The Facebook Fracas Follow-up: Dear Parents

Yesterday, I wrote about an incident with my students that began on Facebook and filtered onto the recess grounds. I have been quite humbled by the number of responses that readers left and it shows how difficult it is for us teachers to grapple with the power of social media in the lives our students. There is only so much we can control, only so much we can teach.

(And I should add an ancillary note: I am not an opponent of Facebook because it allows kids to speak trash that leads to larger things in the real world. That can happen on any online site, and as one commenter reminded me, it can happen in the neighborhood, offline, too, or on the bus on the way home. I am an opponent of Facebook because of severe privacy concerns and who owns the content put there — not you. Facebook owns it. And sells it.)

Anyway, I want to make sure parents and families have information about how to help their children in social media sites, too. Part of educating our students about social media is also educating our parents, and providing some framework for their role in it all. They can’t be bystanders. It occurred to us, after talking to a parent yesterday, that most likely many of our parents do not monitor their children’s FB accounts and may not be fully aware of the reasons for doing so.

In an effort to help them along, and to remind them of the “13 year old” age restriction that my students are clearly in violation of, we are sending this email note home to all of our sixth grade families. (In a survey I did a few weeks ago, 40 percent of my sixth grasde students said they have a Facebook account.) You’ll note that I urge parents to hold off on Facebook with their children if they are not already on the site. I thought about suggesting they delete FB altogether for their children, but that seemed to be pushing it a bit too far. My role is a teacher, not another parent.

Dear parents,
As some of you may know, sixth graders in Mr. Hodgson’s ELA class just finished up a comprehensive unit around Digital Life.¬†In class and in activities, students learned about how to protect their online reputation, how to guard against cyberbullying activities (and what to do if it happens), how to protect your privacy and more. One thing that emerged from discussions is the high use of Facebook among Norris sixth graders, and also, a general lack of their understanding of how to effectively and positively use social networking. It should be noted that Facebook and other sites have a 13-year and older policy, which is based on some federal guidelines around young people and technology. The 13-year-old mark is considered a time when young people are developmentally ready for using social networking sites because they can better grasp how their writing and sharing impacts their lives and others.
But we also know the reality.
We want to share this resource with parents and families¬†around how to best monitor the use of Facebook in young people and how to best support your children if they are on the site. We hope the resources might be helpful for you and your family. Much research has shown that when parents are involved and monitoring the spaces where young people are involved with, the experiences are mostly¬†positive. If your child is on Facebook, we suggest you “friend” them and be part of their inner circle. If they are not on Facebook, we suggest you consider waiting a few years.
The Parents Guide to Facebook
The CommonSense Media Guide for Parents to Facebook
The Sixth Grade Team

I’d be curious to know if you have been in a similar situation (involving Facebook and/or other social media) and what steps you have taken to address the issue with families. Any advice? Suggestions?

Peace (in words and deeds),


  1. I would be interested in the reaction you get from the note you send home to parents. Our local news had yet another story about the racially fueled issues at the local high school. Yet the emphasis has all been on the racial aspect, nothing has been said about Facebook and social media interaction – not even at the school board meetings. You really are bringing up insightful aspects to this issue, and I hope you continue to blog how it unfolds at your school.

  2. I’m both a former classroom teacher and now parent. My husband is a tech geek & it has spilled over to me.

    We actually encourage our kids to use and experiment with new media. But mostly, we teach them to understand how these social sites work; the foundations and beliefs they are built on and (hopefully) to analyze all information, apps, tools, etc. Facebook is usually the fall guy, but I find facebooking parents seem to think they are solid and up to date.

    Time and time again I have plead my case to their school to use and teach social media. I have seen 16 year olds post — clearly — their brand new driver’s licenses — totally unbeknownst to their parents (who think they are monitoring their kids’ online activity). Instagram allows for ‘anonymity’ to a certain extent as do Twitter and Foursquare.

    One mother said to me, face to face, without any hesitation “My daughter doesn’t post photos of herself or have any social account like that (instagram). She doesn’t even have internet access on her phone. So we KNOW she can’t”

    I kept my mouth shut. Stunned. Because her daughter’s friends have computers and phones; internet access is available at the local coffee shops. Indeed, her daughter DOES have an instagram account and does post quite often.

    I do think the key is parent education; and like teachers and administrators, they can’t just read about these sites. They need to participate and ‘get out on the playground with the kids.’

    Because the kids ARE there. I guarantee it. They participate and connect, collaborate and share.

    Unfortunately, the administration at my kids school also distantly refers to this as ‘tech,’ and refuse to acknowledge that kids are publishing and posting all day, live from the school, regardless of the limits or censorship. Hello school? Meet 3G.

    Talk about letting teachable moments float right by…

    I assume my kids have social media accounts. I help them sign up for them and we talk, regularly, about what can happen EVERY SINGLE TIME anyone posts.

  3. Hey my friend,
    We had a similar situation with cell phones. Two students were taking photos and sending texts that caused an issue on campus. I don’t know the answer, but I do know that it is an important conversation to continue to have. We continually talk about digital footprint and yet students make silly decisions. They are still kids, they still need a ton of guidance. I think it would be great to have those kids create a presentation on cyberbullying and present it to the class. That is what I had my two students do. They came after school for a couple of weeks to create a presentation on bullying and cyber bullying, then they taught the class. It changed their behavior, and my comment always comes back to, if you can teach it, you know it so you no longer have an excuse that you didn’t know any better.
    I love the letter to parents, I will be using it as mentor text for my own as we continue our discussions about digital citizenship.

  4. We had an incident in our school concerning 6th graders misusing Facebook about five years ago. Facebook wasn’t as popular as it is now so none of the adults in the school were on it and the administration had very little awareness of it. In hindsight, I can tell you that our school didn’t handle things very well, the bullying went underground and it had lasting repercussions (sp?). Our current administration is much more progressive and tends to be proactive instead of reactive. So much better when everyone is on the same page!

    • I was just talking to my principal today about the need for some kind of forum for parents at the start of the year around digital media. We’ve done some in the past, but only a few parents bothered to show up. But I wonder if we target sixth grade parents as a set, that might bring more folks out and about. And maybe do a survey first … to show how many kids are on FB.

  5. What about making part of your welcome event for your campus? I know that we have Curriculum Night in the fall, and we do the obligatory 10 minutes per class period as parents go from class to class meeting teachers and we present a snapshot into our classroom. I think targeting those incoming middle schoolers and providing a digital awareness presentation would be very beneficial. Again, we are challenged by parent participation, and language barriers at my site. Our students are so into the digital world and their parents i think are woefully unaware of what their students can and are into. I would love to share ideas on how and what to present at such an event.

    • Lots of barriers, aren’t there? I’m glad you shifted the conversation over at the iAnthology. Good stuff unfolding. And I will try to bring some of those ideas back here.

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