Editor's Note: Helping school colleagues keep up with technology trends is a function library media specialists (LMSs) are well-placed to fulfill. It's also a function that can further underscore the importance of the LMS at school. With that in mind, we've turned here to Nancy Willard, prominent—perhaps even ubiquitous—spokesperson on the subject of online safety in the face of new Internet technologies. We offered an overview of the social networking phenomenon in the May/June issue of MMIS. This month, Nancy's feature will give you in-depth ammunition, understanding, and resources to press into service to help your staff and entire school community cope with all aspects of this important new technology trend.
Online social networking environments are a relatively recent and highly attractive phenomenon for today's teens. In these communities, members establish profiles that provide personal information, photos, music, and graphics about their interests. Members can establish blogs to post their own commentary, then make connections or links with other members ("friends") who share similar interests and encourage friends to post comments in their blogs. Additionally, such sites provide instant messaging (IM) capabilities and discussion groups around different areas of interest.
These sites require members to be at least 13 years old, but many younger youth know they can lie about their ages to register. There are simply no technologies or processes that can ensure accurate age verification. This presents a challenge in the middle school years, because there is significant social pressure for younger students to participate.
Social networking sites offer opportunities for self-expression and friendship building, and youth "playtime" in such environments helps build skills that will be a foundation for success in the 21st century. Adults should not underestimate the attractiveness of these online environments—or expect that the legitimate concerns associated with them and a "just say no" response will make the environments or the concerns magically disappear. These environments are a natural progression of Internet information and communications technologies. Social networking communities are attractive to teens and are here to stay.
There are, however, legitimate concerns about youth involvement in these social networking communities. The concerns are grounded in three basic factors.
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