There have been many incidents in our town about middle school kids sending pictures of their genitalia to each other on cell phones. There was even one well-publicized scandal where boys passed around pictures of their girlfriend's boobs using the school e-mail accounts, which lead to legal and ethical concerns — the school could have been charged with distributing child pornography, since the photographs were sent through the school's computer servers.
I had a brief discussion with the school principal about these incidents. She said that discussions about cell phones and Internet usage were a parenting issue, not a school issue. She plans on bringing in a local cop who will talk about some lame software that can block out objectionable material on the Internet. Or not. But that's as far as she's ready to go on this matter.
Her hands-off attitude isn't unusual. The New York Times had a long article about the ethics of school getting involved with cyber-bullying earlier this week.
Affronted by cyberspace’s escalation of adolescent viciousness, many
parents are looking to schools for justice, protection, even revenge.
But many educators feel unprepared or unwilling to be prosecutors and
Often, school district discipline codes say little about educators’
authority over student cellphones, home computers and off-campus
speech. Reluctant to assert an authority they are not sure they have,
educators can appear indifferent to parents frantic with worry, alarmed
by recent adolescent suicides linked to bullying.
Whether resolving such conflicts should be the responsibility of the
family, the police or the schools remains an open question, evolving
along with definitions of cyberbullying itself.
However, some schools are getting involved in teaching parents about cyberbullying and more. A super-fancy school district out on Long Island is having mandatory parenting classes. Parents must attend or their children will not be permitted to attend sports activities. They teach parents about protecting their kids from Internet predators and homework habits. However, these affluent parents already have these skills. The school district is preaching to the choir.
If Annette Lareau is correct and parenting styles are different in working class and middle class communities and those differences have a large impact on future success, then perhaps schools should step in to level parenting practices.
Parents could learn about how to enforce that kids do homework at a desk rather than in front of a computer, that Halo isn't an appropriate video game for nine year olds, that a daily diet of Slurpies results in tooth decay, that kids shouldn't have computers in their bedrooms, and how to rig a cellphone to prevent access to objectionable material.
Schools don't want to take on this addition burden. With the budget shortfalls, they are struggling to even provide middle school kids with foreign language instruction. Busy working parents don't want to hear lectures on supervising homework, when they are exhausted from a long day at a job. One evening lecture probably isn't sufficient to unlearn certain cultural habits. It's food for thought though.