Social Networking Workshop for Parents

Last week the Ed Tech team here at my school held a 3 hour social networking workshop for parents. The workshop was requested by parents after we made a brief presentation to the school board back in November.

Before we began we took a quick poll of the 20 parents (all mothers):

  • Non had a Facebook account but a couple of them had heard about it.
  • Non had been on YouTube but they all had heard about it.
  • What did they want to know: How to see what their kids were doing on the computer without them knowing about it.

In the 3 hours we covered the following:

  • 20 minutes on introductions and Inside ISB our new educational portal
  • 20 minutes on PantherNet (Moodle) our walled garden for learning
  • 20 minute presentation on why students are so connected (this year’s seniors were born the same year the Internet was invented…they will never know a time without the Internet)
  • 20 minutes on using YouTube as a life lone learning tool (parents searched for ‘how to’ videos on things they were interested in).
  • 20 minutes on Internet Safety
  • 20 minutes on web based library resources
  • 20 minutes on Facebook
  • 20 minutes on Google Search Skills
  • 20 minutes on breaks, Q&A

It was an enlightening three hours for both sides I think. I didn’t realize how little our parents knew. At one point we stopped to explain tabbed browsing and the back button.

I’ve talked about this before, that for the first time in the history of education we not only have to spend time on the students in our charge, but on re-educating our community as well on what it means to learn in today’s world.

Parents were amazed with what they could find on YouTube. One mom improved her golf swing, while another looked up recipes for dinner.

What I took away from the three hours and what has me the most worried is, that it seems that up until now these parents had taken an “Ignorance is Bliss” approach to technology, and rather than learning the tools what they really wanted was to find a way to spy on their kids.

Of course this is a similar approach many schools take….if we just ignore the changes happening then maybe they will go away. The problem is the Internet and all of its content is not going anywhere anytime soon. Worse yet, by taking this approach both in the home and in our schools, the gap between what the students know and what the adults know continues to widen.

The 20 parents that showed up obviously want to learn, think it is important and are hungry to learn more. How many parents at your school would come to a three hour workshop on social networking? 20 is a start…but we have a long way to go in re-educating our communities.

The best advice I ever give to parents is one of conversation. On more than one occasion parents have asked me where should they start. My answer is always the same. Start with your own children. Grab a pen and piece of paper and really care about these spaces. Have them walk you through their Facebook account. Try and learn and understand what they do there. If they won’t let you see their account, then you have an issue. Facebook is not a private space. If they are willing to share that information with their friends, they should be willing to share it with you. Have a conversation about what you see. See a picture that upsets you? Talk about it in an adult fashion. Ask the questions:

  • What do you think this pictures says about you?
  • Do you know all (number of friends) of your ‘friends?
  • Can you trust everyone on your ‘friends’ list not to download that picture?
  • What does that update say about you as a person?
  • Is that who you want to be known as?

These are just a couple questions that parents can use when starting those conversations with their children…again be open and listen to their responses. Even better advice….have your child help you set up your own Facebook account. This has been the most powerful moment for many parents I have talked to.

Limiting access to the computer is also not a bad thing (See Will Richardson). We need to remember that students see the computer as a ‘social gateway‘. The same rules could easily apply that have always applied about visiting or chatting with friends. The conversations remain the same, just the context changes.

Mom: “You can go play with your friends, but be home in an hour.”

which is what my mom use to say….today:

Mom: “You can go on Facebook, but you need to be back here in an hour.”

It’s the same message.

Dad: “Yes, you can go to the store with your friends, just know that dinner will be served at 7 and you are expected to be here.”

which is what my dad use to say….today:

Dad: “Yes, you can go on the Internet, just know that dinner will be served at 7 and you are expected to be here…and disconnected.”

The conversations haven’t changed…or at least haven’t changed that much, we just need to update our vocabulary and understand these social spaces are the new ‘hang outs’ for students.

