Random Thoughts

Why We Need To Teach Social Networking

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From Venturebeat.com

The girl, 17, had been helping her grandmother count the 72-year-old woman’s personal savings. Apparently wishing to impress her friends and the world at large, the teen snapped a picture of the cash and uploaded it to Facebook.

Within hours, masked robbers showed up at the girl’s own house with a knife and a club, breaking in and stealing cash and personal possessions from the teen’s 47-year-old mother.

I read this the other day and was wondering if this girl ever was taught about social networking and where her information goes. 

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I then starting thinking about the autonomy I had as say a 13 year old. My parents knew where I was 99% of the time, knew who I was hanging out with, who I was talking with and where I was physically…seeing there was no digital place for me to be yet. 

I think about the autonomy a 13 year old has today. The autonomy to post, talk, respond, take a photo with anyone they want without parents knowing about it…and being able to share with people that their parents might not know. 

These are new behaviors we need to be teaching in schools. We teach how to share, in the physical world. We teach how to cooperate, in the physical world. We teach how to stay away from danger in the physical world. But do we teach these same skills in the new digital sense? Why not?

If we know we are all spending more time online, in online relationships and communicating more online than in person these days, why are we not teaching these social-networking skills?

We talk about making friends, in the physical world. We talk about what it means to be a good friends, how good friends trust each other and how good friends watch out for each other….in the physical world. 

Are we teaching social-networking in the digital world as well? If not are we doing our students, our community, our society a disservice?

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. More questions worth asking are:

    Is social networking moving/growing too fast for the older generations to teach our kids/students?

    Is computing/the Internet such a large and overwhelming thing that more of the older generation give up trying to understand it rather than learning and teaching about it?

    Should our focus be on teaching students about social networking and not on parents?

    Some interesting things to ponder, but you are absolutely right in bringing all of these questions to light!! 🙂

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Hi TJ,

      Some great questions…here’s my thoughts:

      Is social networking moving/growing too fast for the older generations to teach our kids/students?

      Yes social networking is moving fast but the older generation is keeping up just fine. All we have to do is look at Facebook with it’s nearly 1 Billion users. Most of which are parents of kids. Now we know that the older generations are using social networking Pinterest is another example. So adults are using and keeping up with the social networks. The problem is they/we aren’t teaching kids how to be safe in these spaces. These spaces are so powerful as connectors but so dangerous if not understood. Someone has an obligation to help students figure out this new landscape and although I think it should be parents….I think education needs to play a role as well.

      Is computing/the Internet such a large and overwhelming thing that more of the older generation give up trying to understand it rather than learning and teaching about it?

      This I agree with. I find many parents look at it all, don’t know where to start and instead of getting help look the other way and say “oh well”. Parent training is going to be critical for every school if we want to help keep our students safe. As much as we hate to admit it we need to go back and re-educate our parent population at the same time.

      Should our focus be on teaching students about social networking and not on parents?

      First and for most our focus should be on teaching students about social networking… absolutely. And by teaching I’m not talking about a one off lesson in September. I’m talking about constant conversations over and over. I’m talking about curriculum changes in which the character education programs that many schools have need to update and focus on new topics.

      Thanks for asking the questions…always helps me to think through this at a deeper level.

      • After your most recent post about 30 Years in the Education System, perhaps you can add ‘Changing School Technology Policy’ to your list of things you’ll be doing in the next year(s).

        You always have great ideas and insights. You would be great at writing/changing policy! 🙂

  2. Nice post. I wouldn’t necessarily agree that we need to teach social networking as for the most part our children are already using social media for many things including social and education. What we need to be doing is empowering our children with the skills for safe social networking. Regardless of the fact that many services are for over 13’s, we know our kids are using it therefore we should have a duty to mitigate their risk. We can only do that through education.

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Agree…..and although many services are for over 13’s there are so many services that are aimed at the under 10 age as well. The iPad is full of them. These are simple character skills that we should start teaching in Kindergarten. We talk about “stranger danger” in the physical world. But do we talk about it in the digital world? Every Kindergartener that I know knows what Google is. Knows what Facebook is. We can start with what they know and build their safe knowledge there. The curriculum is out there, we just need to make it a priority.

  3. I remember reading about this incident as well and my initial thought was “where were the parents?” I think social networking and digital knowledge needs to be taught to students, but I think it also needs to come from parents. Maybe this girl’s parents were teaching her that stuff, but I think oftentimes children are not taught this knowledge at home. There are only so many hours in a school day and unfortunately a lot of that time has to go towards reading and math due to high-stakes standardized testing. At our school we do have technology classes for the students but only twice a week. Common Sense Media (http://www.commonsensemedia.org/) has a variety of curricula for teaching students how to be responsible digital citizens, but it is hard curricula to incorporate into math or reading class. I agree the curriculum is out there and it needs to take priority, but with technology classes being given limited time at school, we need to figure out how to educate parents so that they can be teaching children at home.

