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August 1st, 2009 by Dr. Phil

You've Got Mail

computergirl2I 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?

classroom2Some 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.

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118 Responses to “You've Got Mail”

  1. R.L.Scovens says:

    I understand the teacher being upset and wanting a way to stop any more info from being posted, but he should not have asked for her personal info. He should have gone through her parents and had the info removed. He is not entitled to her login and password.

  2. FosterBoys says:

    Dr. Phil,

    While one might not be able to fully RELY on the expectation of privacy, it is an expectation nonetheless and should be afforded certain protections. Whether in cyberspace or in one’s home, we must all be safe from unreasonable search & seizures. Like you, I don’t have the specifics of this case, but absent a threat to herself or someone else, no one had the right to invade her privacy.

  3. Sandi Tibbetts says:

    I understand why the teacher was upset but to me what they did was far worse than the student. What right did they have to see all her personal emails? By forcing her to give her password that teacher could have gone into all her mail not just the one where the student cussed out the teacher. The teacher definitely should have gone through her parents to sovle the issue.

  4. Amy says:

    I think it all comes back to the parents. If children are raised to respect their elders, to respect that having the Internet at their fingertips is a priviledge, and to respect each other (Do unto others….) – then there shouldn’t be a problem where violation of their privacy is necessary. I remember when I was a pre-teen I wrote a note about someone telling someone else how much I hated the other person. My dad came across this note inadvertently (I forgot how, but it doesn’t matter) and he made me type out the following statement 500 hundred times (on a keyboard where white-out was still used to fix mistakes, and I had to fix every mistake). “I will never use the word hate again. I may dislike someone for their actions, but I do not HATE anyone.” I learned my lesson after that and 18 years later, I still find myself thinking back to that moment anytime I hear the word hate or think about hating someone. Parents need to get back to the basics with disciplining and monitoring their children. If they are raised well, then they will behave well. Period.

  5. D.T.Calder says:

    people say things but don’t really mean them they say things to vent anger. but also doesn’t everyone have the right to there own privacy? does it not go against any of the privacy acts any where? i think if the teacher had the knowledge that this was going on the 1st step is to contact the parent(s) maybe the teachers were doing something to make her mad i mean who didnt have a teacher that they did not like or that didnt like them? i dont think teacher’s should be able to ask for that info. if they should be able to do it to us why cant we do it to them?

  6. I think you are right that there is no ONE answer just like with many illnesses there isn’t always one treatment, i.e., depression. After the Kenneth Starr Report the activity in White House in Oval Office became popular to be asked of young teen girls IN JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL at a Texas school, a teen girl said.

    I read article link you gave and, if true, students told the school could ask to access. Most of us don’t like the consequences of things we have 20/20 hindsight doing as per her embarrassment and unpopularity. However, I can say most things I’ve had less than favorable outcomes from I first had an intuition not a good idea to agree to with myself or someone else and learned the hard way. Like when date raped by a guy who said, “Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance?” I didn’t want to go and had a bad feeling about yet didn’t want to be rude. Oh, and told “If you were really a Christian you’d forgive me and go out…” I took hook, line and sinker too and ended up with the dental plan of a rapist with a fist in the face as a teen. However, not taking “NO” for an answer can be rude too I realized in 20/20 hindsight I’m on a first name basis with.

    Life is sort of like a test and often that first thought not a good idea or there’s a better way is right on. I’m curious if young teen wondered not a good idea before learning the hard way wasn’t. It has got to be confusing to teens with all the put downs of others by Comedians and wild and craziness in movies. And, OMG(osh), instead of just election time I get email after email in 24/7 campaigning of both parties bashing each other. So mud slinging taught to us even by our leaders is giving us all a black eye (like when hit).

    Much of the behavior of our leaders would get most fired and/or a three day EOD. I think former President Clinton knew he didn’t handle the grief well of losing his mom and uncle while President. I think that IS why his Administration supported my idea of Emotional and Life Skill Education K-12 DAILY classes sending me contact info of EVERY head of Department of Education under U.S. Jurisdiction. Former President Clinton’s misbehavior I won’t address yet likely, as you say, you can still Google the Kenneth Starr Report. Most of us will never look at cigars the same again who are privvy to said report.

