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Back to School Season and the Lure of Facebook

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that I use Facebook.  I had a MySpace first, and I keep it around for nostalgia (and because I have a few holdouts still lingering there), but I found that MySpace has become a bit too “ghetto” for my tastes and so I have made the migration.  I also have a Facebook “fan page” for my five year-old son, but you can’t become a fan if we don’t know you.


As my son heads into kindergarten this month, I too prepare for a new school year.  And a new batch of sixth graders who, if they aren’t already, will be on Facebook by June.  That seems to be the age at my school for getting one’s feet wet in the world of social networking.  Quite a few of them also have YouTube accounts, and I really need to investigate this year why they do that and what they see as the difference between the two sites.

Now, maybe my situation is a little different.  I add my students as friends (if they’ll have me), and I work in a school where a lot of the staff, and quite a few parents, are on Facebook as well.  Being the resident geek, I was the Facebook pioneer at my school, of course.  But we’re all on there regularly, checking one another’s updates to find out who’s doing what at the weekend, wishing each other happy birthdays, and running Farms or sending each other quilt blocks or whatever.  (My guilty pleasure apps are the quizzes, personally.)

But what about this fresh batch of Facebook immigrants?  I’m their technology teacher.  Will I be imparting any sagely advice on their first forays into the Facebook frontier?  Actually, this year – for the first time – I will be.  We’re getting a new “textbook” for my technology class.  Only sixth grade will be using it, and then I will expect them to hang on to it for the following two years as a reference.  (Since it’s more like a workbook size and shape, that may be expecting a bit much, but we’ll see how it goes.)  This new addition to my curriculum brings the next generation up to speed on computers and the Internet.  I know what you’re thinking: once ink hits paper, it’s already out of date.  But, surprisingly, this one is pretty current, and I expect the publisher to keep it up each year when I order another set.  This one covers all the basics of what makes the Internet tick, and it also has an entire section dedicated to social networking.

But you know who I’m REALLY concerned about?  The parents.  Here they have these small humans who quite resemble their precious babes, and yet, as these angels enter middle school, they transform into Something Else.  (It’s not all bad . . . but let’s face it, we’ve all been there, and middle school is the beginning of the end, hormonally speaking.  It’s all a bit bumpy from here through the mid-twenties, if memory serves.)  Something Else is the beginning of secrecy, just as they’re on the cusp of that period of life laden with more poor choices than any other.  Something Else is the sheer terror that their once-acceptable parental units might say or do something embarrassing.  Like breathe or blink or something.  Something Else is that sudden “coming of age” conviction that adults know nothing at all about anything and were born at the age of thirty, never having experienced the drama-filled nightmare that is . . . well, twelve to twenty-five, apparently.

I’m especially concerned for the parents because I am one now, and in six years, I will be watching mine enter middle school.  It won’t be Facebook then, but you can bet there will be something.

Common Sense Media performed an interesting study on the use of Internet social networking by young people and what their parents did and did not know about their online habits.  Lucky for us, they offer some tips on how to cope.  If you are a parent and/or teacher reading this, and you have not heard of Common Sense Media . . . well, you have NOW, and you no longer have an excuse to be uninformed about pretty much everything that parents and teachers need to be informed about.

Turns out – surprise, surprise – that kids are getting up to more shenanigans online than their parents realize or believe.  However, and this might truly BE a surprise to some of you, they’re also performing in the online arena in a lot of ways that are truly creative, beneficial, and completely legal.  Go, kids!  And then there’s parental involvement: parents actually report checking up on their kids more than kids think they do.  (Please do go read the actual findings.  I am playing the part of a naughty grad student and blithely summarizing tons of hard work in just a few brief statements.)

And so, inspired by this study, I plan to start off the new school year with my students (grades one through eight) finding out just how much they’re already doing online and how much their parents know about it, mainly so we can begin a dialogue that aims to keep them safe, informed, and engaged.

 

 

Diane Main is a Google Certified teacher who teaches technology integration in San Jose, California.

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