Anoka-Hennepin sits middle schoolers down for netiquette 'talk'

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 11, 2013 - 6:32 AM

With the rise of sexting and online bullying that can cause hallway fights and other problems, Anoka-Hennepin schools now require a digital citizenship session for sixth- and eighth-graders.

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Technology coordinator Will Powell talked with eighth-graders at Blaine's Roosevelt Middle School about online behavior.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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It’s the new “talk” teachers are having with tweens, early teens and their parents.

All sixth-graders in Anoka-Hennepin schools will get the talk in health class this year, all eighth-graders in language arts class.

The subject: Just how are you using that smartphone or computer to communicate with friends?

Students are asked: How well do you know this “friend”? Are you revealing too much? What are the long-term consequences? Could this get you in trouble with your peers, parents, teachers or police?

Parents are prodded to sit down and have the “talk” even if they think their kids aren’t doing it.

OMG! Awkward!

But critical in this digital era.

The district has rolled out a comprehensive digital citizenship, social media, Internet “netiquette” and Web safety program for middle schoolers and their parents.

With the explosion of smartphones and tablets that are allowed in the district’s middle and high schools, headlines about high-profile cases of online predators luring teens, the growing phenomenon of Internet bullying, teenagers’ natural inclination to share TMI (too much information) and ensuing parental confusion, Roosevelt Middle School Principal Greg Blodgett said the need for digital citizenship education is overwhelming.

Other districts are also adding similar programs. Columbia Heights Schools, along with the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, hosted a similar Internet and cell safety session for parents this month.

Just as parents shouldn’t wait for problems to arise to talk to their children about Internet behavior, neither should schools, said Blodgett, who noticed that items posted online outside of school were landing in his office as discipline issues. A fight would erupt in the school hallway over a post or the emotional fallout from social media postings would play out between students at school.

The district started providing digital citizenship and Internet safety sessions for middle schoolers and parents two years ago. They’ve honed their delivery and this year are offering it to all sixth- and eighth-graders. They’re targeting middle schoolers, because that’s often when kids start tapping into social media.

Parents of students ages preschool through high school are invited to attend a session at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the Anoka-Hennepin Schools Education Service Center Staff Development Center, 2727 N. Ferry St. in Anoka.

“We wanted to take a proactive approach that helps kids make good decisions,” said Blodgett, who chairs the district’s middle school digital citizenship task force.

In the 2012-13 school year, the district changed its guidelines, allowing middle schoolers to bring personal smartphones and tablets to school for academic purposes. Before that, middle schoolers could have them in their possession but couldn't use them in school.

Fallout from TMI, suggestive 'selfies' and profane postings

The student and parent sessions deal with the most dangerous and obvious risk: sexual predators trolling online. But they also touch on subtle and more common traps teens fall into online.

Students are encouraged to consider their digital footprint. Think before sending suggestive “selfies,” using profanity in social media and posting party pictures online.

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