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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. vince says:

    Karen Palomino i for one give you a big amen on ur post, altho i really am not sure what the word amen means here on earth, but you hit the nail dead on the head in ur post 100% cell phones should be taken away as soon as a teacher sees a child using one in any class or on school property. its ok for a kid to carry one to call mom or dad after school but a phone has no place in a childs hands on school property for no other reason.

  2. vince says:

    Eva C. correct a pass word being forced is a invasion of privacy. fire that teacher.

  3. vince says:

    Jeanie thank you for your kind words i can explain why i play runescape tho im home now with mom cause i went through 3 bad marrages and let the ex wives have all i had with out a fight, mom went through cancer treatment so i played rs just to keep me busy inside the house while she went through kemo, my son got me started playing ya see, it were to have something incommon with my kid was all but i feel in love with the game too its a lot of fun to me that dont cost no money less you become a member and thats only$5.00 US dollars a month is all now mom has a bad heart so i dont play much no more eccept on sundays when NEMESIS holds its weekly clan event and that lasts for 3 hrs is all, im home 24/7 taking care of my mother and son ya see, i cook clean do yard work and what ever else mom needs aswell, its not that i play to be lazy or nothing it just gives me a channel to blow off steam in a healthy way.

  4. Mark says:

    Thank god I don’t go to high school these days. I think or hope that it would be common sense that anything personal you put on the Internet, can be used against you in a court of law someday. These kids using their real names and/or photos is nothing short of pure stupidity. Can’t these kids do their ripping anonymously or at least in a creative secret alter ego? However the cheerleading coach had no right to demand login information. Or possibly the coach & teachers could sue for slander. Tho I had an 8th grade English teacher who found one of my friend’s blog, which then contained listed bad memories of my friend of our old teacher, and then like the old creep he is, the teacher emailed my friend to let him know “that he was still breathing”. So it’s very obvious that since school have gone network that teachers are Googling themselves to make sure nobody saying bad or truthful things about them. Reminds me of rumors in school and a gym teacher that made us jump for our orange scratchy gym towels after a shower. There’s always going to be rumors about teachers, but 1st Amendment rights always come first.

  5. vince says:

    Mark the kids had no idea adults would convict them for what they do on the net, its not rite i know but at least the kids are being honest enough not to hids behind a cloud, i got to give them a a+ on that, maybe one day the adults could learn a bit of compassion for the kids and teach them to not be ugly to people in real life after all kids only act as there taught to act, it all begins at home my friend not school, the schools are confused on what it is that there suppose to be doing, but my teachers were correct i turned out to be nothing at all, thanks teach, a lesson well learned it were for me! what the hell tho im happy, i got mom and my son thats all i need in life. jeanie is rite i do spend way too much time on Dr Phil’s sites maybe i should stop posting so much no scense in me being a internet hog lol, i can always watch the doc from home anyways hell i love his shows even if they are reruns lol it seems i always miss something in his shows, it pays to watch them for a second time bye yall see ya later guys and gals

  6. Fram says:

    Are you kidding me? A comment left on Facebook is not at all the same thing as having a private conversation where you are venting emotions. When things are written, they create a record, they encourage comment, feedback, especially of the negative kind. By posting such vicious comments, this girl undermines the teachers and reduces their ability to do an adequate job in the classroom. You can’t unring that bell and pretend that you didn’t read what was posted. I can’t believe her parents are allowing her to sue the school over it. The truth? I think she is embarrassed by what she wrote and rather than face the embarrassment, apologize (as she should have) and remove the post, she is wrapping herself up in the first amendment and the right to privacy. Shame on her parents for keeping her from being a grown-up and letting her have a public temper tantrum.

  7. Barbara says:

    Number one, we have to teach our kids that there are consequences to their actions. I still believe it’s true, if you’re not willing to say something to someone in person, then don’t put it on paper or in an e-mail or on the internet. As Dr. Phil says nothing is really private.

    Now should a child be forced to turn over their facebook password to a teacher, no way, not for any reason. If that teacher believes they have something to be concerned about they need to approach the childs parents. It’s up to parents to monitor what their kids are doing on the internet and take appropriated action. Now if a printed copy of something shows up and is being passed around or something shows up on youtube that’s a whole different matter. Now it’s really gone public for all the world to see and if it can harm a teachers reputation or harm them in any other way, the teacher has a right to take action but they still don’t have a right to passwords.

    My advice, kid’s stop using the internet as a tool to hurt people and parents you have a right to access the websites your child uses, don’t allow your child to bully people or harm people with their computers. You wouldn’t give them a baseball bat and tell them to go beat up their teacher or anyone else, so why let them do it with their computers.

  8. Doctor Phil. I think your show is really good and keep up the good work. I like —-your show alot plus your new Http://WWW.Blog.Dr.Phil.Com. I wish you well.——
    Sss you next week. Sincerley Your. Russell Vlaanderen.————————–

  9. Noel says:

    I don’t know the details of this specific case, but in general, I think it would be appropriate for the teacher/school to bring the matter to the attention of the student’s parents and work together WITH the parents in getting to the bottom of the matter. At least, that’s where I would start.

