Moral dilemma or just old fashioned?

I’m on a bit of a mission at the moment and forgive me if this sounds like a rant, because it’s just how I feel about the topic of underage use of social media services and communication tools such as Facebook, Mxit, WhatsApp and other such services.

I work in a Senior Primary school where most of the children are between 10 and 12 years of age. A large number of these children (I feel a survey coming on, since I do not like to speculate on statistics) are using Facebook regularly and they also use MXit or more recently WhatsApp on their cell phones. (I know of Grade 4 children using WhatsApp). They also access You Tube regularly and a few of them even post videos on You Tube. So what’s my point? ALL these service have age restrictions on them and 99% of our children are too young to be using them! That raises the question then, are these children using these services without their parents’ knowledge or even worse WITH their parents’ knowledge?

Don’t get me wrong – I am an avid user of social media. I love Facebook and cannot live without Twitter. I know that MXit has changed the face of communication in South Africa and that WhatsApp is rapidly following suit. It is not the services that I have a problem with – my problem is that I am a person who works by the book. I believe rules are put in place for a reason and if they are there to protect children, why on earth would we want to break them? I can only think that ignorance is the problem. Our parents just don’t know enough about the ins and outs of services they allow their children to make use of. And what exactly are we teaching our children if we allow them to “bend” the rules by altering their birth dates? If the parents allow them this now, what else are they going to allow in the future? Where do they draw the moral line? Are these parents not bowing to the very peer pressure they are trying to guard their children against??

I’d really appreciate comments on this post. Am I missing the boat somewhere, or am I just old fashioned?

For your interest, I have looked at the terms of service for the following services to see what the age restrictions are: 

Facebook: 13 years old

MXit: 14 years old (with parental permission)  

WhatsApp: 16 years old

You Tube: 13 years old to view, 18 years old to post videos

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About Karen Stadler

A teacher with 26-odd years' experience, who is passionate about ICT and all things technological! I am very interested in global classrooms, blogging, iPads and ICT integration. Always looking for new ideas, I am a lifelong learner!

Posted on August 2, 2011, in Facebook, Parenting, Safety in Cyberspace, Technology, Twitter. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. I could not agree with you more. My own children are only allowed to use social media at the legal age because I also feel that you need to be ready, emotionally to use these tools, and the age limits are sensible and necessary. When my eldest son turned 13 he was helped onto facebook with great pomp and ceremony, including Photoshopping his profile picture to remove the zits!

    We also helped him set his privacy settings and helped him start the process of inviting friends. My wife and I are both his “friends” and we can thus keep an eye out to make sure that he knows how to cope.

    In our wider circle of friends we see it as important to keep an eye out for any of the younger members who might be acting inappropriately. I have seen some children, especially those on Facebook before they are supposed to be, making a complete ass of themselves, and we have dropped a word to their parents or spoken to the child.

    This makes my wife and I sound like regular busy-bodies, and that’s not true. We have a duty to help teach our children how to use social media effectively.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! For me it boils down to common sense and what you’re saying makes sense to me. Sensible parenting is sorely needed in the times we live in. From a like-minded “busy-body”!

  2. Hi Karen, I teach much younger kids and if I were aware they were using SM tools below the legal age I would take action. I listened to Art Preston’s presentation on Friday at a conference where he said his stance is to speak to the child and ask them to withdraw their profile. If it is still left up he goes to the parents and points out to them that their child is operating illegally. Some parents ignore this warning and say they can see no harm in it. In such cases he reports the matter to the SM platform e.g. Facebook. By law they are obliged to remove the profile if they are made aware.
    I am about to start using Edmodo with my Grade 2’s. It’s a secure, kid-friendly site with a Facebook “appearance”. I’ll let you know how that goes.

    • I believe that as educators it is our duty to do something about this – speak to the children, inform parents – whatever it takes! Thanks so much for popping in to comment – and I’m so pleased you agree with my thinking. Good luck with the Edmodo project. Keep me posted!

  3. I completely agree that SM needs to be controlled. Young children are not mature enough to handle it, and don’t understand the consequences of putting words onto a public, recorded platform. Having been a recent university graduate (I looked at SM interactions encouraging anorexia as a lifestyle choice) I’ve seen enough of the dodgy side of the Internet to know just how bad it can get, and how important it is to protect kids.

