Posted on February 5, 2009 by Ben Kestner
During this weeks Middle School assembly, I talked about social networking and particularly facebook.
We saw some video clips from the organization NetSmartz which explained the dangers of posting information on the web amd some other funny youtube clips. The most important message I would like us to get across is that students need to be aware of the dangers of posting information about themselves on line and the dangers of posting information about other people. The advice ‘do as you would be done by’ which was given to me when I was of middle school age still stands true. Now we can say ‘before you write a comment or post a picture or video; think whether you would like that written or posted about you’
I definitely do not take the approach that social networking is not a good thing. In fact social networking has been around for hundreds of years, it’s just that now the opportunities for bullying, harassing and harming each other are greater, easier and more anonymous.
Before this technology, if a student wanted to say something unpleasant about a fellow student the options included; speak to them personally, write a note and give it to them or start saying things about them to others which gradually spread. These methods of bullying of course still exist today, but tend to need some form of premeditation before carrying them out. Now students can communicate instantly from their phones and computers. They can type comments about people or post a picture or video of fellow students from the safety of their bedroom press ‘return’ and the job is done. The message may then be seen by potentially hundreds of fellow students instantly. It’s much, much easier than before.
Students, particularly in middle school need a great deal of personal and social guidance, They are struggling to come to terms with puberty and all the issues this brings. The dangers of the solitary technological ‘bubble’ some students surround themselves with at home can be great.
Parental control tools such as ‘Magic desktop’, ‘Cyber patrol’, and ‘Safe Eyes’ can be applied at home and school but these are what they say- ‘parental controls’. If kids want to find other computers to access ‘forbidden’ sites, they will. Some of the applications used by teenagers today are; chatrooms, social networking sites such as facebook, instant messaging, email peer to peer (P2P), news groups and games. If a concerned parent or school blocks all of these their children will find some where else to roam.
These applications are not necessarily unsafe either. Instant messaging is a great way to keep in touch and chat with friends. Don’t forget we had instant messaging 20 and 30 years ago- it was called the telephone! The concerns though, are often to do with how long kids are talking, who they are talking to, and what they are saying. Some of the language they use on when messgaing can be a worry too.
One of the most important things adults can do is first UNDERSTAND what their children are doing. They need to educate themselves to the technologies out there toghether with understanding the benefits and dangers they bring. There is help out there. Some sites such as www.kidshealth.org and www.Netsmartz.org offer advice and information for parents. When it comes to discussing issues with teenagers UNDERSTANDINNG can lead to improved COMMUNICATION and IGNORANNCE can lead to CONFRONTATION’
To help parents UNDERSTAND we as schools need to set up an opportunities for parents to come in and discuss issues pertinent to their kids’ age group.
Understanding the Kids (Understanding can lead to improved communication)
A great way to teach parents about what their kids are doing on the internet is to get the kids to teach them themselves by sitting down with parents. Students are willing to help! They don’t necessarily see these presentations as ‘giving away information to the enemy’ as long as it is explained to them that parents understanding can lead to better communication. If ignorant parents just ban sites and computer time ‘willy-nilly’ based on no knowledge, then this will lead to confrontation. Including kids in the discussion is vital- it is something they know a lot about. Schools can encourage some kids to give a presentation of what they are doing. Help parents to set up facebook accounts, get them instant messaging each other, show them some games, take them to a chat room.
Communicating with Kids
Assuming that the parents now have some knowledge behind them, now is the time to start communicating with their kids about their feelings and concerns and setting up some ‘family rules’ as far as internet safety and use is concerned. Parents have always been worried about their children’s safety. When they were young their parents would worry about predators. The predators then, were likely to be described as someone who might harm their children, and parents and schools reinforced messages such as ‘Don’t accept sweets from strangers’ and ‘don’t accept a ride from a stranger’. These predators are still there, but now they have an amazing tool to lure kids called the internet. Predators can make friends with the kids, pretending to be someone of their age, can easily identify where the kids live and also encourage a meeting-all online. Chat rooms are the most common form of use.
When kids want to go out for the evening what are the four most likely questions a parent might ask?
1. Why do you want to go out?
2. Where are you going?
3. Who will you be with?
4. How long will you be?
This gives parents enough information to feel relatively safe when their kids go out. These same questions can be asked to children when they go online.
1. Why do you want to go online (homework, chat with friends, play games etc)
2. Where are you going? (which sites will they use?)
3. Who will you be with? (who are you going to be speaking to?)
4. How long will you be?
Kids of the 21st century need computers and they need the internet. Banning their use at home can lead to confrontation and frustration. It is more important to try to make sure they are safe by understanding the dangers. Parents need to try to create a climate of open communication at home, a great place to do this is by trying to have dinner together as often as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends eating meals together to strengthen families and support good child development. They suggest that teenagers who eat with their families on a regular basis are less likely to experience depression or emotional stress than teens who do not eat regularly with their families. These same teens that share meals with their families are more likely to be motivated in school and have better peer relationships than those that do not share meals with their families.
Here are some other sites suggested by facebook themselves offereing advice:
Category: Social networkingTags: facebook, NetSmartz, Social networking
I like the comparison with kids going out for the evening. We can scaremonger too much about online technology without really understanding the context of how kids interact with it (often they are far more savvy than we think; using multiple technologies in different ways with different ‘rules’ we can fail to grasp)
The comparison with going out for the evening normalises the technology and reminds + reassures parents that their job is actually just the same as it always was, you just need a bit of common sense…
I had a series of circle discussions about social networking with student groups from 6th – 12th grade and came away with a positive feel. Here’s an NPR commentary from a 40-year old who isn’t sure whether or not to accept her mom as a Facebook friend.
“Can You Be Friends With Your Mom … On Facebook?”
Sounds interesting and liked the NPR clip, thanks!
Follow up: One of the most interesting parts of my conversations with students was their feeling that their network identities were “private” although they are, in fact, very public. More than private, I think they enjoyed that part of themselves being isolated from other life events and the personality-experimentation they can indulge in as a result. Although I did not make it part of my conversation with the students, I could not help but think how natural it is for young people to try out different personalities for themselves particularly in a new environment. A trip to another school, a new class, or changing schools are all opportunities for a teenager to reinvent him/herself, often with very healthy results: keeping what you like and discarding whatever you don’t. Social networking provides young people with an opportunity to reinvent themselves in what seems to be a hypothetical world. Sometimes that world remains “virtual” and sometimes it comes to life on them through negative consequences like a predator or having hurt someone’s very real feelings. Realizing this is important for the student. However it is equally important for parents to realize that the personality experimentation that students engage in can be a healthy part of coming of age.