New Jersey principal takes stand against social networking

With cyber-bullying on the rise, the case for parental guidance on the Internet couldn't be stronger.

One of my guilty pleasures is People magazine, and I was galvanized a couple of weeks ago by the story about the Irish girl in Massachusetts who was so distraught over the school bullies who targeted her that she hanged herself. The alleged bullies taunted Phoebe Prince to her face, but they apparently also used Facebook as a tool in their vendetta.

Now, a middle-school principal from my neighboring town, Ridgewood, N.J., has taken a stand against social networking, advising parents via an e-mail to keep their children off Facebook until they are mature enough to handle the experience. And I say, "bravo" to this educator for speaking his mind on this topic, and for reminding parents that it is their responsibility to guide their children as to the appropriate use of technology.

Let's get something straight. I am one of the geekiest, techno-friendly people you will find. I advocate the use of technology in schools and as part of the learning process and agonize over the very real fact that most of our public schools are woefully under-invested in this regard. I am so passionate about that that I will have very loud arguments with my in-laws over this, because the concept is just not part of their world. The biggest problem is that we tend to throw computers into classrooms with very little regard to how they can be used by the teachers. But that is a topic for another column.

Back to Facebook. I've been pretty appalled by the stuff that I've seen my friends' children say and do online. It's embarrassing, frankly. The saddest part, to me, is the fact that while this all seems fun and dandy now, what happens a decade from now when some of these young people are trying to find their first real job? I have the sneaking suspicion that indiscretion will come back to haunt them.

The story I have referenced above makes a good case for Facebook and other social media as a learning tool, and I absolutely find credibility in that argument. But you'll also note that the parents making that argument are very much involved with their children when they're online (at least they think they are). Which is the way it should be.

Heck, I know there already is a rating system for various sites around the Web, where parental controls are applied. Facebook also DOES try, making a show of saying that it limits content depending on your are. But overall, when it comes to social networking -- parental guidance is definitely advised. Shame on you if you don't have time to bother.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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