Should I Let My Teen Friend a Teacher on Facebook?

Should your teen be allowed to friend a teacher on Facebook?
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There’s a lot of debate over what’s appropriate when it comes to teens’ social media interactions with teachers. The idea that you can communicate with teachers outside of school at the touch of a button is definitely a new concept. While some see chatting on social media as a great opportunity, others view conversations outside of school as unnecessary risks.

Potential Benefits of Student/Teacher Social Media Interaction

Proponents of teacher/student social media interaction report that it gives both parties easy access to communicate. A teen who has a question about a homework assignment may be able to get an answer right away by messaging his teacher.

Similarly, a teacher who unexpectedly needs to be absent for a few days may be able to use social media to offer last minute instructions about an upcoming project.

Other people in favor of such interaction report it’s an opportunity for teens to learn about professional communication. It can set the stage for teens who will need to communicate with co-workers, clients, or supervisors in the working world.

Potential Dangers of Student/Teach Social Media Interaction

Despite the potential upside, there are also several risks associated with communication on social media. Chatting on Facebook, sharing photos on Snapchat, or tweeting about live events can change the teacher/student relationship. Access to personal content gives both the student and the teacher insight into one another’s personal lives.

Sometimes, such interaction crosses professional boundaries. Private conversations about personal problems or family activities may ensue. This could lead to the relationship becoming more like a friendship, which could be very damaging to a student.

Unfortunately, friendship isn’t the only risk of social media conversation. There is also the possibility of inappropriate sexual contact. Every day there are stories in the news about teachers who use social media as a way to strike up sexually explicit conversations with students.

School Policies Intended to Prevent Social Media Contact

Most schools have some sort of social media policy. Some educational institutions strictly forbid social media contact between students and teachers. Such policies prevent texting, instant messaging, or even emailing outside of school issued email addresses.

Some schools offer alternatives to traditional social media. For example, a teacher may have access to software that allows students to ask questions or contribute to discussions online. The information may be private from the community but able to be accessed by school officials.

These types of programs can prevent teachers and students from holding completely private conversations. If there’s ever a question about whether a conversation was appropriate, the information is able to be accessed and reviewed. This provides protection to both the student and the teacher.

Talk to Your Teen About Social Media

Most parents spend time talking to children about the danger of strangers on social media. But sometimes, it’s the adults who are familiar with teens who can pose the biggest threat. A trusted coach, a family friend, or a friend’s parent could also behave inappropriately.

If your teen wants to talk a teacher via social media, follow these steps:

  • Talk to your teen about the potential risks. Discuss how private conversations could lead to inappropriate sharing of personal information, including sexual content.
  • Ask your teen’s reasons for communicating with a teacher on social media. If it’s a public Facebook group for all students who are involved in a club or a project, it’s less risky than sending Snapchat content privately. In general, it’s best to avoid social media contact with a teacher.
  • Discuss how to get help. Unfortunately, some teens aren’t sure what to do once contact has crossed the line. A teen who gets lured into sexting may be too afraid to ask for help or a teen who engages in sexualized conversations may not know how to put an end to contact. Reassure your teen that it’s important to talk to you about social media problems, mistakes, and inappropriate behavior.
  • Establish rules for electronics. Monitor your teen’s online activity. Limit your teen’s electronics time and don’t allow your teen sleep with electronic devices in the bedroom.
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