I teach English to a class of 4th graders, nine-year-olds that is, and many of them seem to have Facebook accounts. They all know that FB is for adults but they have registered a false birth date. So far nothing surprising, I’m sure thousands of kids do this around the world mainly to play these addictive games. My kid (11 years old) has been allowed to do it too.
Last year many of my students were asking me persistently if I have a Facebook account and if I would add them as friends. For months I resisted because I didn’t want my private life to be visible to my students. I was thinking that sometimes I may share a song or a video inappropriate for children and I didn’t want to censor myself like that. Back then FB didn’t have this tool where you can group your friends in various ways and share or not share with them your content. Anyway, after thinking about it for some time, I decided to follow my friend’s advice and set up another FB account which would be only for students. That way I would keep my own life private and I would be able to share with them what I thought appropriate and maybe teach them a couple of things too.
That was last year. For some time it worked well, most of my students found me there and we were happy to exchange gifts and silly nothings, I would post interesting sites and no one would try them, I would post songs with interesting lyrics and they wouldn’t listen them, they would find me on line and would try to chat with me and then get mad at me when I spoke in English to them. A very pleasant experience all in all…
It proved that me and my students had a very different view of how FB worked. For me it was a platform to share interesting material, it was the portal to something else. For them that was it. They were in FB for the sake of FB. They uploaded photos of them, in most them they would pose in a way that made them look older, they would tell each other (especially the girls) how good looking they were and that was it. For me it was also a way to share photographs with them. I like taking photographs at school and the kids like it too, but until now there was no way to show them these photos. So FB was a way to share some of the photos I have taken during the last four years I have been in this school and since I had arranged all settings so that photos were visible only to my students and nobody else I thought everything was safe (as safe as it can be online, anyway).
Some learning opportunities came up too although they weren’t what I thought they would be. There were some rude comments under some photos that gave me the opportunity to talk about netiquette, and I was amazed at how fast they were withdrawn.
But the other day I went into this class of 4th graders and there was a lot of turmoil over some private FB messages exchanged between two girls who had allowed other people to access their accounts and these people supposedly had said nasty things. Baffled? So was I and mostly I didn’t know what to do with this class that was divided in two, half supporting one girl and half the other, the two girls on the verge of tears and me in the middle trying to handle the situation. What I did that moment was say a few things about FB, how we shouldn’t allow other people to have our passwords, (but miss who’s gonna feed the chickens when I’m out playing?) (probably with some real chickens) how we shouldn’t forget our good manners wherever we are. I tried to get on with the lesson and asked the two girls to stay behind after class to discuss it.
Since then I have been thinking a lot about it. Are they too young to handle Facebook? In my opinion yes, but it is so trendy to do it that they didn’t give it a second thought. And their parents? Do you allow your kids to “play” with such obviously adult applications? And what have you done to protect them from uncomfortable situations? Are there any safe networks for kids and how popular are they? Is it the novelty of Facebook that appeals so much, the fact that it is a grown-up thing to do or the beauty of networking per se? I’d love to hear from you, wherever you are.