We always welcome your thoughts! Please feel free to comment on specific posts or send your comments to us at feedback@tamdistrict.org.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Parents, Teens, and Social Media

In addition to my “day job” as the TUHSD superintendent, I am also the parent of two high school students.   Those that know me well understand that being a superintendent doesn’t exempt me from worrying about the same things as other parents of teens—and that includes concerns about social media.  Our family experienced a strange electronic phenomenon over the past weekend that made me think about the role of parents in monitoring our children’s presence electronically and on social media.  I don’t know how or why, but for the duration of the weekend, my husband, my children, and I received all text messages sent to or from each family member.  While, thankfully, I saw nothing shocking or revealing, it made me wonder – how much do we really know about what our teens do online? 
A quick Google search did little to ease my worry.  The world of bullying and aggressive behavior that happened face-to-face when we were young has now moved to text messaging and social media sites. It’s not hard to find statistics to tell us that the problem is significant and sometimes results in dire consequences.  According to www.bullyingstatistics.com:
  • Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying
  • Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the internet
  • About one in five teens have posted or sent sexually suggestive or nude pictures of themselves to others
Cyber safety is included as a part of the Tam District's required 9th grade course, “Social Issues,” and we have recently updated our policies about bullying, but as parents, we often wonder what more we can do for our teens.  As I tried to address that question, my next Google search produced a series of disturbing articles such as,  “Ten Ways Teens are Hiding On-line Behavior From Parents,” and “How to Spy on Your Teens On-line.”   I have spent 24 years as an educator and 18 years as a parent, and I wonder if it has really become necessary to spy on our teens.  Like other parents, I would stop at nothing to keep my kids safe, but is this really the best method? 
I do not claim to be an expert, but perhaps the solutions to our cyber-problems actually lie in good old-fashioned conversations with other parents, teachers, and teens. What would happen if we each made an effort to:
  • Connect with and have ongoing conversations with the parents of our children's friends
  • Use headlines and current events to discuss "good judgment" in a digital world
  • Learn about social media first-hand by creating and using our own accounts
  • Share a bit about our daily social media use as a way to facilitate daily conversation about our children's online habits
  • Remember to make a point of discouraging kids from gossiping, spreading rumors, bullying, or damaging someone's reputation digitally or in person.  In addition, be an example of empathy and caring for others' reputations.

These are just a few ideas, but so much more is available for us all.  Check out some of the following resources:
The Marin County Office of Education is hosting "Beyond Differences" with Matt Ivester, the acclaimed author of "lol...OMG!"  These two timely presentations will provide guidance about the opportunities and dangers of social networks and online behavior that will save reputations and lives. 
The presentations will be held on Tuesday, October 15, 2013, at Terra Linda High School.  The first meeting will be held from 4:00 p.m. until 5:30 p.m., and is specifically for teachers, faculty, and administrators.  The second meeting will be from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m., and is especially for middle school and high school students, parents, and community leaders.  Please click on the flyers, below, for more information.


  1. Great resources. PEW Internet and American Life project offers many important studies (freely available) on the habits of youth and online use. They are easy to read and can quickly get everyone on the same page on how youth are using the internet.

    In my experience as a parent and technology professional, many kids and adults fundamentally do not understand how viral and permanent internet content is. When we post or text something to social media sites, we no longer control it, period. It will be stored, likely for years even after we think we have deleted it. It will spread - social media sites base their business on knowing who knows who, and what our content can reveal to their advertisers.

    We should not allow "monitoring" to be cast off as "spying", instead we should use many tools to help our kids, including "trust but verify" strategies for keeping them on strong paths.

  2. Great article - and thank you for the resources. I'll be reading them carefully. My high school alma mater is Saratoga High, where a girl recently committed suicide after being sexually assaulted and then cyber bullied. The stakes are too high to not pay attention to this.

  3. I wonder if you are familiar with a website called Ask.Fm? People can ask anonymous
    questions that are then posted on the site. The user answers the questions, and is supposed to act responsibly. For instance, the user is not supposed to post anything that can destroy a person's reputation, any mean comments and obscenities. Unfortunately, because of the anonymity, teens are posting mean comments and damaging reputations without having any accountability. It is anonymous bullying. The website started in Europe in 2010. Since then, there have been at least six teen suicides as a result of messages posted on Ask.Fm. The only way to find out who has an account is to know the users account name. I know that there are kids at Marin and San Francisco high schools that have these accounts. Some of the kids advertise their account names, and provide links on Instagram and Facebook. Many parents, as you stated, have no idea what their kids are doing online, let alone knowing about Ask.Fm. If they did, they would likely prevent their kids from posting mean questions and damaging answers. It would be great if there was some kind of school intervention where there are consequences for those bringing harm to others through the internet. Also, a protocol for what kids can and should do who are being bullied on the internet.

  4. Your advice to "learn about social media first-hand by creating and using our own accounts" is sound, I think. Being online is part of our children's culture, and in order to understand it better, we need to take part rather than resist it. Thanks for the reminder.