New Jersey principal deputizes parents as cyber police

This is one from the overstepping-your-bounds-big-time-buddy department: The principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, New Jersey, sent an email to parents Wednesday morning telling them to ban their children from social networks and thoroughly police their electronic communications. This was not a suggestion or even an invitation to start a dialog with kids, parents, and the school about social media and cyberbullying.

This is one from the overstepping-your-bounds-big-time-buddy department: The principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, New Jersey, sent an email to parents Wednesday morning telling them to ban their children from social networks and thoroughly police their electronic communications. This was not a suggestion or even an invitation to start a dialog with kids, parents, and the school about social media and cyberbullying. Principal Anthony Orsini deputized the parents in his school as cyber police in no uncertain terms:

"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 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!"

He went further in his email to parents, pushing his circa-1992 agenda:

"...there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None."

Really? Because this would have been the equivalent of telling the average middle schooler during the last century that they positively had no reason to ever call their peers on the telephone. None.

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Perhaps he hasn't noticed, but students in 2010 communicate electronically. For that matter, he communicated his tirade electronically as well. We live in a highly-connected social world in which students live, eat, and breathe interaction. Eliminating this interaction is not the solution. Rather, helping students manage it and foster strong, positive relationships absolutely is. Modeling appropriate interactions and creating safe environments where children don't mind having their parents as their "friends" on Facebook is how we raise students who will turn these new networking and social skills into highly effective teaming with global colleagues and peers.

The closing paragraph of the principal's email is perhaps the most telling:

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.

Why bother learning about cybersafety in theory? Wiredsafety really is a great site with resources directly aimed at kids and parents. It doesn't tell kids to stay off the social networking sites or tell parents to ban their kids from the Internet. Rather, it provides practical advice on everything from Facebook's new privacy settings to the meaning of IM jargon. The point? Educated kids and parents are safe kids and parents. I don't, however, see much utility in simply reading the website with your kids and then taking no opportunities to apply the knowledge. That's hardly sound pedagogy, is it?

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I live only miles from where Phoebe Prince committed suicide. We as educators and parents are highly sensitized to issues surrounding bullying and cyberbullying. However, as more details have emerged surrounding her suicide, it's clear that the majority of the harassment that ultimately led her to take her own life happened in person, at school, rather than on Facebook.

Want to engage parents in discussions of Internet safety and best practices for keeping an eye on them in their cyber wanderings? Great. Parent sessions with police, attorneys, technologists, and counselors are extremely valuable. Want to start an antibullying campaign at school and promote safe, nurturing environments for young people? All the more power to you. In fact, you're remiss as a school administrator if you don't.

Telling parents how to raise their kids and fighting a communications paradigm shift that has already happened rather than teaching responsibility and common sense? That won't win you any friends and it certainly won't make any changes in the way kids treat each other. As one commenter wrote on a local Ridgewood blog,

...I also have a facebook account and am friended by my kids. They had no problem doing it too. We simply practice mutual respect as in other aspects of our lives.

...it actually can be a plus if used in moderation. We get a glimpse into another side of their worlds. Why stick our heads in the sand? Better to know whats going on.

As a rule in my house, I have always insisted to having all of my kids passwords to any on line account. I promised them I would never invade their privacy unless they gave me a serious reason to. Although they resisted at first, I gave them no choice and as a result their trust level for me has increased. I respect their privacy and they bring many of their personal issues and questions to me.

As far as Orsini goes, any parent that needs advice from that pip squeek really isn't fit. He's great at pontificating from his lap top, but low on results. He's so very impressed with himself. Wait, next he will be telling us not to let our children listen to that rock and roll "devil's music". LOL!

If you agree with me, I'm sure the principal wouldn't mind receiving an email. It's posted on the district website. If you disagree, talk back below!