    As well, I think it would be appropriate for the school to be able to randomly monitor anything going through their network (just like in the workplace) and to be up front about it with the students. I don’t mean to hack the students’ school email, but I think most IT people can actually see where emails are being sent to and from and what internet sites are being browsed, which they should with it being on their network. Obviously I don’t know how all that works, but I think you know what I’m trying to get at.

    Children need to be taught how to browse the internet safely and how to post safely. The schools should be able to protect themselves as well, and students using the internet inappropriately on the school’s network should face suitable consequences.

  10. Susani Sacca says:

    So whats your thoughts now about this DR Phil?

    Come on catch up on your blogs we are waiting for you..
    xox
    S

  11. David says:

    As a Web-designer I think this situation is a complete joke asking for this kind of information is like telling someone to take off their clothes to see if they have stolen something from them.

  12. Susani Sacca says:

    DAVID….
    What is a complete joke?

    An online petition?

    What peoples views are regarding WASHINGTON, Dc only allowing 1,000,000.00 dollars for the whole USA to have sucide prevention crisis lines?

    (Maybe)

    Dr Phil going down and speaking for patients and professionals on this very subject?

    PLEASE CLARIFY because reading your post and you being a WEB-designer,

    I totally do not get what your point was and I say this to you sir…with all due respect.

    Thank you and I await your response.

    Mrs Susani Sacca

  13. Susani Sacca says:

    DAVID…Sorry I had 2 blogs confused.

    Washington and This Facebook kid and teacher thing A DOI!~

    NOW YOUR post makes perfect sense.
    I can admit when I am wrong and BOY some of these blogs are making me see stars

    FOR EXAMPLE The Washington Dc One and totally stupid people on the Breast feeding baby doll one!
    Sorry please accept my apologies
    Susani

  14. Angie Wantz says:

    I think that people have the right to vent, even if it is on faceboo. I think this girl is the right and should not even have to hand any information over to anyone. The only time I thnk any information should have been gotten off of anyone’s computer is if it is involved in a Police investion and then only then if it pertains to the case they are woring on.

    People need their privacy and instead of paper journals now days we have the computer. I hope she wins….

  15. Lorraine Ryan says:

    I agree with the last post by Angie (9/19/09). Even as a teacher myself, I still agree. As of right now, my school district is trying to implement an invasion of its employees’ privacy. They are attempting to create a job position where someone directly under the superintendent would be able to go online to see what the employees have posted online. Any employee could be summarily dismissed for having something inappropriate online. It happened in another district within the last 2 weeks. My Facebook page has nothing to do with my performance at work. I should not be put in danger of losing my job based on what is posted on my social networking page. It’s as much an invasion of privacy as that teen cheerleader. My teacher union addressed this in a union meeting just yesterday. We were informed that the NJEA legal department is involved in talks with the NJ education commissioner at this point. It’s becoming a mess. Dr. Phil has a point about safety. In our union’s case though, safety couldn’t possibly be the reason. I AM curious though to find out why the district seems to feel it’s necessary in the first place. What do they hope to accomplish by creating this position? It’s ludicrous.

  16. Russell Vlaanderen. says:

    Dear Doctor Phil. Is that the one from America Online. Com? I use to have Http://-
    AmericaOnline.Com years ago but now I am Http://WWW.Google.Com and I love—
    it. Well I had better close now. Sincerley Your. Rusell Vlaanderen.——————–

  17. Yvette Labbee says:

    Dr. Phil, I believe that when Shelley gave birth to the twins by serrogacy she had intended to hand them over to the biological parents. However, once she saw and held them in her arms, she decided that she could not give them up and fabricated an excuse not to do so. If she was so concerned about the biological mother being unfit, these babies should have been turned over to foster parents until she had proof that indeed the mother was fit to care for her children. Shelley and Paul should never have signed their names on the birth certficates. I believe a woman who has worked twenty one years at a job and has never been institutionalized and whose psychiatrist believes that she is fit to have children ,should indeed be given back her children. If you provide six psychiatrists that confirm that the biological mother is indeed fit to care for her children and Shelley has said that it would not change her mind about giving them up, her intent was just that not to give them up

  18. Yvette Labbee says:

    Dr. Phil, I believe that when Shelley gave birth to the twins by serrogacy she had intended to hand them over to the biological parents. However, once she saw and held them in her arms, she decided that she could not give them up and fabricated an excuse not to do so. If she was so concerned about the biological mother being unfit, these babies should have been turned over to foster parents until she had proof that indeed the mother was fit to care for her children. Shelley and Paul should never have signed their names on the birth certficates. I believe a woman who has worked twenty one years at a job and has never been institutionalized and whose psychiatrist believes that she is fit to have children ,should indeed be given back her children. If you provide six psychiatrists that confirm that the biological mother is indeed fit to care for her children and Shelley has said that it would not change her mind about giving them up, her intent was just that not to give them up in the fist place.

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