Middle School Principal Tells Parents To Ban Facebook And Spy On Text Messages

from the nanny-state dept

A bunch of folks have been submitting this story of a New Jersey middle school principal sending an email to all parents telling them to ban Facebook for their kids and to spy on all of their text messaging habits. Because, apparently, at Benjamin Franklin Middle School, "trust" is not something they want to teach. We see this sort of overreaction to new things all of the time. In the past, school administrators have needlessly freaked out about such things as comic books, dungeons and dragons, walkmen and mp3 players. If the principal, Anthony Orsini, had just sent out a note saying "talk to your kids and pay attention to what they're doing online," it would have been fine. But, instead, he went all out:
It is time for every single member of the BF Community to take a stand! There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!

Let me repeat that - there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None....
Actually, there are plenty of reasons why a middle school kid might be a part of a social networking site: it's called communicating with their peers. That doesn't mean parents should let their kids use them entirely freely, but a blanket ban is clear overkill by someone who apparently doesn't understand how these things work.
Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today!

Let them know that you will at some point every week be checking their text messages online! You have the ability to do this through your cell phone provider.

Let them know that you will be installing Parental Control Software so you can tell every place they have visited online, and everything they have instant messaged or written to a friend. Don't install it behind their back, but install it!
He goes on to then urge parents to contact the police any time their child gets a message they don't like:
If your son or daughter is attacked through one of these sites or through texting - immediately go to the police! Insist that they investigate every situation. Also, contact the site and report the attack to the site - they have an obligation to suspend accounts or they are liable for what is written.
That last line, saying that the sites are liable is simply not correct, but why let facts get in the way of a good rant.

Orsini then goes on to explain that he's absolutely positive that social networks will be found in studies to be damaging to kids:
It is not hyperbole for me to write that the pain caused by social networking sites is beyond significant - it is psychologically detrimental and we will find out it will have significant long term effects, as well as all the horrible social effects it already creates.
Of course, similar things have been written about every "new" thing that the older generation in society doesn't get -- including the waltz ("we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion"), movies, videos games... and chess ("chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body"). I assume, we can add Orsini's quote to the other quotes about those other things soon.

Basically, it looks like Orsini has fallen prey to yet another moral panic. He claims that it doesn't make sense to teach "responsible" computing, because middle school kids can't handle it. It appears that many kids in his school disagree, and are quoted in the article saying so. Clearly, many kids will abuse social networks and the will bully others. But doing a blanket ban certainly won't work, and is just someone overreacting because he was unable to handle some kids acting poorly. It's an attempt to prevent kids from doing stuff, just so that the administrators might get a little "security" from kids being kids.

Perhaps the principal of the Benjamin Franklin Middle School, should pay attention to Ben Franklin's words:
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Wesha (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 12:41pm

    principle: 1) a) a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption; b) a rule or code of conduct; c) the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device

    principal: 1) a person who has controlling authority or is in a leading position

    Sincerely yours, Grammar Nazi.

     

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    Wesha (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 12:45pm

    > Let them know that you will be installing Parental Control Software
    > so you can tell every place they have visited online,
    > and everything they have instant messaged or written to
    > a friend. Don't install it behind their back, but install it!

    Mmmmm, sounds like a win-win situation: parents feel secure, software vendors are paid, and kids are unaffected whatsoever.

     

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      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 1:33pm

      Re:

      I'd have far too much fun with it. I'd setup a script to go to every porn site I could think of as fast as the computer could go. I'd get questions like "How did you go to 500 porn sites is 30 seconds?"

      Granted, my mom would have read this and probably smacked this guy for wasting her time.

       

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      Jeff, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 2:15pm

      Re:

      Oh lets tell the parents to throw away $100's of dollars on applications to monitor the pc.
      Any why, because most parents don't have a clue how the internet or their pc works, and think installing something like would actually work.
      Most kids now days know ways around the software, or they know someone else who does, or can just look it up on the web.


      I know someone who tried to use this and thought he was an IT guru. He bought a pc for his kids and put it in their room. He installed the software. Then he would check on things once or twice a week and found nothing going on and all was good.

      Then he gets a visit from his local sheriff dept about the activity going on at 3am from his IP. Come to find out the kids had figured out a way to just turn off the software (that can not be turned off) and were downloading 1000's of torrents and looking at porn and all sorts of nasty stuff.
      So any parents that actually think this will work, are just ignorant of that fact their kids know more than they do about pcs and the internet.

