Tag Archives: Facebook

Jolly Rancher Hair

Many kids like to gussy up their looks with something creative (read: unusual) to help them feel special and be set apart from the crowd. Let’s face it, this is the only age they can get away with something like this. My own son is famous for this – finding unusual hats or resurrecting Halloween costumes to wear to school, and even creating masterpieces to alter his look dramatically. Sadly (and admittedly, not so sadly), he’s growing out of this. It was sometimes embarrassing to walk outside of the safety of our non-judgmental house with a boy who had fashioned a whole ninja costume out of paper and duct tape, though I appreciated his need to express himself.

Such creativity isn’t sparse in those younger grades. It’s not uncommon to see a girl coming to school with a little extra sparkle on her cheeks, a boy in a super hero cape, play dresses brought out as school clothes, or some other kind of expressive decorative embellishment. For 7 year old Ukailya Lofton, her creativity involved candy in a very unique way. She asked her mom to help her fasten Jolly Ranchers candies to the end of her braids after seeing the style in a magazine. And like most moms of 7 year olds, mom Lucinda Williams complied. And off to school Ukailya went. It goes without saying she created quite the stir. Even her teacher got out her camera, saying “My husband is not going to believe this.”

Ukailya Lofton's candy decorated hair, as seen in a photo her teacher posted to Facebook

Little did Ukaila or Lucinda know that the Jolly Rancher hairdo would end up on Facebook where it would be ridiculed by all the teacher’s friends.

“I laughed so hard my contact popped out”
“yeah this is foolishness”
“If you are going to make your child look ridiculous the least you could do is make them matching.”

The Facebook posting was noticed by one of the parents who is Facebook friends with the teacher. She promptly took screenshots of the Facebook posting and comments and sent them to the mom, who then furiously notified the school. The teacher immediately removed the photos and apologized. But it wasn’t enough. Lucinda felt that an apology was owed to 7 year old Ukailya directly.

“What bothers me is that she still hasn’t apologized to my baby,” Lucinda told the Chicago Tribune. “No child should have to go to school to be bullied by their teacher. She wasn’t even suspended, and an apology is not enough.”
Ukailya said, “My mama told me she put it on Facebook and then I felt sad.”

First of all, kids do strange things, and we adults should encourage their creativity as long as possible.  So the fact that Lucinda let her child come to school with candy in her hair does not make her a bad person.  Second, the photo should never have made it to Facebook as an avenue for teasing of a child that was not the teacher’s own. I’m sure it started out innocent enough, and meant in good humor.  I mean, candy as barrettes is definitely a sight to be shared.  But adults making fun of a little girl for her hair?  That’s just mean spirited.  And teachers especially need to be careful about what they post online about the children in their classroom, judging by all the many cases recently about teachers (here and here).  So I agree, the Facebook posting was in poor taste and judgment.  But here’s where I’ve parted ways with the semantics of this case. 

Why was Ukailya even made aware that her photo was on Facebook at all?

She’d have been just fine never even knowing that the photo was online, or that people were making fun of her. And no matter what that teacher says to her in the form of an apology, this little girl will undoubtedly be left feeling totally self conscious about exerting creativity. I agree that the teacher started it. But I believe the mom contributed to it. And now Ukailya’s mom is getting a lawyer to prepare a lawsuit against the school and teacher for the Facebook posting, bringing further attention to a case of creativity being snuffed out.

Think this child will ever try anything original again? Has your own child ever done something over the top creative that could be seen as unusual?

Cyber bullying

He could be the one being cyber bullied. Or he could be the one doing the cyber bullying.

My son came to me a while back about a kid at his school. He was distressed about the fact that this kid was posting stuff on his Facebook wall. The majority of it was through an app on Facebook that asks certain questions about different Facebook friends, and the person answering has the option of answering “yes” or “no”. On his wall, it says “Little Johnny has answered a question about you. Click here to unlock”. So there is no way for many people to see what the question or the answer is. But from what the Taz told me, the questions were along the lines of “Do you think the Taz is ugly?” or “Is the Taz smart” or “Do you think the Taz picks his nose”. Of course, this kid thought it was funny to answer every question with a negative answer, and the Taz was naturally getting more and more agitated by it. I told him that if it really bothered him to just delete that friend or block the app this kid was using. But I didn’t take it too seriously because this was a common app that kids were using to answer questions about each other on Facebook. 

But then this kid became ultra focused on the friendship that the Taz shared with a girl in his class. He actually found me on Facebook and wrote me a message to inform me that the Taz had a girlfriend, an attempt to get the Taz in trouble. Upon further investigation I found that he had also posted on the Taz’s wall about the relationship. 

