Saturday, July 7, 2012

Student Privacy Bill

Delaware just passed a bill stating that schools don't have the right to require students to share their social media lives. Their reasoning is that it has never been the school's responsibility to monitor what a child does off campus. I am of two minds on this.

On the one hand I believe this does a lot to protect schools and districts from lawsuits when a child attempts/commits suicide due to cyberbullying; often an extension of face-to face bullying. We live in an incredibly litigious time and when a child dies because of harm done to them it is understandable why families would want to hold someone responsible. I also think it sends a strong message to families: monitor your children's use of social media because they are your responsibility when they are off campus. Schools have taken on so many parenting responsibilities that they have effectively usurped parent responsibility and drastically changed their role. This leads me to two questions.

One - what happens when the school has clearly been in effective in eliminating the bullying that then led to cyberbullying that then led to suicide or school shootings? Phoebe Prince's suicide was a result of being bullied and cyberbullied. She went to school adults and her pleas for help were ignored. Some children, instead of committing suicide, inflict harm on others (the perpetrators). The VA Poly-Tech shooting was due to bullying. Whose job is it to stop bullying if not the adults? Especially when they have been asked?

Two - are schools going to aggressively provide support for parents on monitoring their child's social media use? One of the reasons why parents don't monitor what their child does online is because they are not familiar with the social networks. Schools are to educate and their is nothing that says that responsibility has to end with the child, particularly when the purpose is to promote healthy growth of the child. And when a parent does not monitor their child's use and/or provide consequences for misuse of social media are they the one who will be sued because their child used Facebook as a deadly weapon?

On the other hand, I think it is a mistake for schools NOT to know what their students are doing online after hours. The research has shown that cyberbullying typically begins with face-to-face bullying that occurred on school grounds. The research also shows that just because Cyberbullying occurs of campus does not mean that the defects are not felt on campus. Students who are bullied and cyberbulliedvare more likely to become depressed which can lead to a change in academic achievement, social interactions, and suicide. Saying that schools don't have a right to know what students are doing online is sending the message that schools do not have to deal with cyberbullying at all; they can pretend that it doesn't exist. But by doing this, it also gives them a license to ignore the on campus bullying that will lead to cyberbullying.

As an aside...students (most) are minors. It is the responsibility of all adults to protect minors. If that means that their cell phones are checked or their Facebook status is peeked into then so be it. We currently live in a voyeuristic society, good and bad. Today's children need to understand that their public social media lives are not private. Anyone has the right to view what they post online.