       

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    william (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 12:59pm

    I feel sorry for the principle that he has no friends and does not need any kind of social or social networking.

    We should all go to his lonely shack in the mountain and make him feel better.

     

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    mrharrysan (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 1:34pm

    I wonder how old the principal is? That may be telling... "The Facebook and the email are hurting our kids!"

     

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    Ben, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 1:47pm

    Get ready for the over-the-top backlash the second they are out of your over-protective sight/immediate control.
    Way #234 to really fuck your kids up

     

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    Grey Ferret, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 2:07pm

    Is anyone else imagining the text of this email being attached to that Hitler rant video thats been going around?

     

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      :Lobo Santo (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 2:17pm

      Re: At times...

      "Is anyone else imagining the text of this email being attached to that Hitler rant video thats (sic) been going around?"
      Sometimes my friends and I consider the possibility of using subtitles on that video as our only form of communication...

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 2:13pm

    This is one extreme, whose other end includes the school authorities who knew about bullying but didn't act on it (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/us/30bully.html). Maybe he can only see in black and white, and figures it's better to be labeled a Luddite who cares.

     

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    Ian, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 2:21pm

    Text viewing online?

    Since when can you monitor text messages on a carriers web site? Did I miss something?

     

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      adam, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 3:32pm

      Re: Text viewing online?

      most offer an option to do under parental controls... though it will come at an extra fee..verizon does it for about 5$.

       

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    mjb5406 (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 2:25pm

    Next thing you know...

    ... the school will install software on the kids' PCs that will allow them to remotely activate webcams to monitor students' activities.

    Oh wait... that sounds familiar!

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 2:30pm

    Sigh...

    "It is time for every single member of the BF Community to take a stand! There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!"

    When I was in middle school, part of the reason we joined athletics and school clubs was for the social aspect. After school dance class is a fine example. I didn't want to learn to ballroom dance. I wanted to be in as close a proximity to girls as possible.

    ....BANNED!

    "It is time for every single member of the BF Community to take a stand! There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of [Dance Class]!"

    Agreed, Captain Cocksmoker! My reason for going to dance class was essentially boner motivated. Ban that shit!

    "Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any [Dance Class]. Today!"

    Because by tomorrow, they may have learned to do the Foxtrot with a stiffy....

    "Let them know that you will at some point every week be checking [to make sure they have no rhythm or dancing ability]! You have the ability to do this [because of your European heritage]."

    None of that gyrating and groovin' now! And a ruler between you if you do!

    "Let them know that you will be installing [a stereo playing nothing but Yanni] so you can [kill them with boredom], and [murder their taste in music]. Don't install it behind their back, but install it!"

    Seriously....Yanni blows.

    "If your son or daughter is attacked [during a dance class] - immediately go to the police! Insist that they investigate every [dance step]. Also, contact the [banquet hall or dance facility] and report the attack to [them] - they have an obligation to [keep people from dancing there] or they are liable for [any rhythm that might be had]."

    Go go Puritans!

     

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    alex, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 2:34pm

    I actually agree --

    I've been using computers since the early days of BBSing, and I know how much I got into back the when technology wasn't as prolific as it is today. I think kids don't understand when they put something out there, it's there forever, and that's what I think this guy is trying to convey. Kids don't have any reason to be on sites like Facebook, though I can see a place for some site where kids can become members and chat given their parents sign them up and their identity is validated somehow (cellphone, $1 from CC, etc). Anonymity isn't a good thing when kids are involved.

    So I agree, though I think his statements were very poorly executed.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 2:47pm

    As an IT consultant for 25 years and parent to 2 school age chldren, I happen to agree with this principal. The wording of his letter to the parents may have been a little heavy handed but in concept he is right on the money. Its too late to find out what your kid (who is too young to REALLY understand what the heck they are doing anway)is doing after they have gotten themselves in trouble that may stick with them for the rest of their lives. My wife is a HS guidance counselor which gives me anohter unique perspective and you wouldnt believe the things I hear and texting and social networking are a huge ingredient in it all. Its a distraction for kids that should be focusing on the futures. This man has a very good point and it would serve parents well to take at lesat some of it under considedration.

     

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      nasch (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 3:38pm

      Re:

      And you believe that telling them they're not allowed to use social networking sites will do anything to solve the problem?