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  5. Hi Jeff,

    You write: I then starting thinking about the autonomy I had as say a 13 year old. My parents knew where I was 99% of the time, knew who I was hanging out with, who I was talking with and where I was physically…

    That is unfortunate. Check out this post about Playborhoods:

    The best thing about my childhood was the time I spent with friends outdoors creating our own fun…without parents around!

    The incident with kid is unfortunate but a total outlier. Yes we have to teach kids responsible behavior, but via 24/7 supervision we don’t do them a good service. How are they suppose to learn that behavior, if they don’t have the freedom to try things out?

    • Jeff Utecht Reply

      Hi Mark,

      I much like you spent many hours outside playing. I don’t want you to think my parents were watching over me like a hawk. But they did know I was in the neighborhood, who I was playing with and the general things we were up to….we only caught the barn on fire once….but the railroad ties burt for days. 🙂

      I’m not saying we need more helicopter parents…but we need to educator both parents and students in understanding these “new outdoors”. Is this an outlier? As far as getting robs for posting something probably. As far as posting something that probably shouldn’t have been public on the web and causes someone harm….probably not. My wife’s a middle school counselor and whether it’s a violent act like this or an emotional one understanding these new digital spaces is where we need to be educating students.

  6. Hi Jeff,

    Glad to see such a consensus building up about the need to foster social networking skills at school.

    Over the past two years, I have been making a case for the constructive use of online social networking tools in education. This is an area of study, however, that engenders strong opinions both against and in favour of the use of social media for teaching and learning. Those in favour generally focus on the perceived benefits of improved communication among members of the school community, whilst those against tend to focus on instances of inappropriate use to justify their stance.

    My own opinion is that schools ought to embrace social networking not just as a means of communication, but rather as the catalyst to transform the way we teach and learn. However, the problem is that schools are producing generally draconian and restrictive rules and regulations governing the use of social media without really understanding what role social media plays in the life of their students.

    It struck me that anyone who is in charge of strategic planning for teaching and learning – at classroom, faculty or school-wide level – has the responsibility to make informed decisions regarding the use of social media as a teaching and learning tool.

    Yet, despite lacking crucial information, teachers, schools, educational authorities and governments generally ignore the fact that those entering secondary education today do not remember a life before social media; that social media is an integral part of their life’s experience.

    There is only a handful of schools out there that are learning by using social media and adapting their user agreements and codes of conduct to reflect new realities, in which new technologies ensure that knowledge is no longer exclusively accessible within the school walls or imparted by a single person
    and that this knowledge can be accessed on demand by anyone, anywhere.

    These are the skills schools need to teach and foster. But this then begs the question: how can you teach skills you yourself don’t possess?

    • Very well said Jose. This is turning out to be a great discussion. There are many schools using social networking as they have the strategic vision of being able to accomplish something. Others use it because they see their peers using it. However a significant majority don’t use it because they see e-safety (or online safety depending where you’re from) as a significant risk factor.

      I engage with many schools with the underpinning message – e-safety should never ever be the barrier to innovative use of technology in education. e-Safety is like health and safety: everybody has a duty of care, risks must be risk assessed and mitigated, but it isn’t a barrier.

      I talk a lot about online safety in schools in my blog (www.esafety-adviser.com/blog) with that very underlying message.

  7. As an educator, I believe it is very important to teach material that is important for the future of the students. When inventing my math and memory system Brainetics (http://www.brainetics.com), I wanted to focus on new subjects and innovative methods to teach. By teaching social media, students will be more prepared in the future. It seem like so many aspects of today’s society centers around the digital environment and social media should be considered as subject worth teaching.

    Great article,

    Mike Byster
    Inventor of Brainetics, Educator, Author of Genius, Mathematician

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  9. In general, I agree. I do think that children and teen agers need to have the skills to make informed decisions on the internet and social media. I am very involved in technology and my husband has an IT degree. But my parents and older parents might have more difficulty. But it is an important life skill, the type of life skill that might have been taught in home-ec 20 years ago. I also agree with the posters who have emphasised being outdoors and being social. Online experiences should be an enhancement of real-life, not a replacement.

  10. I think the reason we do not teach it is because it feels like common sense to a person who lived before social media. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that common sense still has to be taught. Instead we just assume that they should know that already. Common sense was taught before by watching parents use it but if a parent is not using social media then it is hard to understand what is ok to do on that website and what is not. So sense they are not learning it through their parents the way we learn normal common sense, then the only way they can learn it is through their teachers. If they do not learn it at all, then they are being set up for failure in the future. That being said, it only makes sense to include it in the curriculum.

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