The explosion of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers has raised a new concern for parents as they pack their children off to school for the New Year: potential disciplinary action by school administrators for cyberbullying, sexting and other online misbehavior taking place on school grounds.
In the past few years, many states have enacted laws authorizing schools to suspend students for cyber-misconduct, and schools from coast to coast have responded aggressively to student abuse of online privileges. For example:
- In January 2010, 28 middle school students in Seattle were suspended for joining a Facebook page dedicated to harassing one of their classmates.
- In February 2011, a 15-year-old student in California was suspended for offensive Facebook comments about his biology teacher.
- In April 2011, 10 junior high school students in Arkansas were suspended for sending sexually explicit text messages.
Parents should take three steps to prevent school discipline against their children for inappropriate online activities:
- Determine the school district’s policies for dealing with online attacks against fellow students, teachers and/or staff.
- Discuss those policies with children and warn them that they will face punishment at home as well as at school if they violate the rules.
- Require adherence to the same rules at home to ensure consistency, lessen the likelihood of problems like cyberbullying at school, and help children become good online citizens.