    So, there you have it, sometimes we’re politically corrected into incorrectness with “honesty the best policy” only recited and not practiced and others “the truth still hurts”. Well rather than get cliche’ happy I’ll just say sounds iffy on both sides. I saw horrible things written by students about a teacher Googling teacher’s name. That’s bad too for a teacher’s resume’. So, I have a feeling as hurt as teen is now to be ostracized her teacher was first. Somewhere in the middle of all that is the truth for, as you say, “even a pancake has two sides.”

    Well, I’m confused now just writing this with all the double standards with rules and laws not enforced with equity. Personally, I think when any of us think there isn’t something we might could have handled better that very possibly it is that very something we could have handled better and that goes to teen “and” school. We are a society of individuals yet, as my government teacher said, each person’s rights go to the fingertips of another person’s. To go beyond is an infringement of that person’s rights for not only does SELF MATTERS INCLUDE ME… SELF MATTERS INCLUDES YOU and WE not only individually and collectively. Visualize the person’s fingertips against yours as you type, text etc. from employer to coach to friend to… A good rule of thumb is if you’d be embarrassed for anyone else to know… might not be the best idea.

    Basically, though, we need Emotional and Life Skill Education K-12 DAILY classes of age appropriate topics to open the dialogue since our EQ’s are as important as our IQ’s. I hope that you, Dr. Phil, and your son, Jay, and your colleagues do this like Jay’s Anti-Bully campaign. For the 4th R needed in schools is RESPECT for self and others “and” ability to accept RESPONSIBILITY and be good stewards of the earth and one another. Okay, way out in left field and up in the cyber bleacher seats so hopping off cyber soap box. Next…

  7. J. MacPhee says:

    I agree that no teacher or other professional has the right to request or demand any kind of login and password information from any student. As much as we dislike other people’s opinions, everyone has a right to theirs. Facebook has been known to cause problems in the past and will continue to do so however, everyone has a password protected account for a reason. That teacher was out of line in requesting this information and had that been me, there is no way that teacher would have gained any of that information.

  8. Kristin says:

    One can obviously not have an expectation of privacy when posting things to public websites. E-mail is not public, and passwords are created for the exact purpose of providing privacy for their users, if that makes any sense. Why would you create a password for something that everyone has access to? Even a teenager should be afforded this privacy unless she (or he in some cases) poses a threat to themselves or others. Teenagers are so often prohibited from expressing their views and feelings, and without this little bit of independence and socialization what will they turn to? I don’t have kids, but I believe if I did I would monitor certain internet activity if I noticed suspicious behavior. However, checking one’s e-mail without cause is a huge violation of privacy that even a teenager should be given unless there is suspicion of serious harm. My mom is a teacher and their jobs are extremely hard but at some point a teacher’s responsibility toward the child stops and the parents’ must start. It isn’t the right of the teacher to violate this child’s privacy unless it’s a matter of extreme urgency, not just a mad student expressing herself.

  9. John B. says:

    Dr. Phil when i was reading this it made me angry as hell. this actually happend at my skool when i was in seventh grade when the teacher of the 8th grade made everybody give up their passwords for their myspaces or whatever they had and that also made me angry. if it happened to me i would not give up my passwords to any teacher or principal. A school does not have the right to ask for somebodys passwords or info if what they are trying to look at has nothing to do with school such as facebook, myspace, twitter, your email account ect. If it was related to school such as edline, or an account that is used specifically for school then yes they can ask for info and access it but especially not emails!! Schools have no right to do that its insane and makes me angry as hell!!! schools are there to teach and educate not invade peoples privacy!! if they realy wanted to see than they NEED to get the parents permission!! i am outraged by this!!

  10. Valarie says:

    The only power that I would want teachers, or any other non-parent adult to have over my children would be to protect them. Both from dangers from themselves and others.
    If there were signs of danger, either to or from the minor, then steps should be taken to intervene. But it appears here that the first step was for the persons angry about what was being said was to forcefully gain access to it themselves. If this was the case, I find it inappropriate. The only persons that should have this much right would be the parents first and foremost!!