       

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      Valkor, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 4:26pm

      Re:

      I agree with the principal in general principle, but I would still tell him to go eat a dick if he were at my school district. Next thing you know, this asshat will get elected to congress somewhere and start trying to use his smug self-righteousness to write legislation.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 2:55pm

    It is not hyperbole for me to write that the pain caused by totalitarian parenting and schooling is beyond significant - it is psychologically detrimental and we will find out it will have significant long term effects, as well as all the horrible social effects it already creates.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 3:20pm

    Slow news day?

    Kids have no reason to be spending that much time on social networks anyway. I'd go with severely limited access. All they do all day there is play farmville and add 200 fanpages a day.

     

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    AAFM Anonymous, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 3:52pm

    Umm...

    I think that the principal is overreacting. I mean... “spy their kids”?, "call the police and insist to make an investigation"? Whats the problem with this guy?

     

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    AAFM Anonymous, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 3:52pm

    Umm...

    I think that the principal is overreacting. I mean... “spy their kids”?, "call the police and insist to make an investigation"? Whats the problem with this guy?

     

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    Rachel, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 4:02pm

    AGREMENT!

    I must completly agree with you on that and add: Who is the PRINCIPLE to tell parents what to do with THEIR children when they are AT HOME? And I must say WELL DONE! I loved how you quoted Ben Franklin!

     

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    Overcast (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 4:19pm

    Do all the nosy busy-body types get jobs at schools?

     

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      Valkor, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 4:36pm

      Re:

      I think that's one of the character traits you note in your cover letter when you're applying for one. "Hard working, self motivated, nosy busy body seeks employment in position of authority where moral high grounds can be taken without regard for the sense or consequence thereof. I do it for the childruuuun!"

       

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    taoareyou (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 5:57pm

    My thoughts

    When I was a child, there was no Internet. Kids still bullied each other. Teen girls still got pregnant. Kids smoked behind school buildings. Kids still skipped school to do things that distracted them from their "future".

    You cannot eliminate behaviors by eliminating something that is not the source of the behaviors. The choices children make are learned first at home.

    Social networking sites are not a cause. They are not a symptom. At best they are just a tool. A child can misuse any tool, whether it be a gun, a car, a phone, a hammer or a social networking site. The difference is how you teach them about using it.

    Be an authority in your child's life without being an authoritarian and you will do good by them.

     

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      Monarch, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 6:45pm

      Re: My thoughts

      I'm starting to think that Techdirt needs a "LIKE" Button!!!

       

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      minijedimaster (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 7:52pm

      Re: My thoughts

      Social networking sites are not a cause. They are not a symptom. At best they are just a tool. A child can misuse any tool, whether it be a gun, a car, a phone, a hammer or a social networking site. The difference is how you teach them about using it.

      Be an authority in your child's life without being an authoritarian and you will do good by them.

      I couldn't say it any better. Agreed.

      That being said, I think there is some common sense that parents need to exercise when it comes to the level of "connectivity" that their children really need. I see these 6/7 year olds in my neighborhood walking around with cell phones and I just wanna walk over to their parents and say: seriously?

       

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    Ryan Diederich, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 8:13pm

    Facebook is the devil!

    But really in all honesty....

    I am 18 years old and in high school. Facebook is an amazing system, really quite helpfull in communication, planning parties, etc. My father in law is amazed to be able to find and connect old cousins and relatives whom which he hasnt spoken in 20 years. Facebook is very good.

    But like I said, I am in high school. Not middle school. Kids have been getting worse and worse and worse. They expelled 3 kids in my local middle school, for DRUGS.

    Really, how is it that your 14 year old daughter is smoking weed and sexting? As a parent, YOU ought to be punished for this.

    I am petitioning to castrate everyone with an IQ of less than 100, or anyone that has a divorce, or fails my certified parenting classes. Thats right, prevent the continuation of their lesser species.

    Sometimes I feel like a savior. Other times I feel like hitler. If only he had just done stupid parents...

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 29th, 2010 @ 10:05pm

      Re: Facebook is the devil!

      I am 18 years old and in high school. Facebook is an amazing system, really quite helpfull in communication, planning parties, etc. My father in law is amazed to be able to find and connect old cousins and relatives whom which he hasnt spoken in 20 years. Facebook is very good.

      Out of curiosity, you're in high school and have a father in law? You're already married?

