When Kids Say No to Facebook

Lots of kids in my world closing their Facebook accounts in recent weeks. I find this interesting, and I’ve  been asking a lot of questions from different populations of former Facebook users. Their responses have been enlightening. Here is what I’ve been told……

  • In fact, many of them don’t love it. They just know they are supposed to.
  • If they don’t have an account, they are pressured into having one by their peers and sometimes, even their teachers.
  • Kids who don’t have a Facebook account are often made to feel less sophisticated and cool than those who do, particularly by friends, parents, and yes….teachers…who are fans of social networks.
  • When they do have one, they are pressured into friending everyone, including those who may have less than friendly intentions toward them.
  • If they don’t friend everyone, including those who may have less than friendly intentions toward them, they are harassed.
  • Even if they don’t friend everyone, those who want to stir up trouble use accounts that are not their own to infiltrate the pages of those they want to get to. This is common practice.
  • The internet provides a comfort layer that emboldens kids to say and do things they would not otherwise say or do.
  • This has led to increased tension, bullying, and violence inside of schools and neighborhoods.
  • Kids claim to be hyper-vigilant about checking their pages and those of others to see who is posting what about them. This has made several of the Facebook users that I spoke to very anxious.
  • When face-to-face conflicts heat up, Facebook makes it challenging for kids to take a breather or engage in a cooling off period.
  • Many that I spoke to noticed a marked decrease in their happiness that they attribute to engaging on Facebook.
  • Some of the kids who have admitted to the realities of Facebook tension are treated as if they are ridiculously over-sensitive or merely ill-equipped to deal with conflict.
  • Teachers who admit to the same realities are often treated the same.

“We’re all just learning how to get along with each other yet,” a high school student explained. “There’s still too much drama and a real lack of impulse control. Yeah, it makes sense to teach us those things, and yeah, we’ll get there eventually. But not soon enough to prevent a lot of damage from being done. We’re given free reign inside a space that allows everyone 24/7 access to everyone else and no one knows how to treat each other just yet.”

In an ideal world, we’d be able to teach kids how to use tools like Facebook responsibly and how to manage the fall-out when conflict occurs. We’d find teachable moments. We’d begin equipping everyone better. I get that this is important work, but the kids I am talking to tell me this isn’t enough and that it never will be. Some who have the courage to say to no to Facebook are closing their accounts and taking the heat for doing so. Many others have told me that they are glad their school blocks it.

“I almost wish I could tell my friends that we don’t have internet access,” someone told me just last week. “If I close my page, there is going to be all kinds of fall-out and drama, but leaving it open is making me feel really anxious. Every day, someone is saying or doing something there that is mean or really inappropriate. Half the time, I don’t even know if it’s really them or just someone who has their password and is pretending to be them.”

“At what point do you stand up and speak out about this stuff, then?” I asked. “I mean, what do you say to these people who are saying and doing lousy stuff?”

“Not much,” one girl admitted, and I winced a little. “It’ll only make it worse. I just keep my head down and hope that they don’t stir up trouble with me next. It’s not just the ‘bad kids’ who are doing this stuff, you know. It’s just about everyone.”

“Last week, this one girl was using her friend’s account to surf profiles and start trouble with other kids for no reason at all. She was just bored,” someone mentioned.

“Do you think anything would change if kids started calling people out on their bad behavior?” I asked a few different groups of kids.

“Seriously–like we even have the time!” One boy laughed.

“It’s constant,” someone else chimed in. “If we were going to take that on, we’d spend all day dealing with those messes.”

“Last time I checked, I was supposed to be spending my days learning,” one girl pointed out.

Yeah.

It’s been an education.

Perhaps this post won’t win me any popularity contests, but it’s a good reflection of current reality in quite a few places across our region. I’m thinking we’re not alone.

How do we respond?

6 Comments

  1. Ellen Gray says:

    My take is that Facebook really should have stayed in the realm of what it was originally intended for – connecting college students at different universities. It also may have some usefulness among older high school students. But, as kids have done since marketing has ruled the world, they “aspire up” – want to be doing what older kids do to be “cool.” Unfortunately, what Facebook has done among middle school kids is to provide another forum for the cliques to form and flourish, and those who are on the “outs” are more easily picked on and ostracized. And because of the emotional distance that the Internet provides, they are able to express their most ugly side freely. This has spiraled into greater bullying both inside and outside school. Just a theory, and what I’ve observed.

