10 May 2010

No Facebook for Tweenies?

I don't doubt that social network sites can help mean comments spread and that they can cause drama at school that no principal or counsellor wants to deal with. But I don't agree that problems are "caused" by the sites any more than I think that I'm fat because I purchase large clothes.

There is (as if you didn't know) a lack of self-control on some teens' part, and there's also the fact that Mom probably isn't reading all their posts. I don't usually go on my children's accounts with the express purpose of snooping, but I sure would if I were suspicious of anything. Don't like it? Well, you don't have to use the internet or facebook, then, young man. The end.

But what if I didn't police the accounts sometimes? Strong language warning ahead, folks... What if someone, say, (hypothetically of course!) were typing mean things like:

"im sorry that you had to get the FUCK in my bissness. and take up for some pussy ass bitch that wanna get in my mutha fuckn bizzness. all i fuckin did was compliment her!!!! fuck off (name) and dont come over!!!!"

Hmmm... If your child were to see a comment like that every now and then, what should he do?

See, big people have choices on facebook. One is called the "unfriend" option. We can do this when we realize that conversations with this person will never be productive. Another option is called the "ignore this behaviour for the present moment, as it may be that she is under the influence of an illegally-obtained substance" line of reasoning. Still a third option would be to talk with another adult if one feels truly threatened. A fourth option, and one I wouldn't ordinarily recommend using on people who can't even spell their cuss words correctly, would be to respond in kind.

And finally, the fifth option: revert to "clay tablet and stylus" method of communication. Perfect for those situations in which your "string with tin cans" telephone is impractical. Yes! That is just what the principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School (Ridgewood, NJ) suggests. What on earth would you say if you were the parent of a child at the school and received this:

Dear BF Community,

In 2002 when I arrived in Ridgewood Facebook did not exist, Youtube did not exist, and MySpace was barely in existence. Formspring (one of the newest internet scourges, a site meant simply to post cruel things about people anonymously) wasn't even in someone's mind. In 2010 social networking sites have now become commonplace, and technology use by students is beyond prevalent.

It is time for every single member of the BF Community to take a stand! There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!

Let me repeat that - there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None. 5 of the last 8 parents who we have informed that their child was posting inappropriate things on Facebook said their child did not have an account. Every single one of the students had an account.3 Students yesterday told a guidance counselor that their parents told them to close their accounts when the parents learned they had an account. All three students told their parents it was closed. All three students still had an account after telling their parents it was closed. Most students are part of more than one social networking site.

Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today! Let them know that you will at some point every week be checking their text messages online! You have the ability to do this through your cell phone provider. Let them know that you will be installing Parental Control Software so you can tell every place they have visited online, and everything they have instant messaged or written to a friend. Don't install it behind their back, but install it!

Over 90% of all homework does not require the internet, or even a computer. Do not allow them to have a computer in their room, there is no need. Know that they can text others even if their phone doesn't have texting capability, either through the computer or through their Ipod touch. Have a central "docking station" preferably in your bedroom, where all electronics in the home get charged each night, especially anything with a cell or wifi capability (Remember when you were in high school and you would sneak the phone into your bedroom at midnight to talk to you girlfriend or boyfriend all night - now imagine what they can do with the technology in their rooms).

If your son or daughter is attacked through one of these sites or through texting - immediately go to the police! Insist that they investigate every situation. Also, contact the site and report the attack to the site - they have an obligation to suspend accounts or they are liable for what is written. We as a school can offer guidance and try to build up any student who has been injured by the social networking scourge, but please insist the authorities get involved. For online gaming, do not allow them to have the interactive communication devices. If they want to play Call of Duty online with someone from Seattle, fine, they don't need to talk to the person.

The threat to your son or daughter from online adult predators is insignificant compared to the damage that children at this age constantly and repeatedly do to one another through social networking sites or through text and picture messaging. It is not hyperbole for me to write that the pain caused by social networking sites is beyond significant - it is psychologically detrimental and we will find out it will have significant long term effects, as well as all the horrible social effects it already creates. I will be more than happy to take the blame off you as a parent if it is too difficult to have the students close their accounts, but it is time they all get closed and the texts always get checked.

I want to be clear, this email is not anti-technology, and we will continue to teach responsible technology practices to students. They are simply not psychologically ready for the damage that one mean person online can cause, and I don't want any of our students to go through the unnecessary pain that too many of them have already experienced.

