It's vital we teach social networking skills in school

First off, young people should learn not to write anything on Facebook or Twitter they wouldn't say to that person's face

Share
Related Topics

Social networking, especially via Twitter and Facebook, has become a major part in modern life for many millions of people. It therefore makes sense to show children how to use it wisely and how to get the best out of it – just as teachers and parents have always done with resources such as libraries and newspapers. Much better to guide and teach than to leave vulnerable children and teenagers to find out for themselves without warning them of the potential dangers, pitfalls and problems.

As with learning to read, swim or play good football children will be much more effective social networkers with support, guidance and help than without. They need to be able to capitalise on all the advantages of Facebook or Twitter without the disadvantages.

So three cheers for Taunton School, an independent school in Somerset, which has announced the inclusion of social networking in the basic internet safety section of its Personal Social and Health Education programme. I hope many more schools – in both maintained and independent sectors – follow suit.

There are three main reasons why teachers should be clued up about social networking and the ways in which it can be used with and by pupils.

First – and this seems to be Taunton School’s main concern – there’s the vexed question of what it is acceptable to say (write) on a social networking site and what it is not. It is all too easy to libel someone – even by re-tweeting someone else’s statement which amuses or interests you. If you re-tweet you pass it on and appear to be endorsing it which may implicate you in the content of the comment.

After the false and inaccurate connection of Lord McAlpine to allegations of child abuse in Wales earlier this year, he has announced his intention to sue a number of prominent Twitter users who spread information about the case around the network.

Statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that in 29 police forces in England, Scotland and Wales 653 people face charges involving use of Twitter and Facebook in 2012. Offensive or abusive messages are usually the trigger.

We need to educate young people to understand that it is wrong to write anything on a social networking site which you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. As it is, it is all to easy to get carried away when you’re addressing someone you can’t see and whom you may not know personally.

Second, Twitter and Facebook are, as has been well publicised, a groomer’s dream. It is vital that children – and I’m sure most parents and schools are already doing this – be carefully drilled in spotting the dangers. That means, for example, never posting suggestive photographs, ‘flirting’ online with strangers, or agreeing to meet anyone you’ve ‘met’ only via a social networking site.

Third, for goodness sake let’s capitalise on social networking and make it a force for the good in education. It means teachers have to get really clued up about how these sites work and can be made to work. Then the potential for learning is almost limitless.

In April I was followed on Twitter by thirty, photograph-less people en bloc. They had clearly genuine names and I’m sure it was a class of children – probably at primary school age. Their teacher had presumably chosen a group of people for these children to follow and thought I could be relied upon to behave appropriately. Three months later when term ended all those accounts were deactivated when, I suppose, the class moved on and the teacher was tidying up. He or she was, I surmise, teaching them how to use Twitter.

Children who are reluctant readers and writers can be encouraged to do both using social networking sites. A teacher friend told me recently how she’d got a group of four highly ‘reluctant’ nine year old boys to make up a pretty decent story collaboratively in 140 character Twitter posts. Even the Royal Shakespeare Company, a couple of years ago had six Tweeters unfolding a modern upbeat version of Romeo and Juliet (the project was called ‘Such Tweet Sorrow’) via Twitter which encouraged a lot of young people to read something they probably wouldn’t otherwise have done.

The key to making all this work, however, is that teachers and schools have to be open-minded and prepared to embrace new ways of working. Many, of course, are doing so with enthusiasm, but some are still locked in dinosaur mode. It is no good saying, typically without any personal experience of them, that Twitter and Facebook are silly and trivial, just something the kids to mess about with and nothing to do with schools and learning. Social Networking is here to stay. It’s part of 21 century life and we owe it to children growing up in a digital world to educate ourselves so that we can help the young to make the very best of it.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The first lesson of today is... don't treat women unequally?  

Yvette Cooper is right: The classroom is the best place to start teaching men about feminism

Chris Maume
Forty per cent of global trades in euros are cleared through London  

The success enjoyed by the City of London owes nothing to the EU

Nigel Farage
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial