November 19, 2007
[This open letter is to Wes Fryer and anyone else reading and or seeing all the media coverage of the Megen Meier MySpace/Suicide Tragedy--his comments were closed (even tho his site said otherwise) but I want to speak to the issue. If you are not familiar with this story, click here.]
Wes thanks for posting about this today. As you may have read in Twitter, I am slated to give three 20 minute sessions for parents in early December about SN sites like MySpace and Facebook, two sites I do not even use, at a Parent Night at school. I accepted the daunting task, as I thought it was a great way to make parents particularly aware of the end user license agreement–and primarily that users are supposed to be 14. (The evening allows parents to select three short ws to attend, so I’ll be giving mine to 3 separate groups.) I’ve had several discussions at school about MySpace with our students–through library activities and our library blog, @ the CMS Library. Last time I discussed it with classes, I first polled them on their age as they came in–having them mark a tally on a chart to represent their current age (11, 12, 13, 14). I did this for five 7th grade groups. Of the entire grade that day, only 1 was 14. I then asked for a quick show of hands for who had a blog or myspace page. Almost all said they had a myspace page. ONE had a blog. After gathering that data (in a very unscientific and unreliable manner), I showed kids the rule about being 14. They were suddenly very giggly as they realized the purpose for my informal poll and fact gathering. I told them it was painfully apparent to me that all who had a space had fibbed– the youngest year one can select to represent their birth date wouldn’t let them choose a year that would make them younger than 14. Just as my discussion about p2p file sharing sites and illegally downloading music, the kids were defiant, and said it was okay. I explained that I wasn’t their to “police” them but rather help them make informed decisions, and knowing what I knew, they all needed to go home and delete their pages.
I’m debating showing the Meier Suicide videos available from reputable news organizations (like CNN, MSNBC, others) though in all honesty still think my 13 yo will defy the rules and continue to use it. And I believe many parents are JUST as unschooled on what these sites are, what the EULA says, and how to properly monitor their children even when using the appropriately aged portals. It is sad that MySpace turns a blind eye to the misuse—even my school’s resource officer said she made a profile a good while back as a part of an investigation. She faked her age and everything, but all as part of her job.
So how to approach this workshop? Carolyn Foote, a fellow LMS, says to be sure to focus some on the good–study groups for examples, but I honestly think I’ll find few and far between good uses. (Also her kids are in high school, while mine are middle school.) My gut reaction is to tell parents to sit up and be parents, but I’m sure that will turn them off too. I am really researching to find a good approach, as my principal wants it to be a fifty-fifty kind of thing (good vs. bad). I did think I might use my twitter as an example of a positive use, and then dis the sn sites that are not age appropriate for middle schoolers, leaving them with the age appropriate links you mention in your post today.
As far as the Meiers, I am truly sorry for their loss. But too often today’s parents think their children are safe. When a site like MySpace says it’s for 14 and older, then a 13yo shouldn’t have been allowed to use it, even safely guarded and monitored by loving parents. The young Megen’s reactions and final act speak to the fact that she was emotionally too young to be using it, falling victim to the name calling and bullying we all seek to protect our students and our own children from. It is sad that the lesson of should haves, could haves, and would haves is only being realized now for these parents after such a tragedy. In the media clips I have seen it is painfully obvious they are still quite bitter about the loss, and are seeking some kind of retribution, be it through civil courts or media. Although no names were mentioned saved their daughter’s and her fictitious boyfriend Josh, a quick google allows anyone who wants to know what the name of the mother is who did this horrendous act of cyberbullying. If the Meiers sought to get revenge, I’m sure they have all they could ask for now, but in the end they are all losers. How can anyone win with such a tregedy? They lost a daughter. The other mother lost her mind. They lost their dignity by resorting to childish pranks with the foosball table incident. And now they all will be remembered for the longest time for really rotten choices in general, and not any good that might rise to the top eventually. I hurt for these families. They are all on my prayer list.
Anyway, thanks for a well written and linked post today. Any suggestions? Want to be skyped in for this–Dec 4, 6-7PM Eastern time.