  11. Linda says:

    That is a difficult question. I would say no. Not unless they suspect that something is seriously wrong. It is hard to say since we know so little about the actual situation. I would like to hear their version of it.

  12. KMattinson says:

    wow – this is a tough one. I have to agree with you and the post prior to mine. In my opinion, the teacher does not have the right to demand login info. or passwords. However, I do feel the information should be removed and that there is some responsibility on behalf of the parents to ensure the information is removed. I also feel that some consequence for such actions is necessary.

    I would think some closer monitoring of computer activity is necessary as it would seem this young woman doesn’t know how to treat others with respect. It is a very passive agressive move and she would likely not be pleased if the tables were turned. Admittedly, with all of the techology available to teens, this is difficult to monitor.

    I look forward to hearing the outcome.

  13. Nadia says:

    The ever expanding capacity of the internet is indeed a double edged sword.

    However the issue here is not actually about the internet but rather the role of school officials, parents, and student personal responsibility.
    If a student wrote on a locker room wall, “Coach so-and-so is a ____”, what would the recourse be? To take away the girl’s Sharpie marker? No. A proper course of action would be (as she is a minor) to contact the parents and inform them or better yet discuss with them, the course of disciplinary action being taken against her for her destructive and slanderous actions and words. Perhaps suspension from the team or even school for a given period of time. Maybe cleaning graffiti off of school walls.
    We still would not take away her marker.
    Same here.
    There is indeed a violation of privacy in requesting the girl’s Facebook sign in data. It should be the PARENTS who can monitor and control their daughter’s online usage. I know I do with mine! They need to be chaperoned online, perhaps in this day and age, even more so than in person.
    It comes back to Yes she deserves punishment and needs controlling. Yes the coach/school can initiate these actions, but it is not their role to have her personal data nor to take any action without parental knowledge and consent.
    The point of punishment and control is to teach and guide, not to lash out at the offender in an equally albeit different manner.

  14. Julianne says:

    I understand the teacher being upset and I see no problem with her asking that the content be removed by the student (or by facebook if student doesn’t comply). However, in no way should a teacher be allowed to have passwords of anybody, email or otherwise

  15. hoh says:

    I would have given the incorrect password to the teacher?!
    And asked for my lawyer! Or at least one call to my parents

    Doesn’t the bill of rights protect everyone including minors?
    I seem to remember something being in it, protecting ones privacy and/or using the right not to incriminate oneself.

    Was the student using the school internet connection and school computer?

    Sounds like the teacher was behaving like a bully and a child
    Seriously, the teacher was completely out of line in my book.

    If the school wants to know what the kids are ‘up to’ they need to use the software that many companies use that scan all emails content like the good old CIA do and I’m sure MI5 [UK] for which ever key words one wants

    All the best to you and your team
    Cape Town South Africa
    [via twitter]

    Your show is run every day on our national TV but unfortunately they are all very old reruns with ageless content!

  16. Jessica says:

    Parents should have a right. Teachers should not. Teachers can contact the parent to get permission, but to ask or force an underage child is wrong. E-mail is private. Facebook can be private if that is how your privacy settings, but if you have it as public, then it is public. But your Facebook e-mail is still private since that isn’t posted to everyone just to the inbox of the friend you sent it to.

    If the teacher thought there was a problem, they should have talked to the parents. Kids need to vent and they need the place they can go and vent.

  17. Anna says:

    I completely agree with R.L., this girl also needs to remember that what she puts out there stays out there and you can’t take it back. Always go to the parents first.

  18. Jenny Bostock says:

    I read the link and watched the video and I feel that this particular situation is pretty clear. The cheerleaders were all warned that their social networking would be monitored. The point of this is to make sure these girls are not doing things publicly to give the cheerleading group and the school a bad name. However, a private message between two girls shouldn’t have even been looked at. The coach could easily make a facebook page of her own, befriend all of the students and monitor their public actions from there. Even if the snoopy coach had a way to log on and look at private messages, I don’t feel like this girl should have been suspended from games and events based on her privately shared opinion. She was venting to a friend and if it had been done over the phone the coach wouldn’t have even known what was being said. It sounds to me like someone knew the messages were being sent and told the coach (brown noser) and then the coach demanded the login and password so she could read the messages. This was a ridiculous and definitely unnecessary invasion of privacy.

