As the 2017-18 school year is upon us, administrators and educators must prepare for the increased digital communication. The number of students bringing cell phones to school is on the rise and administrators face the dilemma what cell phone incidents warrant discipline. Principals and teachers alike must be educated to the fact that cell phones and electronics are an integral part of the student’s life and regardless of where the student may go, the phone is a constant companion and most state laws are protecting these students’ rights to possess and maintain. Teens and tweens do not separate their life at school from their life outside of the school campus when it comes to phone use and their need to communicate. And for schools to declare, “cell phones are not allowed to be used during school hours” will only result in uncountable violations that must be addressed.
Cell phone use poses enough challenges; while inappropriate cell phone use opens an entirely different dynamic. Inappropriate messaging, bullying and sexting are on the increase and administrators are finding themselves in the middle of what may result as criminal activity. Sexting, in particular, is rapidly affecting masses to include family, victims, perpetrators, and yes teachers and administrators. School staff should realize that in cases of sexting and posting of nude or semi-nude photos, they may be held accountable and become involved in criminal investigations.
So what’s an administrator to do?
- Educate staff and school counselors
- Develop concise policies
- Educate students
- Protect yourself
- Partner with Parents
- Partner with Community Support Organizations
Baby Boomer teachers should stop fighting against the use of cell phones and embrace the positive outcomes and effects. Rather than attempting to discipline every student who uses his/her cell phone during class, perhaps the better answer is to give students 5 minutes at the start of class to check messages, text mom or friends or finish that game started at lunch.
Schools must develop detailed policies regarding cell phone use. For example, “Were school computers or tablets used to generate or receive inappropriate messages or pictures?” “Was the sexting etc. committed on school campus?” Disciplining violation of a school policy is much easier that confronting an inappropriate message that may or may not be illegal! Another example, may be a semi-nude picture taken in a locker room. Address the school policy and notify the authorities of most likely child pornography behavior. Develop clear policy when staff may intervene or confiscate phones, tablets, etc. Looking beyond the offensive messaging or postings and to the mandated school policies may reduce reaction and discipline time on incidents, and of course, if criminal activity is suspected, contact law enforcement at once.
Educate students. Mandate time to cover all school policies on the use of technology and cell phones etc. Remind them that sexting and sending or receiving nude or semi-nude pics may result in criminal consequences that could include juvenile detention, jail time, probation and being labeled as a sex offender, which could be a lifetime stigma.
From the ethical approach, victims of sexting face embarrassment, humiliation, shame and often become the recipients of bullying, name labeling and ridicule. Teens and tweens must be taught that sexting is never okay even in personal relationships and what may be created in a private domain always has the possibility of going viral, intentionally or unintentionally. Sexting and pornographic image displays have devastated moms and dads and grandparents, broken friendships and resulted in shame and guilt for the victim. If a perpetrator is involved, this person regardless of age may be held accountable and could face criminal charges. If parents are aware of such activity, they, too, may be held accountable or the teen may be removed from the home and placed in foster care.
Administrators should never ask to view sexting or pornographic content or pics. Never ask a student to forward any questionable material. Notify your SRO, the parents or guardians, the school counselor and authorities if warranted of the student’s claim. Many states are asking that students be taught to delete all inappropriate receiving immediately. If an investigation results, “nothing is ever really deleted” and may be retrieved by a professional. Use discretion.
Partner with Parents. Work through the PTA. Suggest the use of apps that denote and alert parents to inappropriate searches, messaging etc. Create a task force to focus on positive use of technology.
Partner with community organizations that focus on child protection and healthy development. These agencies may have materials, presentations or one on one approaches to student guidance.
Giving attention to the increased use of personal and school issued tech equipment which is no longer an amenity but now the norm helps all community facets work together to be intentional and protective of our young people.
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