Slice of Life: Of Facebook, Fighting and Frustration

I’m disappointed to say that there was a fight yesterday at our school between two boys. These students are two boys, from different classes, whom I would never have thought would square off at recess and throw punches. They did. I won’t get into some of the reason behind the altercation except to note that it began with negative remarks on one of the boy’s Facebook pages and those words spilled over into our school.

More than a few things frustrate me about this situation:

  • I wish the two boys had come to me, or another teacher, to help resolve the issue. I can see a path to resolution that they could not see, apparently;
  • I wish the parents of my sixth grade students would not allow Facebook at all (they are not yet 13, the age of registration at FB). I worry that much of their time on FB is unmonitored and unchecked. They’re not yet mature enough for that. In fact, they should not even be on FB at all yet, in my opinion (and that of FB, too);
  • I feel a bit right now that all of my work with the classes around using social media spaces for the positive, and not the negative, fell on deaf ears with these two boys. Just thinking of how we spent weeks working around Digital Life, and all of our conversations and activities, and work around this issue … led to naught when the boys were in the situation to use that knowledge;
  • I’m thinking of how to talk to my class today about the situation, to avoid the class/friends versus class/friends standoff. We don’t want this one incident shifting gears into something larger;
  • I’m just disappointed in both of my students right now for their actions.

I won’t say that Facebook is the culprit here, because it isn’t. But it certainly opened the road for trash talking that led to something more serious. I wonder if the parents are actively monitoring their children’s Facebook pages (are they “friends”? do they even know their child has a FB account?).

Finally, I wonder if it is worth an email home to our parents, reminding them about social networking spaces, and the developmental issues of 11-year-olds in online environments (“I can say what I want!”). Perhaps parents need some educating, too. They were certainly appreciative when I shared our Digital Life unit at parent-teacher conferences. I’ll be chatting to my colleagues about this today, trying to sort it out, trying to put out the fires left over from the incident, and trying to remind my kids about responsibility.

I was going to write my slice today about the start of Little League baseball season, and the first practice last night in the cold wind, but I couldn’t get my heart into it. I have those two boys on my mind.

Peace (on the page),

  1. Yeah… I think there is a good reason why the age is set at 13.

    Though, honestly, even at that age kids are going to do and say stupid things. Heck, there are tons of adults who do!

    Yet I know when my sons eventually are allowed to join the world of digital spaces, my eye will constantly be on them. Sometimes I feel like an overprotective mom. But I think I’m okay with that.

    Hope things work out for you today!

    • Overprotective parents are what are needed in these spaces, I think. (We’re dealing with FB with our older son, too, but it has been a positive experience, so far.)

  2. Honestly, it’s easy for kids to make their own page without their parents even knowing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the parents aren’t even aware they are on FB.
    I teach HS and some days I think that they shouldn’t be allowed on FB until they leave for college – we see a lot of FB drama spill over there as well. And some days I think that having it in college isn’t even a good idea (I cringe at some of the posts of my former students…). I see so much potential for good in social media – I’ve experienced it myself! – but I know it’s not a safe place for students to navigate without adult supervision.
    I would be disappointed, too. You have worked hard to model & explain appropriate behavior and positive use in your class. But sometimes those lessons don’t automatically transfer over into real life. Be patient. I think that a reminder lesson might be far more beneficial than you think.
    Good luck today!

  3. If you peruse some of the parent’s pages, you may know why the kids are doing what they are doing. Our kids are exposed to a lot of behaviors we would never model in our own homes. I am not sure age has anything to do with decision making. Some people do not think ahead about the fallout of their actions. Look around. There are many adults wired that way. Keep teaching your lessons and know that you may reach those in the middle who could go either way.

    • That’s a good point. Who is the role model they are following? I don’t peruse parent pages because I am an anti-FB person (for reasons of privacy, advertising and ownership of content). Thanks for the comment, Wanda

  4. We have had these issues, and others of a more serious nature, in our school starting in our 5th grade classes. Threats, kids creating false and derogatory FB pages about someone else…it’s unfortunate and it’s difficult for the school to get involved in meaningful ways if the families are dysfunctional. Your good work is not reflected in this, you are setting the bar high for student discourse and conduct. Kids push boundaries and do questionable things, we can only guide and facilitate so much. Keep the faith!