  2. Catherine Leach says:

    It’s funny, I am on FB all the time. I consciously think, “wow, I should be doing 1,000 other things right now” as I surf and chat and look at photos. FB is such an addictive time-suck. I am mostly friends with only family members, so I don’t experience the negativity that your students describe. I do think I would be more productive without it. But, I would be “out of the loop” on pictures, weddings, baby annoucements, party planning and so on…Fb, for me, is almost like a sewing circle. I get all the news and catch up with cousins and old HS friends. I don’t end up with a quilt, though. If it is so hard for me as an adult to limit my FB time, I can’t imagine how tough it would be for a kid to do it. Most kide have four or five times the “friends” that I do, and those friends are likely more active than mine.

    There is an interesting article in the NYT about social networking and FB:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/fashion/09privacy.html?src=me&ref=general

  3. Angela says:

    I enjoy being there as well, and I am able to stay connected to people I love who I don’t see often as a result. I think that for most adults (and even older teenagers), engaging there is much like the experiences that you or I have. Some younger users, particularly those who are still developing a bit of emotional intelligence and better social skills, seem to have a different experience though. Not surprising by any stretch–I think that all of us predicted this.

    I just wonder how we ought to be responding.

    I tend to be the one who advocates for filter-free schools, and I’d rather my own kids learn how to navigate rough terrain, make mistakes, and learn from them along the way. I like to think that I provide some pretty solid support to them too, but even they are ill-equipped to handle the crushing volume and pace of the interactions that occur there.

    I think that as educators, we like to be idealistic. I worry that we romanticize the potential of social networking tools at the expense of our kids’ stress levels though. I wonder if there isn’t something to be said for boundaries and limits that are imposed by adults. I appreciate those who are pointing out that Facebook may not be the place for educational pursuits. They tend to use other tools. In my (limited) experience, even educators who use Facebook in their classrooms seem to dangle it like a carrot–it’s included to enthrall kids, not engage them in deep learning activities.

    I was told, by multiple kids who live in totally different communities, that they wish adults would take the reigns a bit more here. When they try to say no to Facebook themselves, the social pressure they experience is even worse. They said that it would be easier for them if the adults in their lives were a bit more restrictive.

    In an ideal world, would a kid have the courage to take these steps without an adult having to intervene? Yeah. I guess I don’t live in that world though, unfortunately.

  4. Kristin Smith says:

    Reading your original post, Angela, I find a number of things to be so interesting …. namely that the kids are not as enthralled with the technology that their generation has really pushed beyond what some of us somewhat older-than-they-are folks could have imagined would exist when we were their ages! In fact, I think, they even seem disenchanted with the faceless-ness of technology, even wishing for a return to face to face communication.

    That being said, we have found on team that our kids have responded to technology infusion with a “fine line” attitude as well … that they enjoy using technology, but only to a certain point…. something that educators in a web 2.0 world would do well to keep in mind!

    I appreciate the request from the kids you spent time with requesting that the adults in their lives set limits for them – that’s why they are the kids and we are the adults … they are learning and so are we, what my grandmother said so wisely, “Everything in moderation!”

    Guess that age old wise saying retains its wisdom, huh?

  5. Angela says:

    I don’t claim to speak for all kids, Kristin. I’m just focusing on Facebook with the younger set that I spoke to, really.

    Do you feel that too many educators are implementing technology for technology’s sake and failing to connect kids face-to-face? I have to admit–I don’t see this at all.

    I think kids like to be connected to one another and that social networking tools extend the contact that begins face-to-face. I’m just wondering what our best course of action is when that contact isn’t exactly friendly.

    Do we set limits? Do we filter? Do we support kids as they develop better social skills and hope it gets better? These are questions that have been poking at me for a long time, so I started asking kids. I was pretty surprised by their responses.

    I still don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps there isn’t any single answer.

  6. Kristin Sm ith says:

    Hmmmm. interesting questions and I do not believe there is one right answer for all – I think that the most appropriate answers are going to depend on the circumstances surrounding the implementation of technology.

    Perhaps before we implement technology full-bore, educators need to ask themselves a series of questions, such as (but definitely not limited to):

    What learning goal do I expect the students to reach after completing this activity or lesson?

    How does the technology I want to use enhance their learning?

    How appropriate is the technology to the topic? to the students’ ages and developmental levels?

    Unquestionably, technology is engaging to kids, but our responsiblity as educators is to teach children lessons they can use to be successful problem solvers in the world at large …. technology we include into our lessons should enhance, not enthrall.

    As far as kids being overwhelmed with tech, I am finding that they complain about a few aspects that we need to iron out when using web 2.0 tools – the varying usernames and passwords to use for each different application bothers them the most …. but, I also think that kids value face to face interaction with teachers, not a monitor… what will continue to evolve remains to be seen!

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