experts. Is your school or university sharing messages as if they were coming from a younger, straight shooter with credibility and authority? Students expect full transparency.
2. Provide Real Information
Millennials want to be in the know. They’ve got wall posts and status updates on Facebook to know what’s being said 24/7. They’ve got Twitter to see what people are eating for lunch - or what their favorite newspaper has to say. They’ve got mobile phones with GPS-based applications to let all their friends know where they are and when.
To learn, they embrace risk - although they’ll seek effective strategies for managing those risks, whether asking a friend/counselor or searching online. Public safety leaders can help empower students with the right information by communicating relevant material with edge and punch and providing shock value so it’s real and memorable. Facts alone won’t cut it.
Many students grew up in structured environments, relying on helicopter parents to keep them safe. Parents want universities to educate and protect, so they’re expecting schools to tell their kids what they don’t know - or what they, as parents, never told them. This is particularly important when discussing virtual and online worlds, since many parents witness their children being distracted by technological devices but have no idea what content is being used or shared.