The term social networking has become a bit of a demon to many. In an educational context it is seen as a tool to be feared and therefore banned by many. Yet social networking is becoming so widely embraced that it is rapidly becoming part of the daily life of many parents and educators. It is certainly part of the daily life of most teens and being fast picked up by many kids in primary education.
My son is 8 years old and he has had a Facebook account for the best part of a year now. It has helped with his reading and writing as he has a number of educational needs and has to be greatly encouraged to actively read or write. When he wants to go on facebook he has to do both. He likes to logon sometimes and say hello to one of his six friends! Other times he likes to try out one of the Facebook games he has seen us playing.
His account is set up with the security settings tightly controlled. Everything is set up to friends only with the option to be added by “friends of friends” this one is because he does NOT appear in the searches so if someone wants to add him I tell them to find him in my friends list and add him from there. All the emails he receives go straight to my inbox so he can’t accept a friend request without me knowing. So far he has 6 friends, myself and my partner, a friend of mine who has children in his class, his aunt, his gran and a 10 year old girl we met on holiday last Christmas. He sometimes sends a message through facebook to parents of his schoolfriends, many of them are friends of mine too.
It’s a difficult decision to give your child Facebook access as there are so many factors to consider. Who they become friends with is NOT the greatest fear. It’s WHAT their friends say that scares me. I have good friends who I would NEVER allow to be James’ friend, their statuses are far to inappropriate and often contain swearing. One of these friends has a 10 year old son who is an active Facebook user, he is mates with all his classmates (about 60% of them anyway) and his mother and father are both on his friends list. YES they need to keep an eye on what he is doing but he really shouldn’t be seeing what they are up to (they are not together). The six friends my son has are all people who neither swear or reveal anything dodgy on Facebook.
I know parents who have decided that they would not like their children reading their own statuses so they have not allowed their children Facebook access yet. This becomes a particular issue at this time of year when children are leaving primary school and want to stay in touch with friends they will no longer see. This problem is compounded for us as we live in a small community and there are less than 100 children in the 6 year groups at James’ school. These children are in mixed year group classes as there are only 4 classes and therefore some children have left class 4 to go to secondary school whilst some children remain in class 4 for another year of primary school. It’s only natural that they want to stay in touch and Facebook is an easy choice to make.
As a mother I don’t fear social networking. Children have to learn from their mistakes just as we did, sometimes posts will inadvertently hurt someone. Just as words in the playground do. Cyberbullying is no greater threat than any other kind of bullying – but it can offer more concrete proof of the activities than playground bullying. My child is a digital citizen. Technology enhances his learning. He can operate the Sky+, DVD, TV and Wii far better than his gran and his great gran can only manage a TV!
Within a couple of years he will have his own mobile phone. He already has a TV/DVD in his room linked to the Wii so he can watch iPlayer in bed (he does NOT have an aerial connection, with iPlayer he picks shows he knows – channel hopping in the evening is laden with pitfalls) This is a child with a healthy imagination, a love of role playing and an enjoyment of the great outdoors. Yes he has swimming lessons, Cubs, orchestra, choir and piano lessons (when did kids get so busy!) But he also needs down time, chilling in front of his favorite kind of programme (often a DIY programme – no idea why!). Looking for pictures on the internet. Saying Hi to a friend on Facebook. Plowing fields in Farmville.
We are all getting into social networking as people. We can enhance our contacts as educators through social networking. We can follow businesses and get special offers. We can promote ourselves and our businesses. Dialogues on Twitter may be a bit above an 8 year old who is a bit behind with reading but they help me greatly to keep abreast of developments within my field. I want to see education embrace these tools rather than fear them.
Set up facebook groups for schools and classes – let students communicate, collaborate and publish. Give them an audience of trusted friends, their peers, mentors, parents, educators and others within the community. Create a real sense of community cohesion. These tools will shape their lives, lets guide them and teach them responsibly. Create nings for your older classes. Encourage twitter discussions on a topic. Set challenges that fit the digital world. Look to the cloud as the future and social networking as one of the key educational tools. I’ve learned far more this year in my online PLN than my offline one. Encourage those enquiring young minds to do the same, seek knowledge rather than be given it. Embrace technology as the future.
Look at the uptake figures on the BBC yesterday, this isn’t going away in a hurry.