being a teacher, social media, Student

How We Fail Young Students with Facebook

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBase

A gaggle of 5th grade girls all sit around a lunch table obviously in a deep discussion.  As I walk past them, one word makes my ears perk up and my step slow…Facebook.  Immediately the teacher in me wants to interrupt, remind them that they are 10 and 11 which according to the law means they are not allowed to be on Facebook, and yet I don’t.  I let them and their conversation be and instead head to my room and ponder the hypocrisy that is the age restriction on Facebook.

To be a legal member of Facebook you have to be 13 years old.  The site makes this very clear, and yet we all know that the this rule is being broken on a daily basis as 4th and 5th graders sign up and start using the site.  And while we can sit here and discuss how kids are just too young to handle to the responsibility of such a decision at that age, I think we should instead move on and discuss the real ramification of these sign ups:  Kids that are not being taught how to use the site safely, because we choose to pretend they are not signing up.  And yet, they are signing up, and they are using it to their full potential; the good, the bad, and the bullying.  So rather than releasing educated students onto a social media site, we stick our heads in the sand, cover our ears and pretend it isn’t happening.

So as teachers we are once again put in a situation where we cannot teach kids skills that would be beneficial to them in the long run.  Skills they for sure will need in middle school.  Rather than confronting Facebook head on in the classroom and discussing how to use it, we ignore it, give stern warnings, and move on as if this will stop kids from signing up.

In America we seem to have a tendency in general to cover our ears and pretend kids are not doing things they shouldn’t, rather than actually teach them how to do it safely.  Just look at how sex ed. and underage drinking is being treated.  So as a society we would rather hold up the rule and say, “Well, they shouldn’t be doing this!” rather than face the facts and give them the proper education to handle it well.  Again, this discussion isn’t meant to be about whether kids are too young to be on Facebook, much smarter people have written oodles about that.  It is to bring up how we as a society should be giving kids an education in social media before they start to sign up rather than trying to patch things up later in life.

We fail these children when we pretend that they are not on Facebook at ten years old.  We fail to teach them right, to show them how to behave and move around in a virtual social media site.  How to deal with being friends with people or un-friending, how to post properly, what not to post, and how to treat others with respect.  By being a restriction that is still so easily accessible to children, it becomes the ultimate must do.  And perhaps Facebook isn’t what is so scary about this whole thing, but rather kids that have no idea how to use it properly.  And that is for us to fix, if society would let us.

11 thoughts on “How We Fail Young Students with Facebook”

  1. I tend to think the answer lies in creating a walled garden and have those discussions. We can do this without breaking terms of service. Edmodo appears to be a great solution.

  2. I have just started reading your blog and I am really enjoying it. Thank you for discussing important topics that are about students' needs!At our school we had a local sheriff come in and do a presentation on internet safety for 5th and 6th graders. It was very powerful and a step in the right direction. It was mostly focused on how quickly someone could find out all your personal information on the internet and about internet perpetrators. She did not address specifically how to use facebook appropriately, but it did open the door for me to have these discussions. I had several students ask me to show them how to set the privacy settings on their facebook accounts after this meeting.

  3. I agree with you that it's dangerous to stick our heads in the sand and pretend that it's not happening. But, isn't it ultimately the parent's call on whether or not that this is allowed? I've "tattled" on one of my students that has boasted about his Facebook account when I know for certain that he was not supposed to have one. I don't know what happened, but I felt like I owed the parents a "heads up" that the situation was happening. I know we can't spend time calling every single parent saying, "Did you know that Facebook's policy requires a user to be 13 years old?" Maybe we need to have more education forums for parents who may be oblivious that these things are happening.

  4. I'm all for parent education, but I think social media is definitely an area where educators do need to step in and provide education. In my experience, technology changes in this arena as in many others are just happening too fast for parents to keep up, while their kids are immersed in it. Last year, we had an experience where students were using Google Buzz with their friends and not realizing there were no privacy settings in place – that was definitely a teachable moment and reinforced to me how important incorporating social media education is. Google docs turned into a "walled garden" for my students to experiment with social media concepts. I recently heard about a Digiteen project called Cute Little Liars that I think provides a great entry point for discussing these issues with students and parents.

  5. Oh, Pernille! I've been struggling with this lately… as both a parent and an educator. The reality is that my 12 year old daughter is in the minority of children in her grade that are NOT on Facebook. I remember being astounded how many 5th graders were on Fb- and how little parental supervision was in evidence. I had discussions with students about the inappropriateness of apps like "How Sexy are You?" (complete with nearly naked pics), and ones that auto-post to their wall during the day. (Had a stellar conversation with one student who I thought was posting from my computer lab while I was home sick…) Keep on thinking & sharing, my friend.

  6. Years ago when MySpace was the hot social network, I made a profile in class for my seventh grade students to see how easy it could be for someone to access their personal information. It was an honest, open discussion and they had many questions for me about it. There's no way I'd be allowed to do that now. Our school network "blocks" sites–though my students have taught me how they skirt the filters.It seems when we look the other way, we're teaching students to be subversive and sneaky. The hidden curriculum bothers me.

  7. We should be looking at this issue without specifically addressing Facebook. The problems students have on this social networking site are no different than they can and will have on other sites. An inappropriate picture or comment can just as easily be uploaded to Twitter, Plurk, or insert the name of any other social networking site here. What I preach (and I do mean preach because I believe it is important) is that students understand that there is no privacy online. I use their blogs as a gateway to show them that people from all over can see what they are doing. I actually really dislike Facebook for a lot of reasons, among the many is how they make us believe we can set up a private network when that simply isn't possible. If we focus on Facebook to teach, that needs to be the lesson.

  8. I also just started reading your blog and love it. Keep up the great blogging. I disagree with your response to Scott Meech. I think at 9 and 10 years old, something like Edmodo or Schoology will teach them what they need to know. There are no anonymous users which is huge. With the teacher in control, there's many lessons to be learned. Students can't privately message each other or post anonymously. With Edmodo, moderating comments before they get posted isn't available (though it is in Schoology) – although teachers can always delete a student's comment, but with no anonymous users, I think that would be a minimal issue. Also, there needs to be instructional value in using these services in order to justify to admins. They are frequently viewed as a waste of time if they are used just for socializing (and that's when kids tend to get silly, off-task and look for trouble), so the task becomes not just teaching students how to use appropriately but also how to use appropriately within the context of instruction. Just my two-cents.

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