Taking selfies at funerals. Tagging pictures of teens drinking alcohol at parties. Kids (and adults for that matter) post a lot of silly stuff online — and although most of it is chatter, some of what might seem harmless leads to tragic consequences. But is it the job of schools to teach kids the dos and don’ts of social media?
At Lincoln High School in San Francisco’s Sunset district, counselor Ian Enriquez teaches students three very big words: “Disinhibition, reputation, anonymity.”
Enriquez is using a curriculum created by the non-profit Common Sense Media, a media watchdog group for parents that also offers resources for teachers. Schools in nearby Santa Clara county have adopted this curriculum into a semester-long course for all middle and high school students. Enriquez, who’s doing just a one-day workshop, jokes that despite the title, “It’s not common sense.”
“You want the kids in the homerooms to start thinking about what it means to be disinhibited,” he says. Disinhibition, for those who might not know, means acting impulsively, without showing due restraint, in a way that’s aggressive or plays up another personality trait. The teenagers get it right away.
“Would you say that your friends act differently online than they do in person?” Enriquez asks.
“Yeah, and they look different!” responds sophomore Megan McKay.
“It would be very difficult for schools trying to keep up with Instagram, Facebook, all of the apps that exist out there that are essentially market driven.”
Like many schools throughout the country, Bay Area schools hold workshops on cyberbullying, but don’t have uniform practices for teaching social media etiquette beyond that. While teachers use platforms like Facebook as a tool to engage students in learning, ongoing instruction on digital citizenship itself is the exception, not the rule.
Enriquez, who counsels students on health, racism, homophobia, and other topics that aren’t purely academic, believes the district should institute a mandatory social media curriculum. Enriquez says cyberbullying and viral rumors have been a problem ever since kids posted on that once-popular site MySpace. “When I started at this high school 10 years ago, almost every school fight I was aware of occurred because of something that happened in the virtual world.”
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