Table Talk – 3 Conversation Starters About Internet Safety

Using fresh news stories can be a great way for parents to spark discussions with their kids and teens about how to be a good cyber citizen. “Table Talk” is a series on Breaking Free, passing along recent headlines about Internet temptations and dangers. Use the questions provided to get your family thinking about Internet safety and responsibility…

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Outlawing teacher-student friendships on Facebook

It’s the first state law of its kind in the nation. Last month, Missouri govenor Jay Nixon signed Senate Bill 54 into law in an effort to eliminate inappropriate contact between students and teachers. By January 1, 2012, every school district in Missouri must develop a written policy concerning teacher-student communications. These policies must forbid a teacher from having a “nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”

Practically speaking: teachers who have a private Facebook profile cannot be friends with students at their school. They are also forbidden from sending a student a private message through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

While teachers and administrators generally support the idea of maintaining a professional, non-personal relationship between educators and their students, the law has many critics. Some districts have found the use of Facebook effective to share announcements and offer homework help because it is so widely used by students. Some believe social networks actually help teachers to maintain professional relationships with their students. One teacher says this bill was regretfully signed into law “in spite of considerable evidence that social networking has been a positive force in education, and little or no evidence to the contrary.”

While the law doesn’t forbid all communication on social media, the gray areas have some teachers wondering. Members of the Missouri State Teachers Association have a lot of questions. “I’m a teacher. Can I follow my daughter?” “I have a second job as a youth minister. Can I friend those kids?” “What about former students?” Will a district unfamiliar with social media ban it altogether out of fear?

Conversation Questions:

  1. What are the interactions between students and the teachers at your school over Facebook (or Twitter, or Google+)? Are your teachers using social media much?
  2. Does “friending” someone on social media imply a certain level of personal relationship?
  3. Do you think schools need to have policies about these kind of things? How might you write the policy?

Celebrities and doctors raise awareness about cyberbullying

Seventeen magazine and ABC Family teamed up to promote their Delete Digital Drama campaign. Last month this campaign was launched in an effort to raise awareness about the issue of cyberbullying. Teen readers of the popular magazine report how bullying is getting worse because today their peers use social media and text messages to harass, slander, and tease one another.

The campaign sponsored a “Rally To Delete Digital Drama” on July 14 in Glendale, California, featuring some popular stars from ABC Family shows like The Nine Lives of Chloe King, The Secret Life of an American Teenager, Pretty Little Liars, Switched at Birth, and The Lying Game. The campaign also promoted a new ABC Family movie, Cyberbully, starring Emily Osment, which premiered on July 17. They even created a family conversation guide based on the film.

During the same weekend, the American Osteopathic Association released a report stating that one in six parents have a child who has been bullied over social media. In over half of these cases, their child was a repeat victim. Over half of parents whose children have social media accounts are concerned about cyberbullying and more than three-quarters of parents have discussed the issue of online bullying with their children.

“While bullying through physical intimidation has long been a problem among teenagers, cyberbullying by using computers and smart phones to send rumors or post cruel messages has become more prevalent in recent years,” explains Dr. Jennifer Caudle. “Even though there might not be physical injuries, cyberbullying leaves deep emotional scars on the victim.”

Conversation Questions:

  1. Have you ever received a harassing, demeaning, or teasing digital message? Do you know someone who has?
  2. Why do you think it is easier for kids to do something spiteful and mean online, as opposed to face-to-face? Can you think of others things people do in the online world they would be hesitant to do in the offline world?
  3. What do you think you should do if you see bullying going on online?

Oxford Prof thinks Facebook might be rotting our brains

Susan Greenfield, a neurologist and professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, recently said the growth of Internet “friendships” is effectively rewiring our brains. Greenfield said spending too much time in these virtual circles can reduce our ability to concentrate, increase our need for instant gratification, and lead to poor non-verbal skills. Today’s Internet culture is breeding a generation of narcissists.

Greenfield is not without her critics. Some of her colleagues call her statements highly speculative and unscientific. Nonetheless, others resonate with Greenfield’s warnings. Larry Rosen, PhD., a social media researcher at California State University, has found many positive and healthy benefits to using sites like Facebook, but he cautions against over-use. Some teens who are absorbed in sites like Facebook can not only become self-absorbed, but also anti-social, anxious, and less engaged in school.

Conversation Questions:

  1. Do you think using computers have conditioned you to desire more instant gratification?
  2. Do you think social media friendships and interactions increase the quality of our relationships? Decrease? Both?
  3. Because people can create their own online profiles and YouTube channels, do you think this is a sign our society is become more “fame” oriented and narcissistic?