    I have taught computers from Grade R to Grade 7, and I firmly believe that there is enough for kids to learn about computers that there is little time for them to waste on social media (particularly at school). Our kids do have email accounts that they can access in the lab when they are finished their work, but it is controlled and they know that if they abuse it their email and Internet access will be cut. I’d like to introduce Edmodo to the Grade 7’s though, in preparation for them moving on to unrestricted SM sites like Facebook etc.

    While I would like all parents to take the Internet seriously, many don’t. I believe the only real way to protect kids is to educate them. There’s a great site, http://cybersmartcurriculum.org/, that has grade-appropriate lessons regarding Internet safety that can be used in schools. They’re particularly great when you have a power failure, as they have worksheets and offline activities too!

  4. We block Facebook during the day, but open it up at 3 o’clock when lessons finish. If a teacher needs to use FB for a lesson we unblock it for that year group for that time. When I got here FB was open all day and trying to teach in competition with FB was a nightmare.

    “I’m sorry, sir, I wasn’t listening to what you said! What must I do?”

    “Minimise Facebook! OK, now, open up your database and …” Nightmare!

    • Facebook is totally blocked at our school for various reasons, including the one you have mentioned. However, should a teacher need it for a lesson/lessons (in the High School) our IT department would certainly consider opening it for a period of time. There are many facets to this issue and I’m beginning to sound like I am against Facebook, but that is NOT the case! I simply believe that everything has a time and a place – when the students are at an age that they can cope with SM platforms!

  5. Absolutely! But I also think that we have a responsibility to teach students how to use social media in a mature way. Secure social networks are probably the way to go. I went to an Obami presentation the other day, and we are going to start experimenting with it for our extra-mural programmes. It does appear more primary school oriented.

    On the issue of friending students, I am also somewhat torn. I have a rule that I never befriend a student. It just seems sensible to make that rule. There are some interesting views expressed at http://t.co/0TY2p4e to the contrary. For this reason I have a teacher page, rather than a profile. On my regular profile I do befriend past students, and there is a very special bond that has developed through those interactions. It is enormously gratifying to share in some small way the triumphs and failures of one’s flock, and past students seem to appreciate that contact as well. I am sure that this would be true of present students as well, but I am not prepared to risk my career in exeprimenting with this too much before society as a whole has a consensus around the issue.

    I keep my profile very professional, and I make sure my privacy settings are quite tight, but I want to feel free to make comments if I feel it appropriate, and there are things you say to adult friends that I would never dream of saying to students. I don’t mind a colleague seeing, for example that I might have commented on the Anarchist Teachers’ Forum (made up), but students should never know your personal opinions.

    These are very difficult issues, and it is only through discussions like this that we will start to come to some kind of consensus about how we proceed as a profession.

  6. Agreed – we do have a duty to inform our students about SM and cyber safety, hence the integration of a cyber safety module into our Life Orientation programme. I am so happy now that I decided to blog about this, because the discussion it has evoked is invaluable! It gets one thinking and gives one a true sense of the bigger picture. I am most appreciative of your input!

  7. I completely agree and think that you are quite correct in saying that often parents are either not aware or just don’t know what their children are doing.

    Although this moral issue is something that parents should address with their children, we as educators should step in and deal with these issues at school when we notice inncorect use. Maybe it is time that you find these children linked to your school name and report them. This is obviously not an option for MixiT or WhatsApp but we can at least make a start.

    How about a parent talk?

    • I think we might have to start doing that (inform parents, get accounts blocked etc.) as well as inform/educate our parents more. Problem is, those who usually attend the talks are not the parents we are trying to target!

      • But if you can get enough of the parents to agree with the teachers, the kids will take on board the message. Luckily I work with an age group that takes teacher and parent messages very seriously. If the teachers, and most parents told them FB (etc) are not for them they would listen and tell those with more lenient parents.

      • Agreed – we have our work cut out for us!

  8. I have loved reading all these comments Karen. You have started an important discussion, something every ICT teacher especially needs to take very seriously. Regards, Fiona

    • The discussion just GREW! Actually, I am really please, because I asked for comments – this is a topic close to my heart. Thank you for all your kind feedback – see you soon!

  1. Pingback: Time to Get “Social Smarts” « All Things ICT!

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