    • I can deal with the bar being pushed …. to an extent. What I want are more parents who are there with me, helping keep that bar high, and supporting the kids.

  5. Oh, these stories make me very sad. There is so much going on here. Where to lay the blame? Technology has moved so quickly that we can’t keep up. Our children are smart enough to keep up with the technology but developmentally not ready to deal with the outcome. Thank you for your sensitivity as a teacher and for asking what you can do? We can’t just give up even when it seems hopeless and insurmountable.

    • There is the pace of change that goes into all of this, for sure. Our role as teachers is as important as ever. I hope more educators deal with social media, as a positive means of composition and connecting. I think it remains a large gap in the lives of many young people using social media (and getting younger every year, it seems to me).

  6. Kevin,
    It is disappointing when we see our kids turn a deaf ear to what we have taught. My principal invited our district IT person to come talk with our parents about facebook. About 20 parent/student pairs came. She also covered positive things you can do as well as safety issues.

    It shows how much you care and work at giving your students the skills and knowledge to make good decisions.

    • It’s heartening that your principal balanced the positive with the areas of concern. Too many schools just rush to play the “fear” cards with families and kids. There is a lot of social media that is good and powerful. Unfortunately, the negatives (like my story) rises up and above those positives, in many cases. I am still a big advocate of how technology can connect our kids to the world, and I know this situation is one blip on the year filled with powerful learning.

  7. Kevin,
    I think you have stumbled upon an important issue here. As teachers we hope the work we are doing regarding digital footprints and online citizenship is going beyond our classroom, but often it requires more than this. Parents are not always tech savvy enough to keep up with their children online. (And I have to agree with Wanda, sometimes parents need some help with their posts.)

    I agree the easy way to think about this is as a violation of Facebook policy, but truthfully there are a hundred other places it can happen. It is bigger than that and needs constant care and teaching. I’m sorry this event happened at your school. It is sad that events beyond the day come back to our school and make the days harder (though I suppose it happened before Facebook in neighborhood arguments, etc.).

    Important post!

    • Thanks, Cathy.
      I think your point about this behavior can happen anywhere is so true. The difference now is how connected the kids are, and the chats that lead to other incidents can happen in the dead of night, or on weekends, etc. The connectivity that we see as powerful for many reasons can also be turned on its head.

  8. I am so sorry that this happened at your school. I’m in the midst of teaching a unit on blogging and digital citizenship with fourth graders, and the subject of FaceBook came up. We talked about how they’re not yet old enough to have a page, but a few admitted that they had one “because all you have to do is lie about your age.” It’s our responsibility as educators to teach students about being a digital citizen, digital footprints, and the safety issues surrounding online social media, but ultimately it’s the parents’ responsibility to monitor their children online and teach them to use social media for positive reasons. I agree that parents need to be educated about social media, too. Keep your chin up! You’re doing a good job!

    • Hmmm
      Fourth grade … that just is way too young. A question to ask is whether their parents know or not. I’m glad you are doing some of the work around digital citizenship, too.
      And thanks for the kind, supportive words.

  9. Sorry to have the kid stuff bring you down. After my bummer of a day this week I realize it only gets us down because we care. I also ponder our role in educating parents so they can be fully equipped partners in this digital life their child lives.

    • Thanks for making that point: we do care, and that’s what leads us into action. The role of parents (heck, I am a parent of three boys, too, so I know how difficult it can be to navigate and keep track of what my boys are doing) is changing, I guess. Schools need to find more ways to educate parents, too (and not with scare tactics)

  10. Such a hard situation. I don’t even like my own teenagers, ages 16 and 18 on Facebook. They don’t usually post stuff about other people, but I hate the stuff they do post- yucky music lyrics, references to illegal substances, etc. I also hate the provocative poses, etc., by lots of the girls they know (and a lot of these girls are honor students, athletes, cheerleaders, etc.) I try to explain that the whole world sees their stuff, but my boys just think I am in the dark ages. I’m hoping for another post about what actions you end up taking.

