Is Social Media Causing Teacher-Student Sex?

Okay, that’s a silly headline. Or is it?

The ladies on The View kind of tried to make that case this week. Watch the video below to see for yourself.


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The story at issue is that of a teacher from Texas who became pregnant from a relationship with a 13-year old, her student. That’s just wrong, but let’s not blame it on social media. It’s true that social media can bring students and teachers closer together, but for the most part that is a good thing. Better rapport leads to better outcomes in a mentor/pupil relationship.

There have to be boundaries between teachers and students. Some school boards have made moves to put a policy in place that outlines what means of communication between teachers and students are permissible, and in what circumstances. That’s good in principle but the teachers themselves need to be responsible for doing what’s right.

There are over 300,000 teachers in Texas public schools. There have been 162 cases this year or alleged improper relationships (yes, that’s 162 too many). We assume not all of those include the parties actually having sex. We further assume that the vast majority of those relationships would have happened whether social media existed or not.

Almost all teachers conduct themselves appropriately. Period.

That’s a silly headline.

 

 

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Minecraft Education Edition Debuts in June

Minecraft, the hit kids’ video game, has been the opposite of a flash in the plan. Since launching in 2011, Minecraft has attracted more than 100 million users, and kids well into their teens are still playing the game after getting started at 7, 8 or 9 years old. Minecraft users employ available digital tools to build their own “world” so the game is actually more like a Lego set than a traditional video game. As such, it might remain popular for a very long while without having to release new versions.

Microsoft acquired the platform in 2014, probably because a couple of things were becoming obvious:

  • Minecraft, a huge hit with kids of all ages, is a safer, more wholesome alternative to games featuring adult themes including violence, gore and sexual imagery
  • More than just a game, Minecraft is a great educational tool

Now Microsoft has announced that it is bringing a version of the game to schools. Minecraft Education Edition is optimized for teachers and students, and will be available beginning in June.

This isn’t Microsoft/Minecraft’s first foray into the classroom. Last November, Microsoft introduced a coding tutorial for kids in conjunction with Code.org.

Microsoft Education will offer a free and a paid version according to an article at Venture Beat. The free version will reportedly be close to what is currently available, but the new paid version will allow a whole class – up to 40 kids – to play in the same Minecraft world at the same time. Teachers will have access to lesson plans and a mentoring community. The mentoring program will enable teachers who are familiar with the program to collaborate with new teacher users.

It’s an ideal situation when a game that kids actually like playing can be a valuable tool in the classroom. Engagement can be instantaneous and very sticky. Well done, Microsoft.

 

 

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How U. of Michigan Stays on Top of Social Media

It’s no surprise that major colleges and universities are catching up to the social media tsunami that has overtaken our society, particularly with younger users. Students – your customers – are on social media so you should be too. You may be surprised to hear how much they are doing, despite what may be seen as overreach but some privacy conscious observers.

It’s obviously in the best interest of colleges to keep interest in their school high and attract the most impressive candidates. Marketing and customer service functions can often be well handled using school social media accounts.

U Michigan TwitterLet’s take a look at what is happening at a large, prestigious school, the University of Michigan, with help from an excellent article in yesterday’s Detroit Free Press. In terms of their social media staffing:

“There are three full-time social media employees, along with five interns. Each intern is assigned a different platform to monitor and create content for. Each individual college or school has their own person in charge of social media, said Nikki Sunstrum, the director of social media.”

That’s a lot of people – 8 for the school as a whole and each at least one social media staff member for each college – Engineering, Nursing etc.

To be clear, they aren’t only using social media for customer service and marketing. If there is a threat to the school or someone doing something illegal, the staffers will report the incident to school higher ups or the police:

“The interns often see stuff on their assigned channels — especially late at night — and send screenshots to Sunstrum.”

Michigan is a big school with big resources – 43,000 students enrolled at last count. Even if you work at a smaller school, you are probably devoting some effort to promoting your school via social media, but are you also monitoring public social media activity for public threats? If you think you don’t have the budget or resources to implement a safety program around social media, we can help. Ask us about a program for your school today.

 

 

DID YOU KNOW?: The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). You can cancel at any time. Sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Anonymous Yik Yak is Worse Than Secret For a Reason

Two “anonymous” apps, Secret and Yik Yak, launched in October 2013. We put the word “anonymous” in quotes, because depending on the circumstances, neither are really anonymous.

