social networks, social networking
Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire URN:7441763 (Press Association via AP Images)

Should Middle School Students Be Banned From Social Networking?

September 07, 2010 07:00 AM
by Colleen Brondou
School officials in New Jersey say social networks are a menace to students and promote cyber bullying. Others say social networks can be a positive way for students to connect and build an online presence.

NJ Principal Wants Middle School Students Off Social Networks

Last April, Anthony Orsini, the principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J., sent an e-mail to all parents asking them to get students off of social networking sites. Orsini also suggested that parents monitor all of their children’s text messages, and every site that they visit online.

According to Lou Young, reporting for WCBS-TV, the principal believes the sites “have become a tool for children to do psychological harm to each other,” and the guidance counselors agree that “it’s become a menace to their students.”

Meredith Wearly, the guidance counselor at Benjamin Franklin, told Young that a majority of her day—75 percent—is spent dealing with students on their social networking issues.

Predictably, students are not happy about the ban. Eighth grader Ali Feinberg told Young, “I’m not going to do anything bad, so why should I get rid of it?”

What Are Kids Doing Online?

Orsini’s request may have appeared drastic to some parents, especially those who think they know how their children behave online. But as one study revealed, kids surf the Web far more than their parents think, and often in ways they shouldn’t.

Symantec’s 2009 Norton Online Living Report surveyed 9,000 parents in 12 countries and found that one in five children had been caught using the Internet in ways parents don’t condone. In the U.S., there was a great discrepancy—73 percent to 61 percent—between how often parents thought they knew what sites their kids were looking at, and how often they actually knew.

So what sites are kids looking at online? As part of Symantec’s OnlineFamily.Norton, a family safety service that monitors how children and teenagers use the Internet, the company found that children and teens most often use the Internet to watch YouTube videos, and visit Google, Facebook, MySpace and Yahoo. What terms do kids search for most frequently? The terms “sex” and “porn” ranked among the top 10 searches for children and teens.

The Dark Side of Social Networking Sites

Orsini is taking aim at social networking sites at a time when headlines have been full of cyber bullying cases linked to sites like MySpace, Facebook and

Although the recent high-profile suicide case of Phoebe Prince was a result of bullying the old-fashioned way—in person, mostly on school grounds, during school hours—there’s no denying that cyber bullying is at an all-time high. Some wonder whether a new social network,, which allows users to ask each other questions anonymously, is a cause for concern.

The anonymous aspect may be social networking’s most dangerous element of all. When children can post messages about each other anonymously, or connect with strangers anonymously, hurt feelings—and even safety threats—may result.

Another new Web site called Chatroulette, for example, allows people around the world to see each other and chat via text or audio. Users can click “next” to skip from person to person, never knowing what the next image will be. But this unregulated freedom presents serious safety concerns for children. Violent and sexually charged images frequently turn up on Chatroulette.

Using Social Networking Sites for Good

Oddly enough, the very social networking sites that provide a forum for cyber bullying, resulting in some suicides, also serve as an outlet for grieving when such tragedies occur.

In countless cases, Facebook has provided an outlet for the grieving process. Immediately following the March suicide of a 16-year-old Long Island boy, for example, Facebook groups were created to commemorate him with photos and posts of condolence. Though not a replacement for grief counseling or grieving in the presence of others, many see Facebook as being a beneficial way for people to mourn collectively on their own terms—especially for those who have a hard time expressing their emotions in face-to-face conversation.

Educators see the potential of social networks to bring students together for learning and collaboration. At Washington Street School in Brewer, Maine, third graders are on a quest to Web chat with third grade classrooms in every state. What began as a way to connect with a student who had moved to Minnesota last year morphed into “Chatting Across the USA.” In a monitored environment, the Maine students share interesting facts and information about their state with children in other states, and hope to chat with students around the world. 

Social networking sites can also play a significant role for students in finding a job later in life. Employers routinely use the Internet to find out everything they can about a potential hire. As a result, educators have long cautioned students about posting damaging information online.

Sure, what a student writes on their fourth-grade blog or posts on their Facebook page at the age of 14 isn’t going to influence an employer when they’re applying for a job at 22 years old. But what is important is teaching students how to establish a positive Web presence, so they’ll be more likely to do so when it does matter, down the road. 

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines