The New Technology Police

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Funny, I thought parents and teachers were supposed to keep an eye on our kids.

Yet there is a technology company whose mission is to sell schools daily monitoring reports of students’ social media chats. For a fee, the company, Geo Listening, tracks students’ social media posts. Schools then receive daily reports sorted into the following categories: cyber bullying, despair, hate, crime, vandalism, truancy, and substance abuse.

Why? We adults are failing in our efforts to guide our kids’ social media usage.

Thirty-eight percent of American two-year-olds have used mobile devices. By age eight, many kids run cyber circles around the adults in their lives – myself included. In the past few years, loving, involved parents have been helpless to stop cyber bullying, and kids ages 12 to 21 have committed suicide in response to relentless, targeted online peer bullying.

Some parents expect schools, not other parents, to regulate kids’ online behavior. But if we parents can’t monitor the small number of children in our own households, how is it reasonable to expect educational institutions to watch hundred or thousands of kids online? One of Geo Listening’s clients includes the Glendale United Schools District in California — which alone has 14,000 students. In addition to teaching classes, policing hallways, and grading papers, are teachers supposed to spend hours checking kids’ technology chats?

Maybe parents like me, who think our personal monitoring and a few good talks with our kids about online dangers, are the ones who need to face reality: we cannot monitor our kids online by ourselves. There is no practical way, except for hiring an outside technology expert, for parents and school administrators to help stop this runaway destructive use of technology.

If even a few cases of cyber bullying, self-hate, and school shootings are avoided because of services like Geo Listening, how can you oppose constructive monitoring by schools? Maybe, in this case, Big Brother is a good thing. The $40,500 fee paid by the Glendale School District taxpayers – which translates to less than three dollars per student – seems like money wisely spent.

The issues are complicated, though. How would you have reacted, back in the day, to your high school principal listening to your phone calls and late night sleepover chats? How would you feel explaining to your kids that the adults running their schools are spying on them? Even if it is for kids’ own safety?

This doesn’t exactly create an atmosphere of trust.

Yet no responsible parent would drop an 11-year-old alone in downtown Las Vegas and say, “Go have fun!” Why then do we loose kids onto the online red light district of ChatRoulette, Miss Bimbo and FormSpring without a tech babysitter or guard dog to protect them from themselves and each other?

Maybe this is the point: we can’t trust technology today. The online world is not set up to be a safe playground for children. Few children, even those inching their way through adolescence towards adulthood, are ready to navigate the freedoms today’s technology offers.

I trust my children and I trust their friends. But much as I don’t trust alcohol once it’s gone down a 15-year-old’s gullet, I don’t trust what technology allows and even encourages our kids to do. To send naked Selfies to each other. To threaten, as one Nevada 16-year-old did via MySpace, to take guns from his house to school to kill his classmates. To torture the most vulnerable or the most popular kids anonymously. To cause 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick to jump to her death in Florida.

Technology is a potent weapon – but maybe, in the hands of the new technology police, it can also be the solution.

Running wild on anonymous social media sites does not teach kids good life lessons. That is up to us adults. And clearly, we need help.

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