Little did this kid know that what he was participating in was called cyber bullying, from beginning to end. And what he was doing was not uncommon from what any other kid might be doing online. 

So what is cyber bullying? It’s any kind of harassment that takes place online. It can be as harsh as posting vicious things in a forum chat room, social network, or through email. Or it can be as light as to purposely make someone feel bad online. And the truth is any kid is capable of being a cyber bully, even those we wouldn’t deem as bullies in person. My kid is capable of it. Your kid is capable of it. All it takes is to not think things through before hitting the “send” or “post” button. 

President Obama tackled the issue of cyber bullying this morning, followed by a live chat at the White House through Facebook that was hosted by Kalpen Modi, associate director for the White House Office of Public Engagement.  The live chat was about 45 minutes long, and covered what the panel knew about cyber bullying, as well as answering questions emailed to them about the issue. And they made a lot of points that are worth taking into account. 

First of all, it’s rare for bullies to feel like they’re bullying. Instead, their frame of mind is that they are justified. This is where we parents should be stepping in with our kids. Teach them the Golden Rule – to treat others as they would like to be treated. The most important point that was brought up repeatedly throughout the chat was the question we should be teaching our kids to ask themselves: “Am I treating this person with dignity?” More importantly, is dignity being used when it’s hard? It’s not hard to treat someone with dignity when it’s easy. But when there is anger or a disagreement in ideas involved, dignity is hard to come by. There’s a thin line between what is right and what is wrong in regards to bullying online. Because something is said through text, it’s hard to distinguish the true meaning behind what could just be teasing, and what can be classified as harassment. This makes it ultra important for us to teach our kids to think before they post or send something online. 

On the dignity point, there are words that are used casually by many of our youth, but also target a group of people in a negative way – words like “retarded”, “fag”, “gay”. If your teen believes that everyone should be treated with dignity and yet they’re using language like this, it’s important that we teach them the hypocritical behavior they’re taking part in. When they use words like “fag” or “gay”, they are part of the group that is degrading. Ask your child, “Do you believe it’s ok to degrade others? Because that is what you are doing when you use those kinds of words in negative ways.” 

Many parents are either unaware of any cyber bullying their child is taking part in, or are simply in denial when it is brought to their attention. “Not my kid,” is a common misconception. And this is to the frustration of many teachers who are very aware of bullying done either in the classroom or online. But how do teachers bring this to a parent’s attention? The first is to set up a time with the parent to discuss the situation in person. Start out this meeting by mentioning something positive about the child first. And then go directly into the situation at hand. Stress your responsibility to the classroom, how it’s your job to ensure the safety of every child, the child in discussion as well as the rest of the class. “I really like your child, and that is why I’d love to work together on this with you to make this a positive experience for everyone in the class.” 

And how do we, as parents, tackle cyber bullying without invading our children’s privacy? How involved we get depends on the child. Do we demand their password or insist they chat with us whenever they’re online? It really depends on your relationship with your child and what is most comfortable with you. While it’s true a child can create more than one Facebook account (or limit your access to them), it’s not a bad idea to be “friends” with your kid on Facebook. In fact, 86% of parents online are “friends” with their child. 

Do I believe this kid that was harassing my son online is a bad kid? No. I also don’t believe that either of my children is incapable of cyber bullying, or that cyber bullies are only bad kids. Any child can be guilty of this kind of behavior. And it is our job as adults to a) model the behavior we wish for them to emulate and b) keep the dialogue of online behavior a constant point of discussion with our kids who use the Internet. 

Have you experienced a form of cyber bullying? Do you have concerns about it, or tips on how to tackle it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Teacher fired over Facebook photo

Ashley Payne, a high school teacher from Georgia, was confused as to why the principal of the school she teaches at asked her into his office for a meeting.  She was even more confused when she was asked if she had a Facebook account.  But things became really clear for the 24 year old when he finally spilled. 

A parent of a student complained because one of her photos on her Facebook showed her holding two glasses of alcohol while on vacation.

Let’s make this clear.  She was not drinking on the job.  She was on vacation.  And like the rest of us would, she was sharing her vacation photos with her Facebook friends, including a picture of her with alcohol.

Even more, Ashley’s profile is private.  So she never would have thought any of her students or their parents would have seen her photos or snooped into her private life.  And now, because of it, the principal was asking Ashley to either resign or be suspended

Ashley had no choice but to resign.