Some people advocate that the parents and the school should teach responsible social networking to students because these sites are part of the world in which we live. I disagree, it is not worth the risk to your child to allow them the independence at this age to manage these sites on their own, not because they are not good kids or responsible, but because you cannot control the poor actions of anonymous others.

Learn as a family about cybersafety together at wiredsafety.org for your own knowledge. It is a great site. But then do everything I asked in this email - because there really is no reason a child needs to have one of these accounts.

Please take action in your on home today.

Sincerely,
Anthony Orsini
Principal, BFMS

Source. Would you go along with the ban? With all due respect to the principal, I wouldn't. I just wouldn't tell him so. It doesn't surprise me that all the "response" he is getting is positive and none of the adults are complaining. They know that there is no point fighting with someone like this. The principal can bluster all he wants about what parents should or shouldn't do in their homes, but his argument lacks persuasiveness. One thing that strikes me is that he's asking for parents to remove facebook accounts, and yet the letter plainly states that parents were unaware of the facebook accounts in the first place.

I see facebook accounts for people such as "tami powerranger" or the like, and you can figure out who it is by the profile picture. But Mom and Dad doing a facebook search for the kid? They'll never find her.

9 comments:

  1. I agree with the premise that no middle schooler needs to be active on a social networking site. Just like I don't think my 11 year old niece needs her own cell phone, but my sister disagrees (this is the same sister who never let the older girls watch tv). When we were youth pastors in Alabama we had a raging FB problem. Girls who weren't involved in the middle school oral sex club (I kid you not, started by one of our former students) were becoming heavily involved in myspace and FB and sexting. We had to host an emergency parents meeting when it came to our attention, because many of the parents were completely unaware of what their precious pre-teens/early teens were doing. They honestly believed that 4-6 hours of computer/internet homework nightly was normal. Until their children's grades began to drop and behaviour changed. It was sad and scary. In my opinion--no child needs a computer in their room, or a personal tv for that matter. Computers (and tvs) are for the common area to be shared by the family and monitored by the parental units. But definitely no FB for middle schoolers!

    What amazes me is that in our family we see our nieces and nephews, who come from Christian families, with every possible gadget under the sun. One 17 year old cousin has her own tv, her own laptop, her own Iphone, Ipod, and Nintendo DS. This girl is so wired its not even funny. In the year we have been actively around her--since she became so gadget friendly--her behavior and demeanor has totally changed. She is now dressing in black, dying her hair black, and never interacts with the family. She came to visit us for a week and spent the whole time in her room. We finally had to turn the wireless broadband off. I so wanted to tell her parents they are wasting their money on that expensive private Christian school. Kids today now learn about more of the world before they leave high school than we did by the time we were 25-30. It was hard enough for me to grow up (graduated in 1990) without binge drinking, drugs, and teenage sex--this is tame compared to what most teenagers see and experience.

    I'm not sure about the principal making this mandate and his argument is weak--but parents need to wake-up. We've got to protect our kids.

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  2. Wow, Bonnie. I honestly have NOT seen this in my children, and I snoop. "Patrick" is constantly on the Pokemon website, and sometimes Elf and Emperor are looking on and memorizing stats. Then he goes to YouTube and I kid you not, there are hours and hours of video of some kid playing video games and explaining how to do it. You would think it's bad enough to play videos all the time... but here he's watching someone play video games...

    If my kid were in an oral sex club, I would have him tested for disease immediately. There would be nothing but VeggieTales on TV for several months, no internet, no phone. It would be lockdown time.

    If there were something like that going on, the principal could have come out and said it rather than using the general "unkind comments" sort of garden variety accusation.

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  3. Unless something has changed recently, don't these sites expressly state that you have to be 14 to sign up?

    Now, I have to say that I agree with the pricipal that middle schoolers do not belong on social networking sites. I just happen to think that it's not his place to tell parents how to handle this type of thing.

    Our kids (high schoolers!) do not have facebook or myspace accounts. We are considering allowing it for my firstborn when she turns 16, which will be next month.

    She was attacked on MySpace once by a girl she hadn't even seen in a year because they go to different schools. Social networking sites do make it easier to be vicious, vengeful, and hurtful.

    This ain't our grandma's schoolyard bullying! This is the equivalent of someone writing a nasty note or starting a rumor by letter and making thousands, millions of copies and giving them to anyone withing reach.

    We have parental monitoring software on the kids' computer.
    In our opinion, this goes deeper than whether or not we "trust" our kids. That's just shaming language liberals and the media use today to get us to keep our hands off our kids' lives and behaviors. Then they instill their values in place of ours while we're not watching- too busy proving to our kids how much we trust them!