       

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    camie w, Apr 29th, 2010 @ 10:18pm

    Banning Facebook

    I visit schools and talk to the kids about healthy relationships. Most 7th graders have cell phones, and many have a page on a social networking site (many have more than one). Over 1/2 of them say they have been harassed and bullied via texting and/or these sites. Comments and photos are often posted impulsively, and once they are out in cyberspace, they are out there forever. They unwittingly embarrass themselves, hurt others, and damage their futures. In fact, some seniors are now experiencing being turned down by potential employers or colleges because of what was found in cyberspace. Once it's out in cyberspace, it is out there forever, and can damage you in ways you would never suspect or think of as a 12 or 13 year old. And their parents have no clue. That is what the students tell me. They delete their texts and have secret pages. Remember, their brains are still developing, especially the part that thinks about consequences. Many of these kids say they cannot be without their cell phone - ever. Even to charge it up at night. Face to face communication is becoming obsolete - they text each other if they are sitting in the same room. When they are with their friends they ignore the people they are with and text the ones that aren't there. They are vulnerable to internet predators. They are so distracted with the technology that school work is secondary. And the parents are not paying attention. It is not about "trust," it is about guiding and teaching your children about the dangers of technology along with the benefits, and also teaching them some manners. And paying attention to what they are doing. I understand why this principal felt he needed to take this drastic measure. But it won't work - as most adults minimize and dismiss these very real dangers posed to these children. Frankly, I don't know why any child in middle school "needs" a cell phone or to be part of a social networking site. What is the rush??? There is plenty of time. Why not actually learn to communicate face to face? What a concept!

     

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    BBT, Apr 30th, 2010 @ 6:43am

    Geez, kids visiting Facebook is considered "essential liberty"? Talk about hyperbole.

     

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    weneedhelp (profile), Apr 30th, 2010 @ 7:05am

    forget that parenting crap

    Just put tracking spyware on their laptops. Then, you could spy on them whenever you want. Then you could have a little BMFS soap opera too.

     

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    Liz, Apr 30th, 2010 @ 7:25am

    great writing

    Mike, you did an excellent job analyzing, researching, and writing this piece. Great work.

     

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    PrometheeFeu (profile), Apr 30th, 2010 @ 3:48pm

    I can't think of anything polite to say in response to this. But let's give it a try anyways: There is no reason whatsoever why that guy should be talking about something he so obviously does not understand. Quite simply, he's behaving like an ignorant idiot.

     

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    G Flanagan, May 1st, 2010 @ 5:45am

    Get informed!

    The author of this article obviously has no idea what kids are doing in schools today. As an assistant principal in a school where every student is issued a laptop, we heavily support the appropriate use of technology. The key word is appropriate. This is not a trust issue. It is the job of any school leader to insure that his/her students are safe, focused on learning and display good citizenship. Social networking can be wonderful if used properly but we are talking about KIDS here. They are still developing their sense of right and wrong. They have huge insecurities and are desperately trying to find their identity and will do anything to fit in. Without proper adult supervision, their mistakes and wrongdoings can be harmful to themselves and others. Monitoring their use of technology and being selective of what networks they are a part of his being a good parent and a good administrator. Come hang out in our high school for a day...I can guarantee you'll change your tune when you see what kids are doing and behind the screen of their laptop and with their Mp3s. We love technology but with kids, a "let 'em loose" attitude is a recipe for disaster and irresponsible. You don't think Mp3 players can cause harm? You really think it's "okay" for kids to listen to music that preaches violent sexual acts and mistreatment of women? We can't control them listening to that garbage at home, but when they come to school, it's game time. Focus is essential and you can still have fun learning without all the inappropriate distractions. Did you hear about the young girl in Massachusetts who hung herself because her classmates were taunting her on Facebook? Social networks are a free for all and I do trust my own children, but I can't monitor the actions of others.

     

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      nasch (profile), May 1st, 2010 @ 9:58am

      Re: Get informed!

      It is the job of any school leader to insure that his/her students are safe, focused on learning and display good citizenship. Social networking can be wonderful if used properly but we are talking about KIDS here.

      Already, you're disagreeing with the other principal. He says social networking is not wonderful, but ALWAYS inappropriate for these children. You seem to recognize the potential for both benefit and harm, as with any powerful tool.

      Without proper adult supervision, their mistakes and wrongdoings can be harmful to themselves and others.

      This has always been true. The question is, what does it have to do with social networking and cell phones specifically? Yes, they need to be educated and guided on wise uses of these technologies, but 1) would a ban even be enforceable? and 2) even if it were, would that be in the best long-term interests of the kids?

      Come hang out in our high school for a day...I can guarantee you'll change your tune when you see what kids are doing and behind the screen of their laptop and with their Mp3s.

