Saturday, May 1, 2010

No Facebook For You!


Yes, I'm tired of hearing about Facebook everywhere I go. For cryin' out loud, it's not THAT entertaining! What exactly are you people doing on there, anyway? I don't quite get it. And by "it", I mean the obsession with Facebook. I get Facebook. I have a Facebook. I check it a couple of times a day. I like it, I just don't get those of you who are obsessed with it is all. And one middle school principal in New Jersey really doesn't get it and he has sent out an email to all parents asking them to join a voluntary ban on social networking. He wants to...? But he sent an email out to...? Asking them....? Yeah, there's a little bit of irony in there somewhere.

Here's the scoop: According to the fine folks over at
WCBS, over yonder at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, principal Anthony Orsini "...sent out an e-mail Wednesday morning asking parents to help him get all of his students off social networks and keep careful track of their text messages." Hmmm. I'm not sure how I feel about the whole "getting them off of social networks" plea. It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure that I'm in favor of an "all or nothing" approach to the matter. And the part about keeping track of their text messages? Yeah, that just sounds like him telling parents how to parent. And while I am well aware that a lot of parents (unfortunately) DO need to be told how to parent, the question would seem to be whether or not telling them what to do is going to do any good.

According to the school's guidance counselor, a one Meredith Wearly, "...about 75 percent of her day is spent dealing with social networking issues with students." First of all, congratulations, Benjamin Franklin Middle School, on even having a guidance counselor, let alone one who does something. Bravo! Second, however, is the question as to whether or not any of the parents are ever notified of these "social networking issues" that are arising seventy five percent of the time with the students. Craptastic reporting being what it is, that was left out of the story. Brilliant.

The article says that "...middle schools have always had drama and emotion, but the social networks amplify them to such an extent that guidance counselors there said it's become a menace to their students." A menace? Really? That only leads me in the direction of believing that the parents were not notified or didn't do anything after being notified. That's not something you can fix right away, if ever.

Mr. Orsini's email is rather lengthy, considering that it's from a middle school administrator. They're usually not much for the explanations and the words (usually because they have difficulty forming coherent sentences themselves). Here are some highlights from his memo:

- There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site. OK, I pretty much completely disagree with this. There are reasons. Is there any reason for a middle school student to be checking their social networking sites during school hours? Absolutely not. That I am against. I am hardly against them being on a social networking site, as long as they're not abusing it, using it for malicious purposes or letting it interfere with life in the real world. But there are plenty of reasons. To say that there are not reasons, well, that's just asinine.

- 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. So, what makes him think that telling the parents to have their children get rid of all of their social networking sites is going to have any different outcome than that example? If a parent isn't technologically savvy enough to figure that stuff out, they're doomed. Doomed, I tell you.

- 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. Hmm. I'm not sure that this is entirely true. I know that you can see how many texts were sent, but as for the content of them being available to be looked at online? I am unaware that such a feature exists. It'd be great if it was available (you have no idea how many times I've needed to go back and look at a text I've either sent or received and found that it's gone), but I'm not so sure that it's that simple.

- 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! I really do appreciate the part that he includes about not doing it behind their back. That's a good approach. But he needs to be more clear about it. Do you know why they most likely don't have Parental Control Software already installed? They either a) don't know about it, b) wouldn't know how to install it if they did, c) don't know which kind to get or where to get it and/or d) couldn't afford it (or won't pay for it) if they did. He's going to need to put a little more effort into getting that one accomplished.

- 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. I found this fascinating. I also find it hard to believe. Really? 90% of all homework doesn't require a computer and/or the Internet? I guess he's expecting kids to trot on down to the library and use the encyclopedias there? Does that happen anymore? Don't get me wrong, it would be grand if it did, but I'm not so sure that it does. Regardless, however, what about the 10% that does require it? And shouldn't at least some homework be on how to use the Internet? What about learning how to be safe on the Internet? Wouldn't that be a good skill to be teaching middle school kids? I'm thinking it would be. I'm thinking it would swell.

Look, the guy really sounds like he has the kids' best interest at heart. I really believe that he does. He even includes in his letter "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." That's pretty cool (as my experience with middle school administrators is that they don't want to take responsibility for much of anything). I just don't know if he's going about it in the right way.

I'm more of a person that believes in educating individuals rather than isolating them as a way to change or corral behaviors. And I can understand just wanting to remove the entire problem so that it doesn't have to be dealt with or so that it isn't an issue. But I just don't think that it's the way to go in situations like this. I think that with computers and the Innnerwebs and YouFace and everything like that, parents are going to have to step it up. They're the ones that are ultimately responsible for their children (which is why a lot of the problem kids are the way that they are). They need to be educated in this stuff so that they better know how to handle it. And if he thinks that cyber-bullying is only a problem in middle school, he should probably rethink that position....'cause it ain't.

I'm pretty sure that this all comes down to responsible parenting, a concept that is lost on quite a few these days. You can read his entire plea here if you so desire. And let me know what you think. It's a tricky issue, I'll give it that. For once, I don't have an easy answer. Shocking, I know. But I'm pretty sure that my answer isn't to just take it all away because there are potential problems with it. That answer I can stand behind. Anything other than that and I'm open to suggestions.

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