To address cyberbullying, should schools be granted authority to demand passwords for social media?
Cyberbullying is one of the first things kids will experience in their on-line world that can be seriously traumatic; unchecked it can overwhelm an individual. Witness 12-year-old Ronin Shimizu’s suicide death in Folsom last month.
Cyber communications make it easy to be mean and conceal, and as long as children are not expected to be civil and compassionate in their use of texting and social media, there will no peace. And it is tempting to want to take measures that will give us a sense of controlling the circumstances the children are creating for themselves. To that end, the state of Illinois passed a law that went into effect this month that the schools can demand the social media passwords from students being disciplined. Is this a privacy violation? Will it solve the problem?
Related reading: Teaching kids to overcome cyberbullying torment and temptation
Private versus secret
As guardians for their personal security, every parent should have access to all of their minor children’s social media accounts – and respect their privacy. That means you do not share their personal business without permission or careful consideration (such as getting professional help if needed). And by the same token, we must be clear with our children about what it means to keep something private, versus keeping a secret. Private is something personal that you keep from the world, because not everybody in the world is trustworthy. And in order to impart this wisdom as personal practice, parents must have access to their child’s social media accounts so they can coach and guide their child about the quality of their thinking and communications.
Secrets on the other hand, harbor risk, inspire shame, kill open communication and will not survive the light of day. That means that our children need to understand that if they are afraid to share it with parents, it probably is not a good thing for them (bullying, addiction or exploitation). So promoting open communication, where there is transparency, (no secrets and no surprises), is an essential criterion for your family culture.
Pros and cons of access to your child’s social media
Granting schools access to the social media of a child suspected of bullying might be a deterrent for bullying, but experience has taught us that children are tech savvy and have very clever ways of concealing their identity in the use of social media. It would, it seems, make more sense to mandate the parent to provide access to the account without giving up the password, so as to facilitate the investigation of an incident and limit access for that purpose alone. If the school’s mandate is to stop bullies because of the threat of lawsuits or career black eyes, and the fearful mindset is to seek control of individuals rather than teaching all students involved to expect accountability with compassion and to seek the justice for all involved, then we are at risk of perpetuating the “blame” mentality which inspires more bullying by the “righteous”.
That said, the truth of the cyberbully problem is that access to the social media of the bully is not the answer to help our children create a more peaceful society. What is needed is accountability on the part of adults in the children’s lives at home and school. Lisa Ford Berry, founder of BRAVE Society, a Carmichael non-profit dedicated to bully prevention and intervention, observes that the cruelty and hateful communications and interactions children experience in their cyber-powered communities are learned behavior. “This idea that you can endorse hate in the home, and then expect your child to go out in the world and create harmony is crazy and a huge disconnect,” she said. “If you are a ‘hater’, meaning that in any way you endorse discrimination, harassment or prevent someone equal access to their civil rights, a child’s age should be beside the point. Right now we allow the excuse ‘I was only joking’ to be the get out of jail free card.”
The best way to help children make a more peaceful community at school, on and off line, to is to first make sure that their own home is a bully-free zone. Bullying is learned behavior. Below are some signs that your home is NOT a bully-free zone and what to do about it:
• Your child’s mobile phone is considered private; the parent does not check texting and social media posts to ensure there is a standard of civility.
o Be clear that cyber communications is a rite of passage, not a right. That means that the privilege can be revoked for abuse.
• Raised voices and foul language are becoming the norm.
o Make it clear that language matters. The words you choose to use reflect respect or lack of respect for the dignity of human life. Foul language does not do justice to your identity as a member of your family and as a child of God.
• Your children are allowed to make disparaging, hateful remarks about one another and others without correction.
o Keep it simple. The golden rule prevails, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12)
• Negative talk and gossip are tolerated as acceptable conversation, and/ or are considered a “phase” when the kids are cruel.
o Have confidence in your child’s God-given ability to think for herself. Point out the things that are cruel and hurtful and ask them if these communications are a true reflection of who they are; how they might respond differently in the future?
• Your children are spending a lot of time isolated from the family with their mobile devices.
o Lead by example. Are you spending a lot of time with the screen? Do you have designated times in the day when the devices are expected to be put down so there can be family time? When your children come to you with a question, no matter how big or small, do you stop what you are doing and give them undivided attention? The best way to communicate your expectations for your child is to be the change you want to see. Be honest and sincere when you are responding. Be attentive. Be interested in what interests your child. Be encouraging when you are correcting. And you will engage the intellect and will of your child in order to impart your wisdom.
For more about creating a family culture characterized by transparency, open communication and individual resilience, go to: Fresh Start.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and recovery from addiction. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.