Santa Barbara Middle School parents were recently given a window into their young teenagers mysterious world of social networking. The findings of a newly released student survey of SBMS students were both expected and alarming.

More than 80-percent of the students who responded to the survey are on Facebook and nearly 70-percent use Skype, the face-to-face video chat service.

Parents were also alerted to a Facebook application called “Formspring” which opens users up to anonymous comments and is ripe for Bullies.

John Seigel-Boettner teaches a social studies and life science class to sixth and seventh graders, “We took the survey to better understand how social networking is effecting the students both positively and negatively.” Seventy-five of 105 Middle School students answered the online survey. The independent school teaches grades six through nine.

“We want to try to steer them away from the parts that aren’t so good…not knowing all the places they go, it’s hard to steer.”

Seigel-Boettner and upper school English teacher Jesse Wooten distributed the 24-question survey to solicit feedback on social networking impacts on cyber-bullying and homework.

Parents attending the workshop to learn about the survey spoke of their concern about Facebook and Skype being serious distractions during homework time. Twenty-five percent of the students responded that they have a social networking site “ON” most of the time during homework; 42-percent say they never have it on during that time.

Students spoke to the issue in the survey. “I’m so distracted by social networking but I still do it,” “I think I don’t do full work when Facebook is open, it takes me ten times longer,” and “It is very helpful and a big distraction,” were some of the comments that students made in the survey.

The father of a ninth grader found some comfort there, “I take some solace in the fact that they know it’s distracting. It makes it easier to say “its time to turn off the electronics.”

Wooten believes the students are very aware of their actions, “I think they genuinely want to do what’s good for them. The more they think about it the better choices they make”. Wooten and parents shared that students are also using Facebook and Skype to get help with their homework from classmates and some teachers.

Of the responding students who have a Facebook account, 75-percent are “friends” with their parents, meaning they communicate with each other on the social network. Most of the parents in attendance say it gives them a better window into their children’s world. One mom says she goes on Facebook during homework hours to ensure her daughter is off the network.

One mom in the audience says it’s hard to police something so addictive, “It’s part of the learning process and my daughter will admit that she’s learning the hard way.”

In fact nearly 70-percent of the students polled feel social networking sites are addictive yet only 24-percent say they are addicted.

In the computor world of cyber bullying nearly half the students say they’ve seen it or experienced it.

Much of what they’ve witnessed is on the Facebook application “Formspring.” Eighty-percent of the students polled said for good reason they do not have a Formspring account. Some of the students commented, “I witnessed bullying but I know that’s part of it,” “ I had it for a while but it made me really upset,” and “I saw someone in my class being really harassed and read things I didn’t want to know.”

Wooten says anonymity produces bullying and mean behavior. “They don’t have to take responsibility for what they are saying, it’s the place where it happens because it’s completely anonymous.”

Parents seeking more control over the Internet world heard from others in the audience about free internet filter software called K9 Web Protection. Parents say they can block Facebook during prime homework hours. One parent said the only social network account it didn’t work on was skype.

Seigel-Boettner understands the parental anxiety, “I just keep hearing these voices yelling, “shut it down, close it down, unplug” but there is too much good stuff out there.”

A parent who works for a local foundation says Facebook for her is essential. She uses it’s networking features to sell out public events, carry out grass roots fundraising, organize community service, and even furnish apartments for families.

For SBMS Head of School Brian McWilliams and the rest of the Middle School community, the survey is about awareness and starting a conversation, “The whole system here at Middle School is to better understand your children so we can be better educators. To be better teachers we need to relate to them,” McWilliams said.


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