(by Leslie Brody and Evonne Coutros, NorthJersey.com) – The principal of a Ridgewood [New Jersey] middle school has given parents blunt advice: get your kids off Facebook.
Principal Anthony Orsini’s emphatic call to keep young teens away from the potential cruelties of social networking sites was unusually bold for a public school chief.
“There is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!” he wrote in an e-mail blast to parents Wednesday. “They are simply not psychologically ready for the damage that one mean person online can cause, and I don’t want any of our students to go through the unnecessary pain that too many of them have already experienced.”
Orsini’s declaration reflects growing concern among many educators and parents that Facebook and other social networks have become bottomless pits for bullying, wasting time and diverting attention from homework. While Facebook can be a useful tool, Orsini said, middle schoolers are just too immature to handle it safely.
“Most parents are excellent about monitoring kids online,” he said Thursday. “But once someone says something about a student’s sexuality or body image or friends, you can’t take it back. The damage is done. Those kids are totally distracted in school. It consumes their lives.”
Within hours of a television report about his warning, Orsini was getting messages from around the country – mostly supportive – and juggling interview requests from as far as the BBC in London. He was surprised by the media response to a point he had and others had expressed before, although not quite as forcefully.
Orsini sent the e-mail because after years of trying to teach kids to use the Internet wisely, problems with its abuse were mounting and hideous new sites were proliferating that encouraged children to comment on each other anonymously.
“Please do the following,” his e-mail exhorted. “Sit down with your child (and they are children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today!”
Beyond concerns about bullying, many educators worry about the sheer time kids spend playing online. A national survey released in January by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that with technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically in recent years. Now 8- to 18-year-olds devote an average of 7 hours 38 minutes to using entertainment media in a typical day.
Educators applauded Orsini’s crusade to keep children from misusing technology but some said it was unrealistic to try to keep middle-schoolers off Facebook altogether.
“We have to develop kids to make responsible choices,” said Bergenfield Schools Superintendent Michael Kuchar. “Just taking away something that is very popular isn’t going to be the answer.”
Mark Tietjen, assistant superintendent in Clifton who recently headed a middle school, said he wouldn’t urge parents to ban social network sites. “We don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “I can’t say it’s not happening, but we don’t see it.”
In interviews outside Benjamin Franklin, which has about 700 students in Grades 6 through 8, families had mixed reactions to the principal’s crusade.
“I completely agree with him,” said Jill Wright, whose sixth-grader is not on Facebook. “It’s the most strongly worded missive I’ve seen.”
Loraine Capurso said her youngest children, ages 14 and 12, opened Facebook accounts last year and are responsible users. She won’t close them unless trouble pops up.
“I know the bullying that goes on,” Capurso said. “That’s what I look for. Once I see that, it’s over. But we haven’t seen it. My children are barely on it. Certainly not during weekdays. It is the way of the future.”
“My experience with Facebook is that it’s not that bad,” said Sana Raza, a Ridgewood mother of three boys ages 13, 9, and 5. “It does depend from person to person. My son Abbas and I are Facebook friends. We are more concerned with using it for studies, test and scholastics. He is so mature and it’s a good way to communicate.”
Abbas, 13, agreed, saying, “If he has certain reasons for wanting it shut down I would listen, but shutting it should not apply for all people.”
Orsini said children often have secret Facebook accounts after parents forbid it. He urged parents to tell children they will monitor their text messages and instant messages and check websites they’ve visited. A 38-year-old father, he said his 10-year-old daughter has an e-mail account but is allowed to use it only in the living room with a parent present.
Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Facebook, stressed the site prohibits children under 13 from using Facebook both for safety reasons and to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
Even so, it is clear many children falsify their birthdays. Joel Baskin, guidance counselor at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Teaneck, said social network sites were a “curse and a blessing.”
“We can’t look at how kids in this generation socialize by our models from our youth and just blanketly say we need to eradicate them,” he said. Still, he added, kids who had a bullying problem at school used to be able to go home for some respite; now those painful issues can follow them anywhere online.
“The key to all of these things is having a trusting relationship with your kid and being observant of their moods and how much time they’re spending on the Internet,” he said. “If the door is closed to the computer room and your child emerges with red eyes, chances are there’s something going on.”