This is just one more example of how anything on the web has become public knowledge.  In fact, if you want to be alarmed, take a gander at Spokeo.com, a website that has gathered information from various places on the web about none other than YOU.  Don’t believe me?  Type in your name on the search engine and see what comes up about you.  And then sit back and take in the fact that they know your address, your age, your salary…even your religion.  Same thing with your Facebook page or the like.  All someone has to do is copy your photo and put it somewhere else on the web and it becomes public knowledge – including companies that are BUYING your information.  Don’t even get me started on the so-called privacy of Facebook.  Basically, there is none. 

The internet has guaranteed that no one has a right to control their own privacy.

And that’s what killed Ashley’s job. First of all, it’s imperative that anyone who is posting pictures or comments know that they are posting them for the world to see.  So it makes it all the more important to not post anything that you wouldn’t want your grandma to see, let alone your boss. 

The photo that killed Ashley Payne's job

But something is seriously wrong when a teacher is forced to quit her job because of a photo of herself having fun on vacation.  And let’s face it, while it would be easy to believe that teachers live in their classrooms and drink nothing but water, that’s not reality.  Teachers also go on vacation.  They also enjoy a glass of wine.  They are just as G rated as the rest of us in their private lives – meaning that they aren’t, just like the rest of us.

They are entitled to a life.

But then again, some parents might disagree.  It eventually came out that the phonecall reporting Ashley’s photo was actually an anonymous tip – meaning that it may have been a parent, and it may not have been.  But someone was so offended by the fact that a teacher at the school had posted a picture of herself on the web of her drinking during her social time, resulting in the eventual loss of her job.  And this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of someone getting in trouble with their job over Facebook photos.  In fact, many jobs will search their applicants on Facebook to see the person that is interviewing, and what they are like when they aren’t in front of them in a suit and tie.

Should teachers, and other professionals, be judged at work for their personal profile pages on Facebook?  Do you feel that teachers have an even bigger job of making sure their lives away from the school are politically correct since they work with children and could be deemed role models?

When words are weapons

Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will never hurt me. The childhood rhyme was one taught to us so that we wouldn’t take too literally what another kid was saying to us. And while we recited it, I think many of us can agree –

It’s a lie.

Words hurt, sometimes even more than sticks and stones ever could. While the wounds from a thrown rock will heal with time, some words penetrate so deeply they tend to leave lasting damage that has the power to strengthen that hurt over time. That is why some of us have eating disorders, why we choose the wrong partner to fall in love with, why we try to seek approval from our parents, or why we watch how we parent our own children so that we aren’t like our mothers or fathers.  Words can be weapons.

And the internet only makes this truer.

It is in this day and age when a big portion of our communication is done online. It’s convenient and instant, and it gets the word across in a much broader way than the old-fashioned method of calling people up on the phone and setting up a meeting time. It’s a great way to seek instant attention, to pretend like we have an audience hanging on our every word. And for those brief moments, there really is an audience. And that is probably what was going on in the mind of one Nevada 12 year old who created a group called “Attack a Teacher Day”, inviting more than 100 students to partake at certain time on a certain day, inspiring 5 other students to list the teachers they would like to attack with words like “die” in front of the specific teacher’s name.

Of course, it is plausible “Attack a Teacher Day” had just as much authenticity as other events that have been spread more worldwide thanks to social networking, events like “Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day” or “Talk like a Pirate Day”. Could it be that these girls created an event to pretend they would attack a teacher just for the amusement of themselves, and not to actually attack a teacher? Sure. But is it even more plausible that a group like this could incite attacks against this teacher, encouraging any student reading it to actually follow through and harm their teacher? I believe so – especially after reading this story of a third grader in Georgia who brought a knife to school, ultimately unfolding into a plot that involved several students who played roles in harming their teacher – complete with handcuffs, electric tape, a paper weight, and more.

“It seems the plan was hatched in retaliation after one of the students was scolded by the teacher for standing on a chair. Authorities were amazed at the sophistication of the plan, which included a division of roles. One of the students was to cover the windows so no one could see into the room. Another was assigned to clean up after the attack.” Saul Relative, AP

All this was done without the internet. So what of the danger in a more widespread plan of attack using the convenience of social networking and the permanency of words placed on the web?

Words have power. They have power when face to face, they have power over the phone, they have power when written in a letter, and they have power when scribed online for anyone to see. Words have the power to bring someone up, and they have power to tear someone down. They also have the power to create a mob mentality, blurring the lines between wrong and right, resulting in something like attacking – even killing – a teacher simply because they are disliked. Who knows what would have happened if authorities hadn’t stepped in….

