Monday, December 23, 2013

Crossing a Line?

Anybody who knows me knows the following things about me:

1. I am a heavy social media user.
2. I am an advocate for kids being taught how to use social media safely and appropriately.
3. I am passionate about teaching kids about how to handle cyberbullying.

I read this article this morning about whether or not schools should monitor students' activity on social media, especially in light of cyberbullying and the devastating effects it can have on students, driving some children to suicide.  I have been outspoken about the school's roles and responsibilities when it comes to cyberbullying.  I wrote a blog post once (read it here), and a revised version of that post was published by ISTE in their "Point/Counterpoint" feature (read it here).  However, I think schools actually monitoring students' social media use crosses a line from responsibility into invasion of privacy.

Kids who use social media ned to be taught how to use it properly and appropriately, and ultimately, that job falls on the shoulders of the parents.  Sadly, far too many parents don't bother to teach their kids how to use social media properly, nor do they monitor their own children's behavior online, and that includes however the kid goes online -- via computer or laptop, tablet, or cell phone.  There's a difference between parents monitoring their children's social media activity and a school monitoring that activity.  Parents have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their children, and that includes the online arena.  Schools can supplement what they are taught at home, as my district does with its technology safety and cyberbullying lessons and presentations (and I'm proud to say we were doing it before it was mandated by the state).  I also acknowledge that for some kids, the instruction they receive at school isn't a supplement -- it's all the guidance they get.  Yet that isn't reason enough for a school to creep around its students' social media pages.  It takes the responsibility off the shoulders of the parents and it makes kids continue to see adults as the "enemy", and they will continue to find better ways to hide their online behavior.  Adults -- parents and school personnel -- need to find ways to coexist peacefully on social media rather than have kids feel like they are being spied on.  What the kids perceive as snooping will only continue to encourage improper social media use.

That doesn't mean that schools can wash their hands of cyberbullying.  Schools need to encourage students and parents alike to understand what exactly cyberbullying is and teach them how to preserve evidence and then share it with the proper authorities -- whether that means a school principal, a dean, a school counselor, or even law enforcement if necessary.  Schools can act on it when they are alerted to it by someone who has a concern, but they should not actively seek it out by monitoring students' social media pages - even if it is voluntary, even if it does by a machine.  It takes the responsibility of teaching proper social media use off the shoulders of the parents where it belongs; it can make students feel resentful that "big brother" is always watching them; and it puts a school at increased risk of fault-finding if the algorithm used to monitor activity fails to identify a case of cyberbullying that ends in tragedy.  This a bad idea all around.

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