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NOTE: This article was published at NorthJersey.com, the Online Edition of The Record and The Herald News, on April 29, 2010.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from msnbc. Visit the website at NorthJersey.com.
1. What request did Ridgewood New Jersey middle school principal Anthony Orsini make to parents in an email recently?
2. How did Mr. Orsini explain the reason for his request?
3. What is the problem with social networking sites, even when parents are good about monitoring how their kids use them?
4. Why did Mr. Orsini send this email now?
5. What additional concerns do educators have in addition to online bullying?
6. a) What reaction did a school superintendent and an assistant superintendent have to Mr. Orsini’s email?
b) What do you think of their responses?
7. What do you think about the parent responses provided in this article?
8. Read Mr. Orsini’s original email to parents in the “Background” below the questions.
a) Think about the responsibility parents have to their kids to protect them and about how kids act in middle school. Do you agree with the principal? Explain your answer.
b) Ask a parent to read this article and discuss your answers with you.
READ THE LETTER TO PARENTS FROM BENJAMIN FRANKLIN MIDDLE SCHOOL PRINCIPAL ANTHONY ORSINI:
Dear [Benjamin Franklin Middle School] Community,
In 2002 when I arrived in Ridgewood Facebook did not exist, Youtube did not exist, and MySpace was barely in existence. Formspring (one of the newest internet scourges, a site meant simply to post cruel things about people anonymously) wasn’t even in someone’s mind.
In 2010 social networking sites have now become commonplace, and technology use by students is beyond prevalent.
It is time for every single member of the BF Community to take a stand!
There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!
Let me repeat that – there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None.
Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today!
Let them know that you will at some point every week be checking their text messages online! You have the ability to do this through your cell phone provider.
Let them know that you will be installing Parental Control Software so you can tell every place they have visited online, and everything they have instant messaged or written to a friend. Don’t install it behind their back, but install it!
Over 90% of all homework does not require the internet, or even a computer. Do not allow them to have a computer in their room, there is no need.
Know that they can text others even if their phone doesn’t have texting capability, either through the computer or through their Ipod touch.
Have a central “docking station” preferably in your bedroom, where all electronics in the home get charged each night, especially anything with a cell or wifi capability (Remember when you were in high school and you would sneak the phone into your bedroom at midnight to talk to your girlfriend or boyfriend all night – now imagine what they can do with the technology in their rooms).
If your son or daughter is attacked through one of these sites or through texting – immediately go to the police! Insist that they investigate every situation. Also, contact the site and report the attack to the site – they have an obligation to suspend accounts or they are liable for what is written.
We as a school can offer guidance and try to build up any student who has been injured by the social networking scourge, but please insist the authorities get involved.
For online gaming, do not allow them to have the interactive communication devices. If they want to play Call of Duty online with someone from Seattle, fine, they don’t need to talk to the person.
The threat to your son or daughter from online adult predators is insignificant compared to the damage that children at this age constantly and repeatedly do to one another through social networking sites or through text and picture messaging.
It is not hyperbole for me to write that the pain caused by social networking sites is beyond significant – it is psychologically detrimental and we will find out it will have significant long term effects, as well as all the horrible social effects it already creates.
I will be more than happy to take the blame off you as a parent if it is too difficult to have the students close their accounts, but it is time they all get closed and the texts always get checked.
I want to be clear, this email is not anti-technology, and we will continue to teach responsible technology practices to students. They are simply not psychologically ready for the damage that one mean person online can cause, and I don’t want any of our students to go through the unnecessary pain that too many of them have already experienced.
Some people advocate that the parents and the school should teach responsible social networking to students because these sites are part of the world in which we live.
I disagree, it is not worth the risk to your child to allow them the independence at this age to manage these sites on their own, not because they are not good kids or responsible, but because you cannot control the poor actions of anonymous others.
Learn as a family about cybersafety together at wiredsafety.org for your own knowledge. It is a great site. But then do everything I asked in this email – because there really is no reason a child needs to have one of these accounts.
Please take action in your own home today.
Principal, BFMS [Benjamin Franklin Middle School]