    As far as where to draw the line, sometime people have to look at individual cases and read the signs and use good judgment. There is no formula or one right or wrong answer when it comes to checking up on suspicious situations. I feel that if there is going to be an invasion of privacy, based on prior knowledge of possible danger, then if there are other things found in there (non dangerous), they need to be left alone. There is a huge grey area here and there will always be someone’s toes getting stepped on. We just have to decide if it is for the greater good.

  19. Essie says:

    What’s that old saying….. “I might hate what you are saying but I will fight to the death for your right to say it”. Sounds to me like the teacher had an emotional response (generally unavoidable) and used her power as an authority figure inappropriately to then act unprofessionally. The teacher had no more right to the passwords than if she had gone to the students home, into her bedroom and dug around in the closet looking for a mash book. The student has the right to free speech, and the fb entry was written outside of school therefore unless the teacher could access it by using fb herself, it is not available to her.

  20. S Bartley says:

    I think they should have gone to the parents first. I think kids need to think they have some privacy. As a parent I would have taken the computer, cell phone or whatever else they could use if they wouldn’t let me check. I think all teachers should go through the parents first.

  21. Laura Day says:

    I’m a parent of a junior high cheerleader in Pearl, MS where all this is taking place. This cheer coach (Tommie Hill) is also Alderman at Large and she is a very good, long-time coach & a very nice lady & very active in the community, so all this really surprised me.

    All PHS cheerleaders & football players are told their Facebook & MySpace pages will be monitored (after all they are representing the school), but monitoring a student’s page & going into & reading their personal e-mail are completely different & I don’t think the coaches should have access to the student’s login & passwords in the first place.

    I think something must have been said to tip the coach off, since this was the only student whose e-mail she read. I think she should have pulled the student aside & discussed whatever the problem was with the student & her parents and not with any of the other teachers.

    But like you say, it’s a hard question to answer. I monitor my teen’s MySpace & Facebook page, but a lot of parents don’t. I think it’s okay for a teacher to look at a student’s page to make sure there is nothing inappropriate on that page, because like you always say a teen’s brain is not fully developed & they don’t think about the consequences of their actions, but a teacher has no right to read their personal e-mail. (I even look at my daughter’s friends pages, especially their pictures, because some of the pictures these girls put up are inappropriate for 13 & 14 year olds (and their parents are clueless) & if I see a picture or something on one of those pages that I wouldn’t want my daughter to have on her page, I just call the mom & say “you need to look at your child’s page & pictures”).

    So I say, teachers can monitor a student’s MySpace or Facebook page, but let the parents deal with the e-mails (but I must admit, I don’t read my child’s e-mails).

    Here is a link to the lawsuit papers that were filed.

  22. Katie says:

    I don’t think it’s ok for school officials to ask/demand us to hand over our passwords to “private” e-mails or conversations. Even if the coach knew what was being said about him, he doesn’t have the right to invade a student’s privacy to investigate the situation. On the whole privacy issue I’ve safeguarded myself from posting anything inappropriate on Facebook (not that I would post that kind of stuff anyway) I friended both of my parents (they requested me and I felt bad saying no). They can both see things I post publicly and so if I wouldn’t want them to see or read something I don’t post it. I’m 21 and I know they didn’t friend me so they could spy or anything and they wouldn’t ask for passwords or access to password protected information.

  23. AMY K. says:

    I think parental responsibility is forgotten in a lot of schools. In this situation I be lieve the parents should have been contacted and then have the parents deal with the students. Schools need to deal with what happens on school property and let parents deal with what happens at home.
    Students talk badly about teachers whether it is on the internet or face to face. Being a former teacher I dont condone it but I also kids are going to do these things. Definitely be aware of threats but why get all upset because a kid doesnt like you? There are times when kids just wont like authority. You can deal with it without being an ogre or over stepping your bounds.

  24. C. Lawrence says:

    This is a tough one. I think that if restrictions are put in place, it might work. I think access should only be had in the presence of the owner of the information and I think that person should be able to log-on themselves so as to not have to give out their password. That would mean, however, that permission would have to be given and that may be difficult. In a perfect world, parents, mentors and role models would always be able to invest in kids so the need to peer this closely into their lives wouldn’t arise.

