Note: This post was written by me and was originally posted on all Grade Four class blogs at my school following inappropriate use of WhatsApp group chats by a small group of fourth grade students (outside of school hours but impacting life in the classroom). I chose not to provide a link to the Harvard issue as the nature of the inappropriate use by those students far exceeded what is necessary for a fourth grade student to know about. If you are curious about that event, look here.
What’s Up With WhatsApp?
At MIS we hope to empower our students to make good choices. Every choice made, both in and out of school, is a chance to show people who you are, what you believe in, and what is important to you.
We know that technology is powerful. We also know that educating our students on appropriate use of technology is just as powerful. We believe in developing responsibility through education instead of banning technology through fear.
With that said, we are also mindful that the interactions that occur between students outside of school via technology, have an impact on what happens in our classrooms during the school day. Specifically, this is happening with some students via group chats on WhatsApp.
Are there regulations for WhatsApp?
Let’s start with looking at two key points from the terms and conditions that are agreed to by WhatsApp users:
Age. You must be at least 13 years old to use our Services (or such greater age required in your country for you to be authorized to use our Services without parental approval). In addition to being of the minimum required age to use our Services under applicable law, if you are not old enough to have authority to agree to our Terms in your country, your parent or guardian must agree to our Terms on your behalf.
Legal and Acceptable Use. You must access and use our Services only for legal, authorized, and acceptable purposes. You will not use (or assist others in using) our Services in ways that: (a) violate, misappropriate, or infringe the rights of WhatsApp, our users, or others, including privacy, publicity, intellectual property, or other proprietary rights; (b) are illegal, obscene, defamatory, threatening, intimidating, harassing, hateful, racially, or ethnically offensive, or instigate or encourage conduct that would be illegal, or otherwise inappropriate, including promoting violent crimes; (c) involve publishing falsehoods, misrepresentations, or misleading statements; (d) impersonate someone; (e) involve sending illegal or impermissible communications such as bulk messaging, auto-messaging, auto-dialing, and the like; or (f) involve any non-personal use of our Services unless otherwise authorized by us.
In a nutshell:
- you need to be 13 or have parental permission to use WhatsApp
- you may not use WhatsApp to send messages that are obscene, say things that are not true, are trying to make someone feel bad, are lies.
There are many examples of people who have been in chat groups and who have violated agreements such as the one for WhatsApp, and the content of their group chat has been made public. This is embarrassing for these people but more than that, it has cost them in other ways: the most recent being students who had their acceptances to Harvard University revoked after posting inappropriate content on a group Facebook page for incoming students.
Be Internet Awesome
There is a new online curriculum called Be Internet Awesome.
The parts of this program that relate to appropriate use of services such as WhatsApp are: Be Internet Kind and Be Internet Smart. Full details of the Be Internet Awesome program can be found here in the resources section.
Be Internet Awesome is a self-paced, game-based approach to reinforcing awesome behavior on the internet. We should not need a separate code of behavior depending on if our interactions are online or in person. As our children are becoming more active on the internet we need to ensure we are guiding them in a way that educates them to make better choices.
Make it a Family Affair
A family commitment to safe digital citizenship starts with a conversation at home and is reinforced with a pledge to practice being Internet Awesome—smart, alert, strong, kind, and brave—when online. Consider working through the Be Internet Awesome program as a family. It is never too late to make a change to the way we do things.
If you have any questions about appropriate use of the internet or how to build an ‘internet awesome’ culture within your family, please reach out – we would be happy to hear from you! Please contact your child’s homeroom teacher, Junior School Learning Technology Teacher, Junior School Assistant Principal, or our Junior School Principal.
How do you handle misuse of technology/internet by students?
As I left school today, I was talking with a parent who doesn’t have 4th grade students but children in higher and lower grades. I was explaining about this issue and another parent chimed in, “See! I told you Grade 4 was too young for a phone!”. This really bothered me. I don’t think age determines whether or not you should have a phone. I think we have to remember we are not just “giving them a phone” – we are handing them 24/7 anytime, anywhere access to EVERYTHING. If it were “just a phone” – a device to make calls on – there wouldn’t be an issue. There has to be education that comes with getting a phone and how “the phone” is used by parents will have a huge impact on what kids think is and is not ok. A colleague with small children suggested that simple things such as seeing parents plug their phone in to charge outside of their bedroom or in a shared space and not taking it to bed would be a simple step to model for kids before they even get their own device.
What also surprised me was that the another question was “Were they sending messages at school?”. I explained that the messages were all sent and read outside school hours but the impact of these messages was playing out in the classroom: distracted students, students not wanting to work with each other, withdrawn students upset at the content of the chat. This seemed to genuinely surprise the parent I was talking to. It is possible she was going to ask why we were getting involved if the messages were not happening on school time – I don’t know. What I do know is that we have to work WITH parents to help kids navigate their online world. We can’t have two sets of rules for home and school and it can’t be a list of “things that you can/can not chat about”. It has to start with a big picture understanding of choices, respect, and who we are. What we believe shouldn’t change between home and school. Our beliefs should run through everything we do and reflect the person we are and this includes online behaviors.
If you have thoughts as a parent or teacher (or both!) or have links to other sites that promote responsible internet use, I would love to hear about them in the comments below.