Social media is extremely popular among school-aged children and teens. The success of the more durable networks such as Facebook and Twitter as well as many newer services has been driven significantly by kids who use the networks to communicate and connect with friends.
The issue with social networks arises when students use it for less savory purposes. Cyberbullying, the organization of potentially dangerous parties, sharing information that could get students in trouble with legal authorities or expose them to criminals, and sharing inappropriate content are all common issues in educational institutions. While schools can’t monitor everything that students do when not physically at school, they have a duty and a responsibility to protect their charges and prevent potentially serious situations from occurring.
The very real risks
The problems for students when it comes to inappropriate and dangerous social media posts is obvious. Cyber bullying has led to physical violence, self-harm, depression, a lack of engagement with educational efforts and other negative consequences. Posting about a weekend party wherein a student’s parents are away can lead to a number of issues as well, the most serious being exposing such information to criminals and other potentially dangerous persons. Unrestricted access to social media can also encourage a range of risky behaviors among teens as NPR pointed out.
The issues for school boards and local governments are serious, too. Students bullied or harassed via social media could take action against school officials, especially if no plans or systems exist to mitigate such behaviors. Various state and federal laws require educators and administrators to protect students from harassment and violence, and such efforts are simply best practices.
“Unfettered access to the many social networks available has plenty of serious consequences.”
What can be done?
School boards face many different problems when balancing access and security with respect to students using social media. Unfettered, unrestricted access to the many networks available has plenty of serious consequences. Bradley Hospital, one of the first psychiatric facilities dedicated to children and teens, recommended some steps for developing a more positive social media environment. One of the most important is raising awareness. Simply hosting discussions between teachers, counselors and other staff and students centered around the potential dangers of social networks is a strong start. Bradley’s advice noted that for teens, a level of empowerment – making them active in their own online protection – can be especially effective as that age group places a high value on independence.
There are also institutional measures that school boards can take to limit and eliminate risky social media behavior. A social media monitoring solution, along with a set of expectations for students, can alert administrators to potentially harmful or dangerous social media behavior. With automatic searching for selected restricted keywords and phrases, school boards can have confidence that troublesome posts happening on school grounds or on school time are accurately detected and reported. This approach to social media risk management automates much of the rote work of monitoring, freeing educators and staff to take on the higher level tasks of addressing harmful posts and diffusing potentially dangerous situations.