Recently in the Pittsburgh area (and I suspect in other parts of the country) we’ve heard news of inappropriate and illegal relationships between teachers and high school students. Mary Ann Rafoth thinks technology and social media play a big part in these relationships that go awry — relationships that should be “critical to learning and grounded in respect, trust and positive regard.” In an op-ed appearing in last Sunday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rafoth says social media can be a tool to offer “easy intimacy” between teacher and student:
At its darkest, social media and other forms of digital communication have made it easier for pedophiles to find and groom victims. But the proliferation of laptops and smart phones among students has also made it far easier for well-meaning educators to communicate directly with their students without the knowledge or oversight of parents. This violates the rights of parents, crosses the rightful boundary between teacher and student, and goes against what our teachers learn as part of their professional education.
With more than 95% of students going online and 80% using social media, Rafoth implores students, teachers, and parents to remember one thing: “Your teacher is not your friend”:
Teachers, students and parents need to be trained on the proper and professional use of social media. Students and parents should know what social media tools will be used in a course, and students should have the option to opt-out of social media for ethical, religious or personal reasons.
Students, teachers and parents also need to understand that social media is not private. Adults must be careful never to post, publicly or privately, anything that can identify a minor. Teachers are mandatory reporters of illegal Internet activity that affects minors.
At a time when teenagers seek more privacy and independence in their lives, it is important for parents to resist these demands — at least as far as technology and social media are concerned. Parents must learn about and use these powerful tools of technology, and then extend the values of respect and responsibility they are teaching to their children to this modern realm. To be sure, it’s a steep learning curve for some parents.