      The only things new about this situation are "laptop" and "MP3". Everything else they're doing is the same as kids have always been doing. I'm not disagreeing with you here, but I think you're focusing too much on the tools and symptoms, and too little on the real issues. Namely, teenagers are horny, impulsive, rebellious, and have poor judgement. Recognizing that the internet can help them get into different kids of trouble is good, but trying to keep them away from social networking and "bad" music is not the solution.

      You really think it's "okay" for kids to listen to music that preaches violent sexual acts and mistreatment of women?

      What I think is not "okay" is for school administrators to decide what kind of music is okay for kids to listen to. A "no listening to music in school" rule is fine, but trying to censor music you disagree with is not fine.

      We can't control them listening to that garbage at home

      I'm a little bothered that you imply you would even want to control what they listen to at home. I hope I'm just reading too much into that.

      Focus is essential and you can still have fun learning without all the inappropriate distractions.

      Absolutely. Enforce whatever rules you need to in order to provide a good learning environment.

      Did you hear about the young girl in Massachusetts who hung herself because her classmates were taunting her on Facebook? Social networks are a free for all and I do trust my own children, but I can't monitor the actions of others.

      Did you hear about the young girl who hung herself because her classmates were taunting her to her face? The playground is a free for all and I do trust my own children, but I can't monitor the actions of others.

      Once again, the problems are with the people, not with the technologies.

       

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    Pendora, May 24th, 2010 @ 10:50am

    i would punch that stupid princable in the face!! if he tells my parents to spy on me and not let me contact my friends online i would be mad as hell!! that princable is old and dosnt know the importence of children being in contact with other children!the more i read this articl the more i got even madder! that pincable has no right to say or tell the parents to do anythinf about THERE kid. He may like being alone and not having any friends because thats exactily what doing what he's telling the parents to do wold do

     

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    Pendora, May 24th, 2010 @ 10:50am

    i would punch that stupid princable in the face!! if he tells my parents to spy on me and not let me contact my friends online i would be mad as hell!! that princable is old and dosnt know the importence of children being in contact with other children!the more i read this articl the more i got even madder! that pincable has no right to say or tell the parents to do anythinf about THERE kid. He may like being alone and not having any friends because thats exactily what doing what he's telling the parents to do wold do

     

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    serah, Jul 12th, 2010 @ 10:52am

    a thirteen year old's point of view...

    okay so this principal has no logic...and he is lonely with no frnds..and i expect his family to hate him too...but parents can keep the internet as it is... but let their kids have more fun.... like take them to an amusement park twice every week and keep them around friends...and keep them out everyday to have fun... and in their free time, they'll just log on the internet...then ..so day after day... they will not get addicted to the internet...and will not waste their life on the internet like me :P and they will have more friends not like this lonely principle,and the will be more social,and take them to museums sometimes.....what do u say???

     

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    leader, Aug 16th, 2010 @ 10:51am

    listen you pricks who agree i with the utmost gumption believe that it should be illegal for schools to spy on kids social networking sites

     

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    Hannah, Sep 24th, 2010 @ 7:12am

    Seriously!

    people 13 and over have the right to be on facebook or anything like that.

     

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    Silver Fang (profile), Dec 30th, 2010 @ 11:05am

    Principal Orsini is a socially stunted troll who doesn't get any, so rants and raves about technology that helps the rest of us to get some.

     

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    LynnLynn, Apr 18th, 2011 @ 8:26am

    Um?

    This principal is going off on a senseless rant.
    Yeah, social networking site and cell phones are a dangerous tool, but kids are getting smarter and smarter these days. They will find ways around spyware and taking away electronics. Half of the students at my school are or have good ties with a hacker. They will still bully and drive one another to suicide and depression, because kids are cruel, they always have been.
    This principal also has not done any research or is just plain stupid... there is no way at all to view text messages unless you have installed spyware or you have the phone and the text messages haven't been deleted yet. Once they are deleted, they are lost forever. And you have to have a supoena to get the transcripts from the carriers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Fang Reaper, Jan 26th, 2012 @ 10:25am

    two words

    Helicopter parents...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Valen Erap, Jan 1st, 2013 @ 12:29am

    Unblocked: The Blocked Side of Facebook

    There's a great new book called, Unblocked: The Blocked Side of Facebook, which shows the real side of Facebook for teenagers. This is the side of Facebook parents don't see. Please if you have a teenager or soon to be teenager - this is a must read! As a bonus theres a Slang and Emoticon Dictionary in the back of the book. For a short time Amazon is offering $5off Unblocked at https://www.createspace.com/3689179.
    Promo Code: UTGYQQHB

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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