Cyber bullying and permanent negativity on the internet does not just happen to kids across the state, or in another part of the country. It happens right here, in our own homes, on the computers of our teens. This is why I am Facebook friends with my children, why I consistently check in with them in regards to what they are doing online, and keep an eye on what they are writing. It’s not nosiness. It’s keeping them safe, and ensuring they learn how to use the internet properly. There have been times I’ve had to have conversations regarding things I’m not ok with. And the topic of how permanent words are on the internet has been a regular discussion in our household ever since either of them was allowed on the computer.

It should be a regular topic of discussion in your house too.

Words written with a negative or sarcastic tone could be read as something completely different – even dangerous. And when one writes out that they HATE someone or something, that they wish someone would DIE, or creates a group for fun that dictates harm or hate towards someone else, not only will it further that hate, it could create a potentially dangerous situation – even enticing a mob to react. And all things involved, those words can no longer be seen as harmless. When words are put together to form a HATE group stating the date and time when attacks should take place, those words are weapons.

Tweens and Privacy

A mom I know recently told me the story of her daughter and herself. As a single mom of just one girl, the two were incredibly close. My friend relied on her daughter to help out around the house and take care of her own responsibilities. And she was never disappointed. The two worked as a team to get dinner on the table, keep the house straight, and that all homework was done promptly and turned in on time. The two spent a lot of time together outside of school and work. The daughter talked often with her mom about problems she was having at school or with friends, when she thought a particular boy was cute – pretty much anything that crossed her mind. Jr. High came, which meant a new schedule at a new school, and new friends to meet. It’s interesting, things didn’t change overnight, as my friend remembers. But they did change rapidly. Her once sweet and kind daughter suddenly became sullen and angry. She stopped helping so much around the house. And the biggest change?

She stopped talking to her mother.

The daughter’s phone would buzz, and much like my own daughter recently, she would hunch over her phone so no one would see what she was typing to the mysterious receiver. My friend no longer had any idea who her daughter’s friends were, and if she asked she was dismissed by her daughter without any information given. Simple rules she was giving her daughter – from finishing household chores to being home right after school – were being broken right and left as her daughter stretched the boundaries to the limit.

My friend was at a loss. She didn’t know this girl anymore. As a working mom, she couldn’t be home to monitor everything that was going on in her own home, and she was starting to wonder if there might be things, now or in the near future, that she needed to be concerned about. So she did the only thing that she could think of. She took her daughter’s phone that night and read through every single one of her texts.  What she found only made her feel bad.

She found…nothing.

The texts back and forth were basically one word texts, obviously just their way of staying in touch even in a minimal way. Some were with girls, some were with boys. There was no talk about drugs, or sex, or sneaking out, or anything that might be cause for alarm. My friend even found out through one of the text conversations that her daughter hadn’t even experienced her first kiss. Basically, even though her daughter had experienced a major attitude adjustment in the past few months and was no longer her mom’s little buddy, she was still the good girl that her mother had raised. And she had just violated her daughter’s trust by snooping through her phone when her daughter wasn’t even guilty of anything wrong.

Yet.

What is your take on tween privacy? As the parent of a minor, is it ok to check up on them through their Facebook, cell phone, or some other means just to ensure that they aren’t doing anything illegal or dangerous? Or is this kind of snooping a total infringement on a tween’s rights to privacy? Do you “snoop”? Or is this a violation of your tween’s trust?

Take part in Santa Rosa Mom’s March Challenge!  See forum for details.

Facebook Friendships

Everyone has a Facebook. And you? You have, like, 3,000 friends! It’s easy to feel popular every time you log on. And you are getting to know all these people as they update their statuses. At any given hour, you can find out what your friends ate for breakfast, that they are bored, that they have a lot of homework to do, that their parents are dweebs, that they went to the bathroom 5 times in an hour…..

But is it real?

I heard this term – cotton candy friendships – the other day, and it stuck with me. It was regarding the social life of teens online, especially when it comes to Facebook.  Think about it.  Cotton candy is the kind of treat that we all crave. It is super sweet, has a great texture, and dissolves in your mouth. Who really wants to share their cotton candy? Not me! When you buy cotton candy, you want it all to yourself. You can eat a whole bunch of that yummy cotton goodness! But what happens 30 minutes later? You’re hungry. You want something real. You need to be fed.

The thing about the internet is that it is incredibly convenient. When a teen can’t really leave the house because it is after hours or they can’t drive anywhere, Facebook is wide open for socializing with friends. Their friends list can include the people they are close to all the way to the most popular kid in school that they have never talked to in person. And while it is so easy to get swept into the socialism of Facebook and let that take over, inevitably, teens get….hungry. They need to see people face to face, to know what it’s like to connect. Knowing what everyone’s doing at all moments can be exhilarating, but it can also bring up feelings of jealousy as they watch their friends make plans without them. And then there are the false friendships that are created. A Facebook friendship is not the same as a real life friendship. Just because you know every movement of someone you have only talked to online does not make you great friends in real life.

