Friday, February 25, 2011

My Message to Parents about Social Media

This week I sat on a panel for parents about Social Media hosted by Michael Thompson. With me on the panel were two alums from the class of '05 and '10 (The '05 graduate is also on the faculty) and a current senior. The two youngest alums were also in my Digital Journalism class. 

We each opened with a few remarks. When I am in this position with parents I try to spin Social Media in as positive a light as possible. So many of these panels feature police officers that use scare tactics that I try to give the glass half full perspective. Here is what I talked about.

Digital Legacy
  • What goes online stays online.... forever. Even if you think it is private it really isn't. Anyone can take a screenshot of anything you write or post and share it with anyone. There is no digital privacy and we should all behave with that assumption at the back of our mind. It should make us "better people."
  • Take control of it, don’t let it control you. You have the ability to take control of your digital persona. The more you put online yourself, the more you drown out anything you might not want to be seen. Buy your own domain name, start a blog, get on Twitter and use all of these tools to create your best public self possible. This post, 5 Reasons why your Online Presence will Replace your Resume in 10 Years is an excellent example of how and why to do this.
Networking has benefits and drawbacks
  • Behavior changes according to context. Kids need to learn proper online etiquette for a variety of situations. This is a message we should be teaching kids at home and at school. You need to know your audience. There are things you can say with friends that you would never say in school. Students need to always keep this in mind, while also realizing that nothing is private online (see above).
  • Networks built young have great potential. Kids are building connections now that can serve them well into their professional lives.
  • Fail young. I believe it general it is helpful to let kids to "fail" in middle school when the stakes are lower. When you first get involved with a social network it can be addicting and wreak havoc on your time management. Usually this addiction passes after some time. It is better to get through those early heady days when the negative impact on your academics is less important.
Behavior is behavior
  • Parenting is parenting. Don't be afraid to parent when it comes to technology. Take the phone away, turn off the internet, keep the computer in a public room, limit time online. Trust your instincts.
  • Addiction is addiction. If you are concerned about your child's over-use of technology, address it before it gets out of control, just as you would any other addictive behavior.
  • Behavior is behavior. Kids know how to behave. They need to understand that their online behavior should follow the same rules as their offline behavior. The impact of bad behavior Online can have much greater repercussions!
There was more said, but this is the general message I tried to communicate.

What would you add or take away?

Image Source: A glass half full by sarah and mike ...probably


Alice Barr said...

It's so great to see your positive message to parents. It's so important that they see the school supporting them in trying to figure out all the dos and donts. I think the most important message is that we want students to make the right choices about technology use, and as a school we are willing to help in this process. As you say, we would rather have them experience the mistakes in middle and high school rather than later in life. By giving students a chance to have social media experiences, we are truly preparing them for college and beyond. Thanks for sharing this!

Kelly Faulkner said...

having been through all this myself with a teen daughter, i would strengthen the parenting is parenting section. the internet is not a fenced park or a television babysitter where you can plonk your kid while you go do something else. MONITOR your kid's computer use and guide their behaviour. it helps if they can model yours - get online yourself and take part in the same activities they do. you cannot plead innocence or inability. i cannot believe how many kids have unfettered access, nor how absolutely vile their online behaviour is, simply because no one ever checks up on them. it is parents' *responsibility* to guide their children through growing up online as well as offline.

kwaussie said...

Thanks for sharing this. I will borrow some of it, if I may, for my parent info sessions.
I think the best thing you've done is 'normalise' social media as just one of the places, activities the kids visit and participate in and it requires the same parenting rules as anywhere else.
I agree with kelly about the need to accentuate parent responsibility. I believe parents have an obligation to become literate digital citizens themselves in order to monitor and guide their kid's use of social media.
Social media is not going to go away. We have to find more ways (like this post) to publicise the positives so that we can moderate the possible negatives.

Liz B Davis said...

Alice - Yes we need to give kids the opportunities to have social media experiences within the context of school, not just socially.

Kelly - Yes, parents need to take responsibility. It is interesting how much parenting skills can break down in the face of a tool that they don't understand. Kids can take their parent's ignorance as an opportunity to manipulate them.

As a parent myself I also know how hard it can be to get kids off of the computer. I also understand the lure of the digital babysitter.

kwaussie - Feel free to use anything you like in this post.

lmackley said...

It is so important to not only educate students on the power of technology, but parents as well. Thornburg (2004) makes the case that students are used to an environment where they are constantly interacting with media. It is crucial as teachers to use some of these impressive technologies within the classroom so that they are better prepared for the adult world. Knobel and Wilber (2009) also state that Web 2.0 is here; students need to learn how to collaborate and contribute to the world using technology. What better place to teach them, but in a monitored, safe environment?

Knobel, M., & D. Wilber. (2009). Let’s talk 2.0. Educational Leadership, 66(6), 20-24.

Thornburg, D. (2004). Technology and education: Expectations, not options. (Executive Briefing No. 401). Retrieved from

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great information! I totally agree with you on all matters. I am a student in Professor Strange's class at The University of South Alabama. He stresses to us constantly to make sure that we are acting like professionals online. He says that we are leaving an intellectual trail for anyone to see, especially future employers.

lmackley said...

You bring up a great point that teachers need to hold themselves accountable when publishing anything to the Internet. Richardson (2010) wrote a wonderful book entitled, 'Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms,' that gives detailed information about the benefits of web tools in the classroom, how to set up these tools, and the safety measures one should take when introducing them. He shares some great insight into teacher use, stating that anything published could be found in one way or another. Before allowing students to utilize tools like blogs, educators need to be informed on how to use them appropriately themselves. I am just beginning to learn about the effectiveness of blogs within a graduate course I am taking and I could not be more excited about the potential benefits and uses within my classroom! If you want more information about this book, you can see the source below:

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Jenn-SJU said...

This is really great information. I really like the concept of controlling your digital persona; I had never really considered that as an option. As a future teacher, I think educational social networking projects can have a strong impact on this digital persona. The only part of the panel recap that I found a little difficult to agree with is the idea of letting students fail in middle school. Middle school age kids really are not mature enough to grasp the idea of things staying online forever. I fear that pre-teen students might be too open and unrestrained while they log hour after hour online

Leiha Casler said...

I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I love the way you have approached this topic with the parents. I think that all students should be exposed to technology of all kinds. If they are subjected, they can learn the do's and dont's before it's too late.

facstchr said...

As a middle school teacher and a parent, I found this article very interesting. I listen to my students discuss things they post or see on Facebook and it is really alarming to me that the kids can post such inappropriate things online. I often ask my students if they realize that the things they post online will be there forever. I always get a very puzzled look from them. I don't think most middle school students understand the etiquette that should be used when socializing online with peers. Very few of the parents of my students are involved in educating their children about the possible issues they may face if they post inappropriate information online. I would love to see more parental involvement. The librarian at my school does provide the students with online training, but I'm not convinced it provides the impact the students need. I am anxious to see how the social media world will change when my daughter is in middle school and the issues I will face as a parent.