Once each stated becoming popular, they both came under fire for being in varying degrees sinister, but from different camps. Secret took heat from the Silicon Valley crowd, who have been scandalized by exposed trade secrets and the like.

secret-app

Yik Yak continues under a barrage of much deserved criticism from schools, the media and parents for school threats of violence, cyberbullying, teacher bashing and underage tales of drugs and alcohol.

yik-yak-cyberbullying

Yik Yak’s popularity has never been greater, particularly with teens, despite efforts by the company to shut the app down at high and middle schools. Secret, on the other hand, relaunched with a new design and use case last week after failing to maintain its early momentum.

Is there a reason why one app is soaring while the other tries to find its mojo, despite both having raised large piles of money from investors? We think so, and we think the reason is directly related to the reason why Yik Yak is the most negatively impactful app for teens at the moment.

The difference is simple – with Yik Yak, your audience is the people within X miles of you, regardless of whether you know them personally. In fact, even of you do know them personally, you will be no more or less connected to them than you are to complete strangers in your area. With Secret, your audience is determined by the friends (and friends of friends) in your phone’s address book who also use Secret.

If Yik Yak, Secret and the like were being used mainly for harmless fun, made a little more edgy by the fact that you don’t really know who is doing the posting, a network like Secret’s that is connected to your real contacts would be more valuable. We would argue that many, many teens who are using Yik Yak for nefarious purposes want to be as distanced as possible from their true identity and their real friends – because they’re up to no good.

The age restriction on Yik Yak is 17+, but most high schoolers ignore the age limit. We are strongly of the opinion that Yik Yak is a bad idea for high school and middle school students. Parents should guide behavior accordingly.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

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A Great Summer Project – Google Science Fair 2015

 

We’re sure that parents who are even remotely aware of its existence will agree that the annual Google Science Fair competition is unabashedly positive. Let’s take a look at what’s in it for students:

google-logo-square

  • Prizes

o   Scholarships and grants from Google worth $50,000, $25,000, $10,000 or $1,000

o   An astronaut prep visit to the Virgin Galactic Spaceport in New Mexico

o   Additional educational trips sponsored by Google, Lego and National Geographic

o   Prizes for winners’ schools including access to the Scientific American archives

  • A great resume builder
  • Access to Google sponsored events including Hangouts during the course of the competition
  • The competition takes place entirely online, so it’s a great way for students to improve their computer skills
  • A sense of accomplishment
  • It’s free to enter

The contest is open in the U.S. to all full-time students age 13 – 18 (international students may also enter but the age requirements vary by country). Students can compete solo, or in groups of two or three.

The 2014 competition is well under way, but this summer is a great time for students to begin to prepare for the 2015 contest. Students who are interested will need time to plan, prepare and execute so summer vacation is an ideal time to get going. If your teen is stumped for ideas, Google has built an app for that. Students looking for inspiration can use the Idea Springboard to get pointed in a good direction.

google-science-fair-2015

Google is not yet accepting entries for the 2015 competition, but the rules and everything else is available online. You can view past finalists and their projects here.

Ready, set, go.

 

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NJ’s Bridgewater-Raritan Superintendent Deals With Sexting

An open letter to the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District Superintendent Cheryl Dyer.

***

You may already have heard of the Bridgewater NJ sexting case that fortunately ended up without much fanfare, negative of otherwise. We commend Superintendent Cheryl Dyer and the BRRSD for handling it flawlessly.

In this case, school officials became aware that a number of students had nude or semi nude pictures of other students on their phones on school grounds. According to students quoted, the pictures were originally taken and sent as private messages, but were later more widely distributed via group message.

After consulting with the police, the superintendent sent the letter below to district parents, effectively giving students a short grace period to delete all such images from their devices. We believe that any time issues can be handled by families as opposed to involving the police, it’s a good thing – especially if the worst-case scenario is a child pornography charge.

Dealing with sexting after the fact, especially if pictures are causing a disruption in schools, is something that administrations must deal with. Effectively dealing with sexting, cyberbullying, school threats and the like are areas where schools may want to develop solutions to react more proactively, or at least in real time.

We at ThirdParent would love to talk to Superintendent Dyer, or any other NJ Superintendent, about what the perfect solution would look like. We have significant resources in this area and would be happy to join a discussion with schools about making the situation better. We can be reached via email here.

“Dear Parent/Guardian of BRHS and BRMS students,

It has come to my attention that this week some of the students in our district have knowingly possessed and brought to school nude photos of classmates. The digital photos have been found on students’ cell phones and on their social media pages. Students took photos of themselves and shared them electronically.

