Social Networking and the Spirits of the Age

Social media such as Facebook are formative in the lives of many North American teens. There is no end in sight to the popularity of this type of Internet-based social interaction. Christian school teachers, who we hope are also play a formative role in the lives of students in their teens, should understand how Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the like are changing the identities of students. Do we compete with social media for the hearts and minds of our students, or do they become the tools with which we go about our transformative work?  Recently, I participated in a discussion forum on the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) Facebook page where educators discussed whether or not teachers should be ‘friends’ with their students on sites such as Facebook. Overwhelmingly, teachers answered with a flat, “No.”  While a well-reasoned negative position is an entirely acceptable response, I was disappointed by the lack of depth in what should have been a thoughtful, discussion-provoking question.

Parents and teachers alike are often unsure what to think about their children using social networking sites. Some parents have banned its usage outright, while others do not monitor the computer and Internet usage of their children. Many adults have found Facebook to be useful for reconnecting with old friends, sharing photos, and staying informed about the lives of loved ones. Is it the same sort of “place” for teens? Facebook is a community of sorts. Communities are supposed to be good things. The old African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” What sort of village is Facebook? At times, it can be an unkind village, where horrible gossip often takes place, valuable time is wasted, and people are bullied. Too often, it is a community with no adults and no rules, but nonetheless it is a village where many of our children live. Since parents and teachers ought to live in the same village as their children, should we not join our children and students in their virtual community?
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