  25. Blgspc says:

    What A conundrum!

    I believe that parents SHOULD know what their children are doing online! Further, in the interest of child safety, we NEED some means of monitoring what children do online. I believe that there needs to be a service managed by law enforcement to do that monitoring. I thinking that every child’s activity should be screened. Anywhere else in ANY community there are LAWS and consequences for violating laws. We need that for the internet and parents should be notified if the child’s behavior online crosses boundaries.
    I also believe that ANY sex offender should be compelled to register for direct monitoring, period. Systems for positive I.D. should be in place! We have the technology for that. I feel that the same laws regarding abuse of US Postal Service and laws regulating using a telephone for fraud etc. Should apply to use of the internet. And, YES, I know that there are many ways around any law. What I’m saying is that we need to AT LEAST have laws in place to govern this ‘new’ electronic community!

    Having said that, I DO NOT believe that a child venting about anyone to a friend should be regarded as a violation of any law!
    In the case of the coach, from what you’ve described, this seems rather petty for an adult to be demanding personal login information to a private account. Especially, if this concerns what a student thinks of a coach/teacher! Unless there were indications that there was an imminent threat to another person, that coach crossed a line!

    Just My Two Cents,


  26. Paul Quinn says:

    If this cheerleader had been discussing another schoolchild on the net, we would probably be talking about “cyber” bullying!

    Just because the other person involved was a teacher, does not mean that they had a position of “power” in the relationship.

    However, it does sound like the teacher abused their “power” by obtaining the girl’s password.

    My guess is that there is a much more complicated backstory to this relationship!

    I have been using the internet since the early 90’s and my motto has always been “Never put in an e mail something you would not be happy with, being forwarded to everyone on the planet”!

  27. Linda says:

    All I can say is I don´t really think that there is a right answer to this. It depends on the situation really.

  28. Carol from Oklahoma says:

    This is definitally a privacy issue and I personally believe the teacher stepped over his boundaries! I don’t have to know anymore information about this situation… this is simply outrageous. Everyone has their privacy! Her parents are the ones who should have taken care of this matter and not the teacher (school)! It is total intrusion. The next thing I will be reading is that the teacher made the boy/girl take down their pants and look for whatever. Dr. Phil… this is not right, in fact, it is insantity at its best! Call the teacher on this one… HE WAS WRONG!

  29. Jan says:

    If the teachers’ reputations were being damaged, it would seem that this could turn into a court case, and they might order this information be revealed. But to order the student to reveal her log-in info. because she was ripping into teachers? Don’t all students have gripes about a teacher here & there? I like how you made this point: “…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.”

    Exactly how I feel.

    Sometimes I think the teachers need to be drug tested in addition to (or instead of) the kids!

    Love your blogs, keep ‘em coming.

  30. Brad says:

    Here’s the problem. How do you “force” someone to give you their password? What exactly was involved in the forcing? I’d be more inclined to say that she gave it willingly through coherency. Now if the teacher is threatening grades or positions, do they even have that ability?

    I doubt the court case will go anywhere for that very reason.

    Personally I think there was some immaturity on the teachers part being upset over a teenagers comments about them, but as far as the invasion of privacy, she gave up her own password.

  31. I’m a grandmother of teenagers. They have facebook, myspace and other social networks. Some have given me access to their accounts others haven’t. I respect them either way. I would never divulge anything I see there to anyone unless it was dangerous to them and even then I’d address them first. I don’t think there’s any other point to this. That teacher had no right to demand this info. The teen had the right to give this information to only those she trusted with it. This “coach” was problably a bully as demonstrated by his/her insisting on giving out passwords. We talk about respect where’s the respect for our young people? Is this what we’re still teaching our young people? That if you bully someone under your control, they have no rights? It seems to me this coach was intimidated when younger and doesn’t have the skills to handle criticism. I feel it was this teen’s right to express herself in the privacy of her account. It amazes me that these networks go to all this trouble to protect our privacy and this individual circumvents all these safeguards.