    How many times have you seen a parent get on TV and say, after their son or daughter has been accused or found guilty of some heinous crime: "But he(she) was such a good kid. He was an 'A' student!"

    All that to say that while I agree with the principal, he overstepped his bounds.

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  4. My extended family... grandmothers, aunt, uncles, cousins, first cousins once removed and second cousins... facebook is our primary method of keeping in touch with each other. So, all of "our kids" who use facebook have at least one facebook account that is for-grandma's-eyes-clean. That being said, I know that my nephew has two accounts. One for grandma and the family. One that admits his sexual preference is men... where he "friends" the people he is honest with. (And, he thinks his Aunt Julie is too stupid to know!)

    In our home: There is only one room in the house with Internet connection. It is in the finished part of the basement, right next to the parent's bedroom. No one is supposed to be in the basement after lights out. I have never caught anyone.
    We had parental monitoring software on our computer. It tracked every keystroke made on the computer and I checked it frequently. We took it off because (1) our spyware program went nuts with it and (2) my developmentally disabled daughter was smarter than the programmers. I started noticing that the last keystrokes that were recorded was her changing the date on the program. The keystrokes were saved by date. If she set it at a date in the past, prior to my installing the software, the keystrokes didn't save.

    Bat-Oni is very worried about what is being said about her on facebook while she is in jail. She is aware that most people in town know she is under the control of the department of corrections. She has asked me to troll her facebook friends, pretending to be her and see what is being said. Uh, not.

    Cell phones are a whole different problem. Because, Bat-Oni was able to purchase her own pre-paid phone without our knowledge or consent. But, even that soon worked itself out. Because, she did use it inappropriately and I took it from her. She called 911 to let the sheriffs know I had "stolen" her phone. I was forced to tell them she was receiving naked photos of underage boys. Neither she or her boyfriend were charged, but he could have been charged with distributing child pornography and she could have been charged with possession. So, her phone stayed locked in our bedroom until her 18th birthday. She had been fired from work by then and couldn't repurchase a new phone.

    All that to say, the principal is right. Parents should be aware of what their kids are doing on-line and with technology. It is easier to say than to do. I wouldn't support a ban. I think most kids would try to "hide" their activity making it harder for their parents to know what is going on.

    And, what about the kids who use technology appropriately? Should they really have their freedoms curtailed because they might, maybe one day abuse them?

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  5. To the commentor who asked about the age on facebook, yes, it says 14 but when a child puts in their date of birth they can just change the year so they are accepted.

    I too agree with this principal but it is not in his jurisdiction to tell the parents what to do. Thats where I disagree with him!

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  6. I'm not sure what age middle school is but in our house the computer is mine & I *lend* it to other users & the other users know I check what's been done on it regularly.

    Given Ditz knew more about Facebook than I did she had an account before I did [she actually helped me set mine up] & she has had it since my brother died so she could keep in contact easily with my nephew. I must say we have never had any trouble but I think my girls are wise users & have pretty nice friends. Many on Ditz's list are professional contacts & I do check. It's a condition of use. ☺

    I do not think teachers, even principals, get to make the call on how anyone else chooses to run their family ~ not even if he happens to be right. Not even if lots of parents are dills & their kids are running circles around them.

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  7. I DID have a parental software but because it caused so many problems on my computer and slowed it down, I had to remove it. I was sad. :( I really liked it. Anyhow, I keep our computers in the main family area where there is heavy traffic. That way, we can know what's going on at all times. Also, the computers have secret passwords so if I turn it off, the kids don't know the password to log in. So far it works. Until they get smart enough for it. I know how to bypass it but they haven't figured that out yet.

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  8. You've already seen my take on this (on Facebook, as a matter of fact) when my own middle schooler got upset because I said "no" to his having one. His brothers all had to wait until they were fourteen, he gets to wait as well. That's life.

    The boys' computer is in a central room in the house. Their time and their accounts are policed closely until they hit about seventeen. I'm in their business because I care and they may not like it, but they understand why.

    Personally, I wouldn't have minded receiving a briefer letter to this effect from a school principal. I completely agree with his take on this.

    I watched a group of adults allow themselves to get sucked into a public drama by way of facebook just yesterday. These are ordinarily decent, dignified people who wouldn't dream of behaving the way they did in real life. If adults can't handle social networking sites properly, then why on earth should we expect middle-schoolers be any better?

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Non-troll comments always welcome! :)