Lori Getz: Parents, your teens want limits on their online use!
OK, maybe not all teens. But I was shocked to discover that more than 50 percent of seventh graders surveyed (it was an informal survey I did myself, of only 100 participants) said that if their school was to ban Facebook for all middle-school students, it would actually give them some relief!
"I feel pressure to stay on Facebook and Formspring all the time so I don't miss anything," said one kid.
"If everyone else stopped using it, I would too," said another. "I just don't want to be left out."
These were only a couple of comments I was able to quickly jot down, and the conversation exploded! I was speaking to a group of seventh graders as part of a series I do. It's a three-hour presentation held in three one-hour segments. The first segment focuses on privacy and social networking, and that leads into the second session, which is about cyberbullying.
The third session is always my favorite. Over the three-week period, the students always return with FANTASTIC questions about how to change their own use in order to be more responsible. This was an especially mature group; the question topics ranged from sexting to social networking. But ALL of the questions revolved around their behavior and how what they do matters!
I brought up the subject of Principal Anthony Orsini and Benjamin Franklin Middle School, and how Orsini had asked parents to ban all social networking for kids aged 11 to 14. At first, the kids I was talking to were outraged. "How dare he!" and "He can't do that!" were the initial reactions. But then I asked them, "What if your principal did the same, and all of your parents were on board with it? That means no one would have access."
The tone changed. They actually became pensive. Rather than shouting out their outrage, they raised their hands -- and the message changed, too. Many (but not all) of the students talked about how hard it is to keep up with all of the conversations that go on online, and how it even takes away time from doing other things they want to be doing (not necessarily homework, but I'll investigate that another time). Others talked about how they think that a lot of the cyberbullying would stop if teens didn't feel the pressure to constantly be in everyone else's business. Some students, though, felt they have great balance. They use Facebook to do homework with friends, or even to start online campaigns for the betterment of their community.
In the end, it came down to this: The students understood that it's not the technology that's really the problem, but how they interact with it. I thought it was a great first step. Now maybe they will go home and tell their parents about wanting the new limitation. (Maybe not -- but as a parent, I can dream!)