You've Got Mail
I read an article the other day that really, really bothered me, and I need your help to think through this one! It was an article about a young woman who is suing her school after she was allegedly forced by her cheerleading coach to hand over her Facebook login information. According to the lawsuit, an exchange within her Facebook e-mail included heated and profanity-laced comments that ripped into the coach and other teachers. The girl was reprimanded as a result, and now she’s fighting back. Now, I don’t know what really happened here, but the specifics are not the point. Either way, it is a really thought-provoking scenario, to which, I have one point and one big question.
The point is that the Internet may be a lot of things, but private is not one of them. There is good news and bad news when it comes to all of our newfangled technology. The good news is: We have so much info at our fingertips. The bad news is: We have so much info at our fingertips!
We parents, including Robin and me, need to constantly remind our kids that everything they post about themselves or others — whether it’s a compromising photo meant to be fun and goofy, or a personal e-mail — can be found, and can be passed on. Passwords can be hacked, and friends can become foes and choose to pass on info the sender meant to be private. Privacy is a myth.
Everyone from future fiancés, to college recruiters to potential employers invariably go straight to the Internet to see what they can learn beyond the interview where all candidates put their best foot forward. OK, point made about Internet privacy.
If what is being reported in the cheerleader story is true, I’m really bothered. Should a non-parent adult (high school teacher, coach or otherwise), in the absence of warning signs of impending danger to themself or others, have the right to compel a student to turn over access to private information, such as a Facebook account or e-mails, in order to see what might be being said about them or others?
Some will surely say yes, especially if the teacher knows they are being attacked in some way on the Web site. But I’m not so sure. While I agree that a student can’t rely on an expectation of privacy when having a conversation in a public place, is a non-public e-mail different? To me, going into someone’s personal e-mail, even a teen’s, is no different than going to their house, sticking your hand into their mailbox, pulling out a letter that is addressed to them, tearing it open and reading it. Are the boundaries for an e-mail the same as for “snail mail”?
What kind of power do you want teachers and school officials to have over your kids when it comes to their Internet activities? You can argue it both ways.
Does it matter if there are warning signs that the student could be a danger to themself or to others? For example, if the parents of the Columbine shooters had monitored their Internet activities, could they have adverted tragedy? And, are the boundaries different for parents, who, in fact, are responsible for their children on so many levels, including legally? What if a parent suspects their teen is sexually active or involved with drugs, school violence or inappropriate parties?
Let me know what you think, because I get lots of questions about this on the show, and I’m not entirely sure what the right answer is, or if there is one answer. I have a tremendous amount of respect for our grossly underpaid teachers and certainly don’t want to say anything to make their jobs harder, or create obstacles to their responsible guidance of our children. They have a hard enough job as it is. So, I especially want to hear from you teachers. Do you need this access? If the story is true, did the coach go too far? Thanks for the help and input.