As you can imagine the situation has created a host of unfortunate consequences for everyone involved. The educational environment has been disrupted. Students are dealing with the consequences of their actions. Parents, administrators, and counselors are all working diligently trying to take corrective action and educate students about the ramifications of this behavior. Local law enforcement is involved because the photos represent child pornography.

I have been in communication with Chief Manuel Caravela of the Bridgewater Township Police Department and Chief Kenneth McCormick of the Raritan Police Department, who have in turn reviewed our situation with the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office. An arrangement has been made at this time to allow the school and local police department to collaborate and work with the students and families involved to handle the situation without the filing of any criminal charges. Please be advised that this arrangement for amnesty is short term through Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Effective Thursday, May 29, 2014 any students involved in the behaviors described above will be subject to the application of the law.

The school district will be working to counsel and if appropriate, discipline the students who have been involved in this situation. Our goal is that this sort of behavior never occurs in our school district. In an effort to make it clear how serious the creation, possession and distribution of this sort of content is, I am directing all of the principals to institute a minimum disciplinary consequences of a 5-day suspension for such infractions. The minimum consequence will be effective beginning Thursday, May 29, 2014 for ANY student who knowingly possesses child pornography at school or who creates and/or distributes such content in a way that substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students. Students also risk losing the right to participate in end of school activities such as trips, prom and possibly graduation ceremonies.

I am making a plea to you for your help. Please talk to your child about the serious and possibly long term social, emotional, and legal ramifications that can accompany situations like we are dealing with right now. Reinforce with your child that once they distribute digital content and it gets to the World Wide Web it is impossible to eradicate. Please tell your child that under no circumstances should they be taking nude photos of themselves. Please tell your child that if someone asks them to create such a photo they should say “no” and report the person to a trusted adult. Please tell your child if they receive inappropriate photos they should immediately delete the photo or immediately go to the police station (or school office if at school) with their phone – they should NOT distribute the photo.

Finally, please review with your child all of the digital photos they may have posted or saved on their cell phone, their social media accounts or on other electronic hardware or software. DELETE ALL INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT.

As always, I appreciate your support in helping us to resolve this immediate situation and in educating your child about this crucial topic.

Sincerely,

Cheryl Dyer”

 

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NJ Schools Must Implement Electronic Communications Policies

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law on April 24th that will require each school district in the state to create and oversee a set of guidelines for electronic communications between teachers and students. These guidelines need to be in place by mid August, before the start of next school year.

The New Jersey School Boards Association has taken a first step, by issuing a draft reference manual to help school districts craft their own set of rules, specifically referencing cell phones, email and social media. The highlights are as follows:

  • School employees may not “friend” students on networking sites without written approval of the school principal
  • All electronic communication with students must be through the district’s computer and telephone systems
  • All electronic communication sent by coaches and extracurricular advisors to students must be sent to all participants
  • School employees will not give out their private cell phone or home phone numbers to students without approval of the principal

Within these recommended guidelines, some types of communication are (obviously) not permitted, including sexual content, content related to drugs, alcohol, illegal activities and anything in violation of school policies.

teach-social-mediaMost of that seems like common sense, except the idea that social media connections between students and teachers need be pre approved, which means that they aren’t going to happen at all if policies are implemented in this way. There is some irony here – in January NJ passed a law that will make it the first state in the nation to mandate social media education for middle school students. Teachers will be instructing on social media use but prevented from actually using it with students.

To our mind, a better solution would be to require educators to use school-administered social media accounts rather that their personal accounts, as has been required by recently enacted New York City school electric communications regulations. Rather than connecting with students as Facebook.com/Bob.Smith the teacher could use Facebook.com/OurHS_Mr_Smith.

Consider the following quote from the nj.com article linked above:

The problem is not the interaction but the improper interaction between people. This is where the line should be drawn. Technology is the way of the future. Limiting its use in any way is basically limiting education.

Keeping teachers’ personal lives separate from their professional ones is a good idea. Teaching social media while at the same time prohibiting teacher/student interaction on any social networks seems likely to fall short of the desired mark.

 

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NJ Considers Law Requiring School Electronic Communications Policy

school-computerA New Jersey State Senator this week introduced a new bill that would require every school district to implement a policy that establishes guidelines for how school employees communicate with students via electronic communication channels.

In at story at nj1015.com, Senator Diane Allen, the bill’s sponsor, was quoted as saying:

“We think the time has come to mandate a policy which, by the way, the districts can determine. The vast, vast majority of teachers already know what appropriate communication is and do it very well, but there are those few that we need to watch out for and it’s important that the district has a written policy.

