"The seventh-grade guidance counselor says she can spend up to three-fourths of her time mediating conflicts that began online or through text messages.
In April, the burden of resolving these disputes had become so onerous that the principal, Mr. Orsini, sent an exasperated e-mail message to parents that made national news: 'There is absolutely NO reason for any middle school student to be part of a social networking site,' he wrote. If children were attacked through sites or texting, he added, 'IMMEDIATELY GO TO THE POLICE!'"
"Administrators who investigate students tangled in online disputes often resort to a deft juggle of artfulness, technology and law."
"He rubbed his face in his hands. 'All we are doing is reacting,' he said. 'We can’t seem to get ahead of the curve.'"
This is the new generation gap: adults are unable to wrap their brains around the new technology, and that opens up vulnerabilities for kids.
The answer is for parents and teachers to get more engaged and more involved, and to be as present in their kids' lives online as they are offline.
I did a presentation at the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center breakfast last month talking exactly about this phenomenon (see below). The answer is not in sending these cases to the courts and/or forbidding kids to use these sites. Kids can be mean to each other both on and offline. But parents and teachers need to engage and understand the ways their kids connect to each other.
In about half a generation the parents will be tech saavy, and I bet this will be less of an issue. But for now, it requires concerted effort to address this challenge -- and this is effort well spent.