NJ Principal Asks Parents to Pull the Plug on Social Networking

Former rapper Will Smith had it completely wrong when he waxed poetic about how parents just don't understand. It's the principal who has it all backwards, or at least that's what you'll hear if you talk to the students of Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, New Jersey.

So what is it that has students in an uproar? In an email to parents earlier this week, Anthony Orsini, the school principal, pleaded with parents to turn their children away from social networking and to more closely monitor their text messaging. Here's part of what he wrote:
Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today!

Let them know that you will at some point every week be checking their text messages online! You have the ability to do this through your cell phone provider.

Let them know that you will be installing Parental Control Software so you can tell every place they have visited online, and everything they have instant messaged or written to a friend. Don't install it behind their back, but install it!

It is time for every single member of the BF Community to take a stand! There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!

Let me repeat that - there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None.

Parents, of course, are under no obligation to take Orsini's advice and cut their children off from Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking portals, but what's so surprising is the tone in which he adamantly lashes out against such sites.

Part of what has Orsini's feathers so ruffled is the often anonymous practice of cyber bullying. More than just a buzzword, the school's guidance counselor, Meredith Wearly, claims she spends about 75 percent of her day diffusing social networking issues that arise among students.

Stats and graph courtesy of Cyberbullying Research Center

The problem extends beyond Benjamin Franklin Middle School. Recent research found that out of about 4,000 students between the ages of 12 and 18 representing 41 different schools, 20 percent of them admitted to cyber bullying others in their lifetime. In this case, "cyber bullying is when someone repeatedly harasses, mistreats, or makes fun of another person online or while using cell phones or other electronics devices." And it would appear that adolescent girls are more susceptible to this behavior than other demographics, with 25.8 percent claiming to have been the victim of cyber bullying at least once in their lifetime, versus 16 percent of adolescent males.

And what of the email Orsini sent out? According to the principal, the reaction so far has been mostly positive, though some students have obviously taken issue with his suggestion.

"I'm not going to do anything bad, so why should I get rid of it?," argues Ali Feniberg, and eighth grade student.

Read the email in its entirely here (scroll down), and then be sure to became a fan of HotHardware's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. Parents, students, and even principals are welcome.