Too often we hear of yet another teacher that has had some kind of contact with a child that some or all may consider to be inappropriate. We certainly don’t want to stop teachers from communicating with their students using electronic means; I think in many cases that can be a plus. It just is how it’s done and what the content is.”

Communication media covered in the scope of the bill include email, cell phone messaging, social media sites and other internet-enabled technologies.

Legislation like this is probably past due. In our experience, while teachers’ overall use of electronic communications with students has been increasing, the extent to which it is used and the media chosen vary widely. Having guidelines in place outlining exactly what is appropriate and what isn’t may spur a more widespread adoption of technology in the classroom that mirrors how students communicate outside the classroom.

 

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Facebook Guide for Educators and Community Leaders

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 9.22.36 AMFacebook took a strong step forward recently in advancing the cause of ensuring safe and responsible teen social media use, with an obvious and not surprising focus on Facebook.

Facebook’s Guide for Educators and Community Leaders is a resource designed to help adults help teens towards this end. In our view, too many internet safety resources for schools or parents of teens have as a foundation keeping those teens off of social media, or tightly controlling what they do and how they interact online. Facebook’s goal is a noble one:

“Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

It’s an important distinction – helping versus blocking or filtering. In doing so, Facebook enlisted the help of a host of partners, including The Family Online Safety Institute, WiredSafety, ConnectSafely.org, Edutopia and others.

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 9.22.21 AMParents need to understand that once teens reach a certain age, they are going to access the internet one way or another. If their computer is filtered or kept in a common area at home to enable parent surveillance, they can use their phone. If their phone is filtered, they can go to a friend’s house and use their devices. Social media is the way teens communicate much of the time.

If your 15 year old asks if he can have a Facebook account, “Yes, and let me help you use it responsibly” is a great answer. Facebook in schools? “Yes, and here’s how we will use it to make the learning process more engaging” could be a home run.

The Facebook Guide goes into more detail and has links to external content in the following areas: Digital Citizenship, Digital Hygiene, Mobile and Guidelines for Educators.

Nice work by Facebook connecting with an important faction in the lives of teens. It is often argued that Facebook’s privacy settings are too complex to navigate, and their policies can be too intrusive, but they’ve done a good turn for teens by making this set of resources available to educators and parents.

 

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Should Schools Monitor Social Media?

We don’t think so.

News is out this week that the Glendale Unified School District in California has hired a firm called Geo Listening to monitor students on social media. The service is designed to ensure student safety, but has drawn criticism over privacy concerns. We have some additional concerns.

According to Geo Listening’s website and information in the article, the company will produce a daily report for the school district which shows social media mentions by students of that district that indicate or are proof of the following:

  • Bullying
  • Cyberbullying
  • Despair
  • Hate
  • Harm
  • Crime
  • Vandalism
  • Substance Abuse
  • Truancy

Screen Shot 2013-08-29 at 10.47.59 AMRegarding the privacy concerns:

“The idea of a third-party monitor doesn’t sit well with Parry Aftab, a well-known cybersecurity expert, attorney and child advocate. She questioned whether the outside monitor arrangement complies with the Family Educational Privacy Rights Act, a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records, and said schools could be opening themselves to potential liability.”

Naked Security published a post on the story yesterday, and included a poll. 65% of respondents are not in favor of schools monitoring students social media posts.

The results of the poll don’t surprise us, as we are not in favor of taking parenting responsibility out of the hands of parents. And kids’ privacy is very important to us.

In an article on Yahoo earlier this summer, Bethaney Wallace wrote:

 

“A student posted the following tweet, “F****** is one of those f****** words you can put anywhere in a f****** sentence and it still f****** makes sense.”

He … was expelled from school. Although full of cursing, it’s hard to argue that the tweet is incorrect. Inappropriate? Yes, but whatever happened to free speech?”

This example seems way too intrusive to us.

Were the Glendale district, or any district, monitoring a very narrow set of risks (in-school cyberbullying and violence threats only, for example) we might be more favorably disposed, but we think the thought process behind this initiative us fundamentally flawed.

We at ThirdParent believe that the most effective way to prevent, curtail or correct negative student behavior in general and cyberbullying specifically is through involved, informed parents raising their kids to know right from wrong and make good decisions. Our service has been specifically designed to give parents the tools they need to be better, more involved parents.

Please let us know if you have questions.

 

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