  32. Kim says:

    No one should have the login to someone else’s information. What’s to keep THAT individual from putting false information on the owner’s page?

    I suggest using other means to block folks who are causing problems. In the case of minors – use the parents. In other cases, use any legal means available.

    I recently learned that on Facebook, even blocked individuals may still view a member’s page if they both belong to the same ‘network’.

    Facebook is not even remotely private. When posting to someone’s ‘wall’, everyone who is friends with the wall-owner can see the post, even if they are not friends with the person who posted to the wall/page.

    I wish Facebook would make their pages so only those people who are mutual friends can see messages on someone’s page. This would likely help prevent some of the personality clashes from becoming quite so large. Also helpful would be the ability to delete someone’s posting from your own page if you don’t want it to stay there. Another plus would be the ability to add friends so they can SEE your page, but NOT post to it. There are truly too few options for an individual to control their privacy. Privacy? What privacy?

  33. NJTroy says:

    No, the teacher should not have been in a position to demand the student’s online access information.

    We seem to have forgotten that our teens are people. While they may not have a right to absolute privacy, they do need some space to develop. If the school believed there was a serious issue (which I doubt from reading the article), then they should have approached her parents to discuss it. Do teachers seriously expect that they should be able to monitor every conversation between teens? Really? The fact that the conversation occurs online does not change the basic fact that this is conversation between a group of people, to which the coach was not invited and had no right to expect to be invited.

    Further, handing over personal email information may give the school access to private financial information which they should never have access to. I order online, update passwords online and many other activities that if I had to share with someone else would put my personal information at risk. My teens now have their own small savings accounts with online access so that they can learn how to manage their money. Access information is in their email. It is totally inappropriate for the school to have access to any account (including email) where financial information may be available.

    As a parent, I monitor my teens use of the internet. When they were younger, I monitored very tightly. As they have gotten older and showed that they can handle it responsibly, I monitor more loosely. This matches the way I handle extending responsibility to them in all areas. I don’t insist on sticking my nose into everything they do, but I reserve the right to monitor more closely if I discover they have crossed the line. That is my responsibility. And I will not cede it to the school system.

  34. Sandra says:

    I think teachers feel they are in a damned if they do and damned if they don’t situation, teachers are confronted everyday with disrespect, profanity, disfunctional home atmospheres and even threats to thier lives, so if maybe this teacher did use his power of authority maybe questionably, maybe because teachers feel they have lost all power and don’t know what to do anymore.

  35. Iverline says:

    I agree with FosterBoys,

    “While one might not be able to fully RELY on the expectation of privacy, it is an expectation nonetheless and should be afforded certain protections. Whether in cyberspace or in one’s home, we must all be safe from unreasonable search & seizures. Like you, I don’t have the specifics of this case, but absent a threat to herself or someone else, no one had the right to invade her privacy.”

    I also feel like whatever is said over the internet, weather it be good or bad, has a right to be said after all it is a form of self expression, and if people don’t like it then that’s their problem.

  36. Janet Davies says:

    The teacher was in the wrong, and if that was my daughter’s teacher I would be barking, (minus Lipstick), in her face right now! Then I’d rip my daughter for being disrespectful to a teacher. Now, if something is posted that makes a threat to do harm to a person/persons then I believe such information should be dealt with by the police.

  37. Erin says:

    This situation comes up quite a lot. My dad is a teacher, along with my Grandfather (who is retired now) in a public school system. Also they happen to be coaches. In addition, I work at a college, a little different, who students have said some unfriendly comments about a professor in a open form such as Facebook. However, their is a difference between asking for personal information for Facebook and punishing a student for inappropriate comments. I think the coach had every right to punish the student for the profanity-laced comments that ripped into the coach and other teachers. However, I do not think they have any right to ask for her login information. I think she should be held accountable for her actions if she did say those things, however I do not think that they had a right to ask for her login information.

    It is kinda of a weird situation. I think they have a right to punish a student for comments like that, we have a student code of conduct, at our college, that says that if a student were to say inappropriate comments about the school, their classmates that we have the authority to punish the student. I do not know what that school has but I would imagine they would have something similar to that effect. I think there is a big difference between saying unflattering things about a person and ribbing on a person’s character and using profanity.

