Should schools monitor students’ social media posts?

Yes JD Ferries-Rowe

To allow students to set their own norms in a social world without modeling or guidance is to condemn them to a virtual Lord of the Flies situation, then cry out in frustration when they end up making bad choices. The adult members of the school community have a responsibility to model appropriate behavior to our students, guide them when their behavior strays from acceptable norms, and provide a safe space for experimentation and boundary testing as well as a recourse from irreversible consequences when things go really bad.

And yet we have to keep in mind that there is a distinct difference between effective monitoring in the context of a caring relationship and letting a machine take over the job of parent, teacher or other involved adult by flagging keywords, sending out form-letter alerts and racking up 'bully points." A teacher, for example, could privately call out a spring break profile pic posted in a public forum that shows way more skin than is appropriate, giving the student an opportunity to change it. A coach could reach out via direct message to a student who is complaining about bullies in school over Twitter. And a parent could scan her child's Kik messenger feed to see if he is responding to the messages he received at 2 a.m., when he should be asleep. Each of these are situations that have actually happened in our school, and they are all examples of monitoring students on social media within the context of a caring community of people.

As we modified our school's social media policy and began to share it with parents and students, our primary goal was helping our students develop habits of mind and skills of behavior and interaction that would influence them well beyond the walls of the school and long after they turned 18. We monitor our older students' navigation of social media, just as caring parents and teachers watch as our younger children navigate playground politics: by modeling, redirecting, reflecting and adjusting. And we encourage our willing teachers to interact with their students on social media, redirect them if necessary and even occasionally call out inappropriate behavior. Because if we as adults do not help them recognize and live out appropriate norms, we as a society will reap the consequences of the inappropriate norms they learn in our absence. This approach isn't cheap, or easy or automated. But the most valuable parts of education never are.

No Anne Pasco

As any high school student will tell you, social media is often the primary form of communication for those under the age of 25. This may seem like a new development, but students who use social media are merely participating in the same types of social activities that teens in every generation have participated in. Before there were telephones, students gathered in homes and at social events to talk. Once the home phone became a staple, students talked on their landlines. Today, teens use texting and social media to communicate. The technology is different, but the basic human instinct to connect is the same.

Social media is also not just about socializing. High schools and colleges are increasingly using it to keep their student body engaged with their classroom activities and school events. And news outlets and organizations of every type that keep students in the know are growing their social presences. So social media is not the enemy — it's an outlet we want our students to use.

Of course, there is one difference between today and yesteryear: Today, when students make social mistakes and get involved in conflicts, it's often open for the entire world to see. This was not the case for previous generations of teens. Our reaction has been to lock down social media and monitor our students' every move for fear of what might happen. Unfortunately, however, this reaction prevents teens from learning how to apply the social ethics we have hopefully taught them both in our homes and in our schools.

It is our responsibility to teach students the dos and don'ts of social media, but at some point they must be free to apply what they have learned. It is also our responsibility to provide a support structure so they feel comfortable asking questions when they are unsure if they should or should not post something to social media.

So as it turns out, this is not such a new problem after all. At the root of the issue is whether we have taught our students how to treat each other respectfully. There will always be conflict. The question is how to best help them handle this conflict, particularly when it happens on a highly visible forum, such as Twitter or Facebook. Instead of spending our time monitoring and reacting to inappropriate posts, we need to spend it arming our students with tools  for handling conflict so they will know when and how to face it if necessary, how to avoid it when appropriate and how to seek help when it is more than they can handle.

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