It’s cotton candy, remember?

So how does a teen make friends? I found a great article by Vanessa Van Petton, the very person who coined the phrase “Cotton Candy Friends”.  In it, she urges parents to talk about the differences of online friendships and real life friendships, and the different needs their real life friends might fill. Your teen might have one friend that they can confide in, one to shop with, one to study with, and one to gossip with. And they are all considered your teen’s best friend. That’s ok. And know what else is ok? Having only one good friend. That friend can be the one your teen can call when they are incredibly sad or when they have really good news to share – and they are really there for them, not just “liking” their status. And that is worth way more than 3,000 friends and their status updates on Facebook.

Is it ok to have Facebook friends? Sure. But it’s important for your teen to understand the difference between their real life friendships, and the ones that only exist online.

Teenagers and Technology

“We had to take away the Xbox again last night,” a friend lamented to me. She had caught her son in the wee hours of the morning, plugged in with his headset on, chatting with friends across the country as he maimed opponents in his latest game. It wasn’t the first time, and she was aware that it wouldn’t be the last. And short of taking the game system and throwing it in the Russian River, she wasn’t sure what to do.

Like many teens, her son had been spending way too much time in his room lately. After homework, he would lock himself in his room and plug into the Xbox 360, playing until it was time for bed that night. Weekends were the same story. Except on these days he spent the whole day playing. He stopped spending evenings with his parents catching up on CSI or Fringe like he used to. He hadn’t been reading for fun, even though he used to be a big reader. And he hadn’t socialized with his friends in months.

Actually, I take that back. He had been socializing with his friends the whole time. But instead of going to their houses and hanging out, they were hanging out virtually, blowing each other up as they played the same games and talked smack through a headset.

This has become the norm for the society. The past decade has shown a steady rise in online activity and electronic game use. The fault lies behind the upgrades that have happened rapidly for both. Phones now plug into the internet with a tap of a key, making Facebook and other social networks the preferred way to keep up with friends. In a moment’s notice you can find out what your friends are up to, random trivia such as Prince Charles surname (true story), or the price of the next iPod you plan on purchasing – which you can also do by phone.

As for game systems, they keep coming out with a better model each year. When I was a kid, Atari was the craze. We could shoot little missiles into centipedes, shortening them before they got to us and annihilated us. It was very state of the art. Then came the Nintendo, and Mario and Luigi became the spokespersons of the 90’s. Times changed, and Nintendos became Game Cubes and then Wiis. Playstations made way for Playstation 2 and 3. And the simplistic Xbox became the Xbox 360. The game stations of today allow you to network with people all over the world, and the graphics have become so realistic that you have to shield the eyes of any wee ones who happen to be witnessing the carnage.

While the violence depicted in today’s games is definitely a cause for concern, another aspect of life that is being lost is the capability to socialize. The formative years for learning how to interact with others and develop interests outside of school and work are doomed to be lost as teenagers choose online socializing over hanging out at each other’s homes and places of interest. Parents, myself included, are guilty of letting the TV and internet occupy their child in the interest of getting things done around the house or even just having a few moments of downtime. I’ve even witnessed a couple with their young son enjoying a quiet meal out at a restaurant while their child was entertained by a portable DVD player showing episodes of Spongebob. Kids aren’t even able to endure a 20 minute car ride without being plugged into the car’s movie screen.

There is hope in society. An article that posted today in the New York Times told of teenagers who have sworn off Facebook for long periods of time so that it didn’t interfere with their quality of schoolwork or social lives. SSU students rose to the challenge of giving up TV and internet for one week, and realized how distracting the media can be to life. And my friend’s son? He told his mom the story of how one of his friends sold his Xbox so that he could get his girlfriend a really nice present for Christmas. But don’t count on my friend’s son doing that anytime soon.

“That’s crazy!” he told his mom. “I’d never do that!”

Give him a year or two and a really cute girl that has stolen his heart……

iPhones, Xboxes, personal computers, cable television that knows of no bedtimes…
A teen could be deemed a social pariah if they simulated living in a cave and distanced themselves from all forms of technology in favor of the simple ways of life. And with all the technology that is available, it almost seems impossible to live that way. So where’s the happy medium? Without throwing an expensive piece of equipment out the window, what can a mom do to appease her son’s need for technology while still encouraging non-electronic forms of entertainment? How can she keep him from sneaking out of his room at night to play, even when she has locked the game system away from the stealthy ninja teenager in her room? And is there anything out there that would capture a teen’s interest the way the internet and game systems have?