The way we communicate is changing. Have you ever noticed that, while many people are engaged in conversations, those conversations aren’t with each other? Engrossed in our mobile phones, more and more often, our conversations take place over the internet rather than face-to-face.
There’s no doubt that our young people are growing up in a technology-heavy world that is very different from the world in which their parents grew up, and one where we are all learning how to navigate the positives (and negatives) of this powerful resource together.
The “creepy clown” posts that spread across our country in September and early October are just the latest large-scale example of the damaging effect irresponsible use of social media has on our schools and communities.
In Clovis Unified, we were not immune to the “creepy clowns,” and saw some of our own students pulled into the temptation to re-post or share these concerning images that spread fear and discomfort to their fellow students.
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For several days in early October, our team of site and district administrators along with our law enforcement partners were working round the clock to investigate reports of threatening or concerning online posts, tweets and messages that involved references to our schools. Fortunately, in each of these situations, we were able to track the posts to their source and confirm that there was no credible threat to our school community.
Cyberbullying is not OK. It is not a joke, nor should it be taken lightly. Instead, we must work together, educators and families, to help our young people understand their obligation to be responsible citizens of the World Wide Web. We must emphasize to our youth that along with their mobile phone, tablet or computer comes a responsibility to think before posting or reposting messages or photos that are designed to raise concern or discomfort. We must have the tough conversations to help our young people understand that what they can post in the privacy of their home or among their friends is not truly private.
In our schools and classrooms we are having these conversations with our students. Not only are we talking about why originating such posts or messages is not OK, but also about the risks inherent in forwarding or perpetuating these kinds of messages if they receive them. There have been instances in which students witnessed a threatening message and instead of reporting it to an adult, took photos and posted them online. Instead of contributing to a solution, these students contributed to creating fear and concern among their classmates and school community. Was that their intent? Likely not, but it’s the outcome we see with too much regularity.
In our schools we are building on existing work to educate students about the risks and responsibilities of using technology. This includes talking about what to do when you receive or see something online that concerns you, and ways to report such activity. I invite our community to join us in this effort.
During September, following one such social media driven incident, I sent a telephone message to our parents along with information via our online communication system. I’d like to close this column with a reminder about some of the tips that were shared then, and an encouragement that you use this information to start a conversation with your child about his or her own use of social media.
▪ Be familiar with your child’s online activity, including all of their social media accounts. Don’t be afraid to “follow” or “friend” your kids on their personal social media channels.
▪ Talk to your kids regularly about their use of the internet and social media, and create a safe environment for your children to report internet activity or online posts/messages that make them uncomfortable.
▪ Be aware of the consequences (legal and school-based) of inappropriate use of the internet, including forwarding or reposting of inappropriate or threatening content, to your child and your family.
▪ Report inappropriate or threatening content immediately to law enforcement or school staff.
▪ Don’t make irresponsible, frightening or threatening posts on your online accounts, as they will likely result in serious legal and school disciplinary action.
▪ NEVER forward or re-post an inappropriate or threatening post or message that you see or receive online. Instead, report that post and/or message to an adult and/or school staff member.
▪ Encourage your friends to be responsible internet and social media users.
Where 20 years ago a note passed between two students would likely stay between those students, today’s notes come in the forms of tweets, posts and instant messages that spread quickly and, once shared, live online forever. Let’s work together to help our children become responsible citizens of our technology age.