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By Nancy Willard

Most educators working with middle and high school students are aware of
the explosive involvement of youth on social networking sites. Few are
prepared to deal with it. Internet safety expert Nancy Willard discusses the
risks and benets of such sites and o!ers schools a comprehensive approach
to addressing student Internet access. Included" #dvice for parents and
teachers$ online guidelines for students.
%ducators working with middle and high school students likely are aware of
the explosive interest and involvement of youth in such online sites as
My&pace' (anga' Facebook' )ive *ournal' and the like.
+hese and similar sites are a new phenomenon called ,online social
networking., In online social networking environments' youth register and
establish proles that provide personal information and photos. +hen' they
make connections or links with other members who share interests or
connections -- so-called ,friends., Members engage in a variety of forms of
communication and information sharing' which can include personal Web
pages' blogs' and discussion groups.
Online Guidelines for Students
.nline safety and responsible use guidelines for students include"
/ Be kind to others. +hink how you would feel if someone posted similar
things about you.
/ +hink before you post. Material posted in these communities is public' could
damage your reputation' or could be used to harm you. It is not private0
/ +ake steps to protect yourself and others from bullying and harassment.
1eport concerns to the Web site and to a trusted adult.
/ 1eport to an adult if someone posts threats of violence or self-harm. &uch
threats could be real threats. 2on3t post threats yourself. &omeone might take
you seriously.
/ 2evelop ,stranger danger, detection skills. 4eople online might not be who
they seem to be. 2evelop a safety plan for meeting online friends that is
approved by your parent.
/ &top the predators. If you have been contacted by someone you think might
be a sexual predator' report it to a trusted adult.
4roblems are associated with these social networking sites' but the sites
themselves generally are not the problem. 1eview the sites and look at the
5ser #greements or ,+erms., +hese sites do seek to prohibit harmful
activities. But with hundreds of thousands -- or millions -- of registered
members' the sites cannot be expected to engage in e!ective ,babysitting.,
&ocial networking sites are very attractive environments for teens' as well as
for adults. &uch sites present opportunities for self-expression and friendship
building. 6outh ,play time, in such environments can build skills that will be a
foundation for career success in the 78st century. Many teens are safely and
responsibly engaged in such communities.
)egitimate concerns do exist about youth involvement on these sites'
however. +hose concerns are grounded in three basic factors" 89 +he sites are
attracting many teens' some of whom are not making good choices. 79 Many
parents are not paying attention to what their children are posting on the
sites. :9 &exual predators -- and likely other dangerous strangers -- are
attracted to places where teens are not making good choices and adults are
not paying attention.
&ome teens are engaging in unsafe or irresponsible activities that include"
5nsafe disclosure of personal information -- providing potentially dangerous
or damaging personal information. Many teens appear to have no
understanding that what they post in those communities is public' potentially
permanent' and accessible by anyone in the world.
#ddiction -- spending an excessive amount of time online' resulting in lack of
healthy engagement in ma;or areas of life.
1isky sexual behavior -- becoming seduced by a sexual predator or child
pornographer' posting sexually suggestive material or self-producing child
pornography' or making connections with other teens for sexual ,hook-ups.,
<yberbullying -- being cruel to others by sending or posting harmful material
online or through a cell phone' or by engaging in other cruel actions.
2angerous communities -- at-risk youth making connections with other at-risk
youth or adults to discuss and share information' which can result in a shared
belief in the appropriateness of potentially very harmful activities.
Is it appropriate for students to be participating in commercial social
networking sites while at school= 4robably not. It is advisable that schools
seek to limit all non-educational' entertainment use of the Internet --
including social networking activities -- through the district Internet system.
<an and should schools block access to the sites= Well' they can try.
When the Internet rst came into schools' the primary concern was youth
access to pornography. Filtering software was promoted as the tool to
e!ectively deal with that concern. <urrent concerns deal more with what
students are posting' as well as how and with whom they are communicating.
2o a search on the terms ,bypass Internet lter, and you will see how easy it
is for youth to nd information on ways to get around the school lter.
6outh are unlikely to try to get around the school lter to access pornography
because it would be pretty obvious -- even from a distance -- what they are
looking at. Many youth are highly addicted to involvement in these social
networking sites' however' and are willing to take the risk to use a proxy to
access those sites' when it is far less likely that their access will be detected.
&hould schools be concerned about o!-campus Internet activities= 6es.
Involvement in those communities might negatively impact student wellbeing
and the >uality of the school environment. &tudents might post material on
the sites that harms other students' provides clues or direct threats about
suicidal or violent intentions' or provides indications of hate group or gang
involvement' or drug sales and use.
# comprehensive approach to addressing student Internet access is
necessary. +hat approach re>uires"
# clear policy with a strong focus on educationally valuable use of the
Internet -- no ,Internet recess., +he policy must be supported by curriculum
and professional development' and a clear expectation for teachers that all
student use of the Internet should be for high >uality' well-planned
instructional activities.
&tudent education about online safety and responsible use.
%!ective technical monitoring.
#ppropriate conse>uences. &chools and districts should consider a full review
of Internet use management policies and practices. # needs assessment and
evaluation of Internet use would provide helpful insight. &afe school
personnel must be involved in that process.
#ll safe school personnel -- principals' counselors?psychologists' and school
resource o@cers -- should be well informed about the sites and associated
concerns. %nsuring that safe-school personnel have the ability to immediately
override the school lter to visit those sites to review material in the event of
a report of concern is essential.
Internet safety and responsible use is everyone3s concern' but it is especially
a concern for parents' because most youth Internet use occurs at home.
&chools can help by providing information and guidance to parents and
encouraging parental involvement in their children3s online activities.
# ,;ust say no, or ,;ust say block, approach will not be e!ective in preventing
youth involvement in online communities or in addressing concerns
associated with them. 4roactive strategies to help students gain the
knowledge' skills' and motivation to make safe and responsible choices' and
continued adult involvement are necessary.