- Publish Date
- Saturday, 3 February 2018, 12:14PM
An Auckland school is trying to ban its pupils from using social media in a bid to fight online bullying – even after they leave the school gate.
The hardline stance has been backed by experts, who say parents should be responsible for monitoring their children in the online world.
It comes as schools around the country wrestle with how to fight inappropriate digital behaviour following an explosion of social media and online bullying.
Numerous incidents have emerged nationwide in recent years of humiliating 'sext' pics being sent among friends, trolling and hurtful online posts, and fights filmed on mobile phones then footage uploaded onto Facebook.
Auckland's Kowhai Intermediate is this year asking for its students to cut all links to social media - the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat - for the two years they attend the school.
Access to such accounts is already off limits during school hours and on school grounds; with internet filtering and an off-at-the-gate devices policy in place. But it is the first time parents have been asked to prevent access at home too.
Kowhai Board of Trustees chairman Wade Gillooly told the Weekend Herald the school had taken a proactive stance following consultation with various agencies and the wider school community.
"By having the social free policy at Kowhai, we are opening up a discussion between students and parents that centres on encouraging appropriate use of social media at the appropriate time.''
A newsletter on the school's website says the initiative was in response to an increasing number of "social media incidents'' which affected pupils last year.
"These incidents have occurred outside of school hours on private social media accounts that we have no rights or responsibility for,'' the newsletter says.
"When things do go wrong, we often find that parents contact the school with the expectation that we can and will sort the problem out.
"This is a legal and ethical minefield that would require full, unfettered access to all the social media accounts and devices involved to be fair and just in establishing a true and accurate record of what has occurred.''
One parent, who asked not to be named, praised Kowhai's stance as she felt her own son and pupils in his age group were too young to be on Facebook.
"I think it's a really good idea because a kid can't handle a lot of what's on [social media]. They don't fully understand that what you put online is there always and there can be a lot of negative comments.''
Auckland Primary Principals' Association president Kevin Bushwhich said social media problems usually dealt with in high schools were now filtering down to intermediate-aged students.
"It is quite astounding and I think it'll probably go younger than that as well, sadly.
"It's just as more children have devices and the internet is more freely available and older brothers and sisters hook them up on social media.''
Principal at Te Hihi School, in rural Karaka, Kevin Bush, said his school's process when dealing with cyberbullying was based on educating pupils about the dos and don'ts of online behaviour.
He acknowledged Kowhai's stance, but said it was very much the parent's domain and responsibility to actively monitor their child's online activity by checking social media accounts and cell phone messages regularly.
"In some cases, the children aren't totally aware of what they're doing. In other cases, some would be aware and doing it (cyberbullying) with malicious intent.''
Most social media companies, including Facebook, require users at least 13 in order to create an account.
However, the rule is difficult to police; with the only barrier being a pop-up box asking whether you are aged 13 or above.
Netsafe head Martin Cocker said he had sympathy for schools dealing with online disputes that had primarily happened off school grounds.
But banning social media was a tough ask, especially as companies created more content targeting children.
"The problem is there are increasingly social media products meant for young people - like Facebook Messenger For Kids - that are coming and open more and more options for young people to be online.
"So it will be increasingly hard to use banning as a safety tool,'' he said.
Principal of Collingwood Area School in Golden Bay, Caroline Gray, said she'd seen a marked difference in students' behaviour since the school banned social media at school and shut down Wi-Fi access - even for teachers - over a year ago.
"I'm really aware of the pressures that teenagers face within social media - like needing to respond to however many likes they can get.
"I don't want them to be filled with anxiety at the time when they should be relaxing from their lessons.''
TOP TIPS FOR PARENTS:
• Set expectations. Talk to your child about how long they should spend online and what is appropriate content to view.
• Understand what they do online.
• Teach them the basics. Strong passwords and being aware that not everything, or everyone, is as it seems.
• Social media. If they are old enough, help them set up the account. Depending on their age, use your email address to sign up and enter their actual birth year so they're less likely to see inappropriate content.