This article talks about the risks of Teens and Social Networking. It reviews research undertaken by Monash University.

The benefits of scholarly research in this area is vast. Firstly, it can it overcome the spectrum of hesitations concerning Social Networking in education (ranging from reticence due to an absence of skills, to demonising and a good old witch hunt that regards ‘that internetty thing as the devil”). Second, it identifies those areas that require our immediate and particular attention, because risk is inherent in every activity, including that internetty thing.

The research found that both media and political focus were generally concerned with cyber-bullying, such as harassment;  and cyber-sex activities such as grooming and predatory behaviours. (p.1, de Zwart et.al.,2011). However, the most common risks involve the legal ramifications that emerge through the ability to share media, images, information and opinions.

Here are the research findings that may affect students’ use of social networking (as detailed on p.2).

  • privacy, disclosure, breach of confidence

  • intellectual property rights – particularly copyright issues
  • defamation
  • criminal law – harassment and offensive material

Most concerning, is that students, teachers and parents have a “general awareness” that risks exist but a “worrying lack of understanding of…legal risks” (p.1. 2011). Not surprisingly, risk analysis is different between these groups. Students are not as concerned as teachers or parents, whose main concern are those areas relating to cyber bullying and sex. Neither student or adult groups are educated on the legal risks and do not engage in ongoing dialogues related to these areas. (pp. 2-4, 2011).

The study identified a strong need for such discussions and certainly, as a future teacher, I would hope that this would replace having to constantly  monitor students’ social networking use. After all, we want to facilitate their safe passage into the digital world as much as the physical world.

The research also found that the “majority of teachers do not use social networking in their classrooms” which makes it almost impossible to engage in fruitful dialogue with students. (p.3, 2011). If we do not use it, how can we lead by example? Perhaps some of the reticence is related to the fact that teachers are also not aware enough of the legal ramifications for themselves using social networking and thus avoid it altogether.

To this end, I state the simple formula :

Information = knowledge = power = student and teacher safety.

The study makes the call for  “specifically tailored programs” to produce “effective digital citizens”. (p.3 2011).  It also introduces the term “legal literacy” (p.3, 2011). Legal and digital literacy could be included within a SOSE and Legal Studies unit in either the Years 7-10 or 11-12 curriculum.  However,  to ensure effective implementation, it is then imperative that  teachers receive sufficient education in this area. Future policy decisions relating to digital literacy  must include extensive familiarisation and education for teachers. We must first lead by example and therefore require the skills to achieve this end. In the words of Albert Einstein:

“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means”.

Now, to conclude on a lighter note, for those at risk of forgetting the difference between Facebook and real life,  please enjoy the below clip.

de Zwart, M., Lindsay, D., Henderson, M., Phillips, M., Teenagers, Legal Risks and Social Networking Sites, (2011).  Monash University, Faculty of Education Building 6 Monash University Victoria 3800 Australia.

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