What keeps me awake at night - Online rabbit holes are tripping all of us up

28th February 2014 at 00:00

Teenagers know the internet. They are experts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, right? Not my students. They are either too ill-informed to understand what they're posting publicly or too reckless to care. I don't know which is worse.

By searching the name of my school on Twitter, I am advised that a girl in Year 9 hates her French teacher and that Lauren is considered to be the best-looking student in Year 10.

Clicking into the (unprotected) profiles of these students is like falling into a rabbit hole of babble, put-downs and really, really poor grammar. The quiet boy I taught last year is having a slanging match with a lad from another school. The Year 11 girls are saying wildly inappropriate things about One Direction. For anyone to see.

Even the chairman of Google has voiced concern about the lack of a "delete button", worrying that today's teenagers could be stalked into adulthood by their juvenile ideas. We keep telling them this. We have discussed it in form time and assemblies and even reworked the syllabus for personal, social and health education to include the case of Paris Brown, the 17-year-old youth crime commissioner who was forced to quit in the light of offensive past Twitter posts. But to no avail.

Electronic spats explode into real-life scraps with regularity; some students are so relentlessly teased that they become school refusers. Others arrange and advertise fights, which at least gives us hard evidence when it comes to suspending them.

But not everything they do is so grim. Their loopy teenage enthusiasm is connecting them with other fanatics around the world. Some have interesting points to make about Breaking Bad. Some are genuinely funny.

None of us knows how to operate in this parallel world. Is it OK to check their pages for potential problems? Are we responsible for policing them? Can we stop them using the school's name?

We are five steps behind and desperately trying to catch up.

The writer is a teacher in London

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Email jon.severs@tes.co.uk.

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