    If the student just said some things that were unflattering about the coach, for example, the coach made us work all the time, or I feel the coach is unfair is a lot different then using profanity and saying that the coach is a f**** b*****. If the school had punished her for saying unflattering comments then yes I think they went to far and she has a right to sue however using profanity and ripping on the coach and teachers personality and character that is crossing the line.

    Either way, I do not think they had a right to ask for her login information, no matter what the comments were.

  38. Koby says:

    There was an instance in Australia last week on radio, where a teenager was hooked up to a lie detector and asked by her mother to answer questions about her sex life, alcohol intake and drugs. The fallout continues here, as the girl under pressure of the lie detector, reminded her mother that she was raped as a 12 year old. Your story reminds me of this, because it’s another example of an adult has pressuring a teenager into giving up their personal information, and I don’t think that’s appropriate.

    See you Thursday night!

  39. Donna says:

    As a parent, I have the right to go in to my child’s account. A teacher, baring any immediate threat, does not. Unless those comments were made during school hours on school computers, the school had no right to demand the password to the account from the student. The appropriate way to handle it would have been to go to the parents and ask for their assistance.

    Free speech and free thought are still a right in this country. Baring any threats made against someone, you can not regulate how or what people think or feel. While I would be upset with my child if they were to say disparaging things about a teacher, I would be more upset with the school over stepping their bounds and demanding my child turn over passwords without my knowledge or consent.

  40. Shellie says:

    Teacher went too far. That’s not acceptable and is an invasion of privacy.

  41. KarenAussie says:

    I think most of the replies above have merritt and are worth thought, in the real world children should be protected yes and for the teachers own safety another authority should have weighed into this weather it be a parent or the law, to cover your own backside, having grown up with the law in my life I know without a middle person either person can say things or do things that may not be politically correct, our children need to learn there are consequences to the actions, I have told my daughters always think before you write something because it is the same as the spoken word it can not be talked back therefore leaving themselves open to today’s consequence’s of reprimand, I think children are today left to there own devices too much and the morals and standards I grew up with should become taught to our children, self respect for others brings self-respect to ones self, accessing anyone’s email is the same as snail mail, I know what ever I put on my computer can be hacked etc but this is also my personal computer like my diary , it the real world does anyone have the right to read someone else’s diary? No they do not and this is respect for another. if our children are given the warnings and are prepared for the consequences of what can happen this is all we can do to protect them if they cross the line they they have to be answerable for there actions.

  42. DrPhil, do peeps com up to u on streets, telling u their probs/asking advice? What is ur reply to them?

  43. As a teacher of both the preschool and school aged kids, I don’t think teachers should have the right to force a student to hand over their facebook or any other account unless the information can prove the student is in danger to themselves, myself, or their peers. As an educator, you’re never going to please everyone. If someone is mad at me and they put it on facebook, I don’t really care. That is something I would much rather deal with in person, in the classroom, with or without a parent. Not over the Internet. The question is why does the student feel like hurting their peers, themselves, or me? Why is that the best answer to their problems? I think as a teacher or administrator or any school professional, you can only do so much. There are boundaries you cannot cross, and those boundaries have to be there. But if another students says something concerning you have to take that concern to heart. However the teachers, administrators, and school officials can do very little compared to parents. I think we are so busy as a society that our kids are left alone to care for themselves. This produces families with kids who have strained relationships with their parents. In the end the kids cry out for someone to notice them and to care. Sometimes those cries lead to drugs, violence, and sexual activity. Sadly sometimes that need for someone to notice goes to the school. I think a lot of kids do whatever it takes to get attention even if it means hurting themselves and other people.

  44. Marilyn says:

    Students need to learn to respect their teachers, coaches, and other authority figures. Students need to be taught the proper method of conflict resolution which does not include bad mouthing the authority figure on face book or any other public forum. One huge problem in our society today is the lack of respect we have for each other in job, community, families etc. Rather than talking things out and resolving our conflicts with dignity we resort to back-stabbing and gossip about each other. Students need to be taught from grade 1 on what is acceptable conflict resolution and anything the teacher can do to influence appropriate behavior I feel is acceptable… yes… even accessing the student’s password to myspace.