What is even more important I think are the after conversations….the conversations that allow both you and your child to debrief about their day. My mom use to always ask me how my friends were doing….in fact she still does. 🙂

(After time on the computer)

Mom: “How are your friends doing?”

Son: “OK”

Mom: “What is John up to?”

Son: “Not much, his mom is away again so he and his dad are going out for dinner.”

Mom:  “Oh, how about Susie?”

Son: “She updated her status from downtown somewhere….not sure where but I’m sure she’s with Chad.”

Mom: “With Chad? Are they a…..”

Son: “Yeah, happened yesterday at school….”

Kids want to talk about their friends….we just need to ask. This is the time of their life to be soical and this generation has more ways to be connected socially than any generation before it. But they still want to know we care, we just need to update our conversations…but the conversations are the same.

What I love about kids is that kids are kids. The language might have changed, the conversations might be different, but in the end they just want someone to care about them. They want to know you care enough to ask the questions, to get to know their wired world, and to be facinated by it, not scared by it.

Strike up a conversation with a kid today, learn about their world….they are the most facinating of human beings. 🙂

(Full Disclosure: I do not have kids of my own)


  1. I think this is great – that the program was offered and that the parents came!! My near-40-year-old friends are just beginning to join Facebook, and they are having lots of fun!! They are also making the same common-sense mistakes that the children make. We need to teach the parents if possible, but I think it is great to have parents learning with and from their children too.

  2. Bringing parents to see the world their children live in. Well done.

  3. THanks for bringing togetehr a program on what can be done – this is something I would like to do if given or can create the opportunity.

    cheers MArtin

  4. Jeff, this is a fantastic post and a fantastic initiative. While it is an issue of debate for some as to whether or not schools are obligated to provide this sort of PD (Parental Development) for its community, I don’t think there is any doubt that your school will reap massive benefits for making the effort and taking the time to do so. This also highlights that while the nature of interaction has changed due to technology, students are still interacting and parents must still be aware of what their children are doing and who they are doing it with. Just because it is happening online, parents are not obviated of responsibilities. I am sure they appreciate being empowered to take charge of those responsibilities.

    • A visiting middle years expert a couple of years ago said that middle schools have an obligation to create times and spaces for parents of adolescents to talk to one another – about the joys, trials and tribulations of raising a young person today.

      At the time the comment it surprised me – wasnt part of the job description i’d seen – but the challenge stuck in my head and it is something we are still struggling to provide. Sometimes there are more organisers than participants – but those who came once are still coming back for more – cyber bullying, talking to adolescents, how to talk to your school confidently. While the formal presentations are thought provoking and good, it is the conversations during and afterwards that build connections, understanding and trust.

      In our transient and diverse community this is a true enabler. Many of our families don’t have the extended family as a safety net – many are very young themselves. If our parents have the confidence to establish, build, enhance their relationships with their families and with us – it’s got to help us work together for the kids.

  5. Wish you had a video of the presentation.

  6. Jeff,

    I think this is agreat idea that you came up with. So many kids are so into technology and their parents have no idea what they are doing let alone use it themselves. A group like this can accomplish many things that may help a family run smoother. The parents learn first of all that there are other ways of gaining ideas on anything like you said from a golf swing to recipes. They then will be able to relate to what their kids are talking about also when they mention a technolgy term that they do not recognize and are to embarrassed to ask what it is. Great idea and great information.

  7. Jeff thanks for debriefing your session. I’m leading a similar one in San Diego this Saturday (7/18/09) and it was refreshing to hear some of your thoughts. I’ll probably even quote you as I love this line:

    “The conversations haven’t changed…or at least haven’t changed that much, we just need to update our vocabulary and understand these social spaces are the new ‘hang outs’ for students.”

    Kuuuudos to you!

  8. This was a great idea. Thanks for sharing. I am going to show this to my principal. I’m hoping he will let me do something similar.


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