    • The “poses” are what led to our recent trouble, or at least that “swagger” is what began it all. The issue of “identity” is so important.

  11. It is sad how Facebook postings fuel issues at schools. The high school near us has had increasing racial tensions, backpack searches, backpack bans, and more security all because of racially-fueled facebook posts between two students, one of whom doesn’t even attend the high school anymore.

    • I’ve noticed more news items in the paper about local schools, too, with Facebook. We can’t ignore it. The question is: can we control it? (prob not). So, we need to make sure our kids are armed with good strategies and “a way out” of situations that unfold.

  12. I wouldn’t characterize the learning you did in your digital life project as falling on deaf ears. Every year I have worked with students to try and help them understand about acceptable use and digital footprints and in theory, they get it. But every year there is also a “teachable moment” about the realities of improper use that leak into school because sometimes they just don’t make the connection. We know it’s not just kids because adults do this all the time, especially parents who don’t connect their child’s online life to the rest of their life. Please keep educating students, parents and teachers about social media because we can’t get enough of it right now. It turns out these “teachable moments” are pretty powerful – I hope you experience this as well.

    • I know much of what we did was good, and helpful. I am reminding myself that one incident does not define a year, or a class, or even those children involved.

  13. I’m friends with so many parents on FB and sometimes after seeing what they post I wonder who is setting the example for these kids. I’d likely let the parents know about it and continue teaching good citizenship in the classroom and out. Good luck. It’s hard when you are disappointed in your students.

      • I live in a tiny town where I grew up. Many of the parents are people who I’ve know through my own life. Also, when parents (who I’m not friends w/ IRL) friend me on FB I often accept. There isn’t much I post on there, I actually post more on Twitter. I put pictures of my kids, links to my blog, and articles I like reading. Basically, I only share on FB (or Twitter for that matter) what I’d be comfortable with being broadcast in the news. 🙂 Makes life easier.

  14. Our district asks that we don’t freind our parents. Dealing with issues for the digital age is so important. I can’t believe the number of students that have FB and aren’t 13.
    Your unit sounds wonderful.

  15. You are soooo right, Kevin. This is an issue that former generations did not even have to touch. Our technology has moved us faster than we can keep up. I think we as a society are still adjusting to all of this, and sometimes we don’t even know how to handle it. I worry, sometimes, about how our kids are going to grow up. Keep up the good work. You are on the cutting edge.

    • It is about growing up, isn’t it? And learning. Mistakes are made but it is how we learn from those mistakes that are key. That’s the theme I am keeping in my head this week.
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving some thoughts.

  16. I have been thinking about your comment that with this fight, all the work you’ve done with your students abut social media spaces apparently fell on deaf ears. I want to suggest a different perspective.

    We adults/teachers/parents see in-school and out-of-school as two aspects of a continuous plane, but I don’t think kids see their lives in this way. I suspect kids see school as *not* part of the plane of their ‘real’ lives, but something separate, maybe even alien.

    I suspect this is one of the things that makes it so easy for all those good lessons we do with students to fly out of their minds when we think the lessons matter most. And, as school becomes more testing-regimented, I imagine that for many kids, school will begin to seem even more distant from the world that really matters to them. And what do I suspect that world will be? Yup, social media–FB.

    I guess I’m suggesting that the situation may be more complicated and messy than we might be considering. Like it or not, we have 11 year-olds on FB, probably with no parental supervision. That’s a problem.

    But there is a problem I’m more concerned about. We want kids to see that all their worlds are connected, the virtual and the real, and that all of them matter. But how do we get kids to *own* school as one of those worlds, as a world that matters on a deep, personal level?

    You do amazing work with your kiddos. I know you will be making some amazing lemonade with the lemons these boys have tossed your way. Hang in, and thanks for writing about this.


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