  45. Matamich says:

    I keep telling my 16 year old daughter: Don’t write anything online that you would not want everyone to read or see, and this includes teachers, supervisors, bosses, family, etc. I don’t think she gets it, though, because her Facebook entries often make me cringe. As for forcing a student to hand over login information, well that’s wrong too. If her page is public, well fine. They can print it out, read it, do what they need to do and then confront her. If her page is private, she should still watch what she writes, but the teacher has no business making her hand over her login info.

  46. Dr. Phil says:

    I am so intrigued by this question! Thank all of you for weighing in so far. We must do a show about this so watch for a posting on drphil.com about it if you are willing to come on and share your thgts. This is SOOOOO interesting to me. Lets keep the discussion going. Thanks to Laura Day for adding some perspective on the story. I’ll keep reading and you keep giving your opinions.

  47. Melissa says:

    Dr. Phil, I have no doubt that there’s a lot of info on the Web about you that you don’t like. Do you have — or even want — the right to go onto someone’s blog and change it just because you don’t like what they say about you?

    Okay, this teacher wasn’t a public figure, but what he or she did was still wrong. So a kid said mean things. SO WHAT??? Is that person now going to come here and demand you delete all the comments that don’t side with him or her?

    If it happened as described, that’s a issue for the kid and her parents. A kid should not have to hand over personal information like a password to a teacher.

  48. Paradoxis says:

    To me, it seems there are several issues here. The first is whether anybody has the right to demand access to other people’s passwords online. What the girl said is beside the point – that’s a separate issue.

    Just as it is wrong for someone to ask me for my password to my bank account, I think it’s wrong to ask for somene’s password to their email or facebook. Morally, privacy is privacy whether it’s online or not. I think the same respect we give private mail should be given to email.

    We all know that posting personal info is a risky thing to do online, but isn’t that what passwords are for? Sure, people can hack into computers and all that stuff, but how is that any different to someone breaking into your house and reading your diary? The principles are the same to me. You lock your doors, you use passwords and firewalls and whatever else is available to protect yourself. But security isn’t guaranteed online OR in the “real world”.

    If someone asked me for the keys to my home so that they could go in and have a good rummage around, I’d be a fool to give it to them. Even police require a warrant.

    Which brings me to the second issue I see here, which is coercion. A teacher is in a position of authority over a student. What would have been the consequences if the girl had refused to give the teacher her password?

    The third issue to me is about *what* people say and the consequences. Well, there’s not a whole lot any of us can do about what people say to one another, whether it is face to face or in an email or what. Can you really regulate speach, or thoughts?

    You can sue for slander if something is said publically, but if it’s said privately, what then? And if you’ve say, bugged someone’s phone or house in order to hear a private conversation, then do you then still have the right to sue them for slander if you overhear them say something derogatory about you? Also, where is the line between expressing an opinion and just sounding off to a friend? Where’s the line between slander and venting?

    It would be nice if everybody in the whole world never said anything nasty or unkind about anybody else, but that’s just not human nature.

    I dunno. It’s a complex issue. To me it all comes down to working out what principles are at work here.

  49. michelle says:

    Dr. Phil,

    I do not agree with what happened. I think the parents should be notified definitely, and the parents should be left to deal with it. I do not agree with the teacher asking for this information at all. As a parent, I remember high school, and you have those days where things didnt go right, and you might email someone about it. Those days will pass, and eventually things get better, but the password and everything, the parents should have been brought into this. It scares me partially because there is SO many things changing with our government. Our government has a lot more power over many things because of the way the economy, so it gets a little scary on how much we have left to make decisions about. I was going to say POWER, but that wasnt the right word for that last sentence either. I am sure you know what Iam trying to say.
    Have a safe trip to Austrailia!

  50. Robyn says:

    I believe the school should have got together with the parents first of all and told them what they planned on doing. This would have given the parents the chance to look at their child’s information (which they should be doing anyway) and talk about it with them and take things out.

    As parents we are legally responsible for our kids. When they are of age then I think they have to deal with real life and it’s consequences. Until then give them a chance to learn and grow. There is a reason we call them Kids and not Adults.

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