When does LOL turn into OMG?

The dangers of misusing technology in schools

“If other people like me, I should like me. I love me and it took me a long time to get where I am.””

— Christa, 12

After a long day at school, there’s nothing better than kicking back and unwinding with some social media. What happened while school was in session?
Some kids enjoy posting memes and funny videos, and others enjoy posting selfies and photos of their outfits for the day. With the rise of social media, though, schools have been presented a serious dilemma.
How do schools manage what their students post online? How do schools determine what is appropriate and what is inappropriate?
Some kids have come under scrutiny for posting offensive content.
Angela*, a senior, runs two Instagram pages: one for the public, and one which is set to private. Only approved people can see the secret Instagram page, called a ‘finsta.’
“I think more about what I’m going to post on my main account than on my finsta account,” Angela said.
Karen Haase, a Lincoln attorney who specializes in school law as it pertains to social media, has worked many cases involving teenagers on the internet.
“A lot of times, it feels to kids that what they put on their Snapchat stories or feed, no one will see other than their friends. People are clueless,” Haase said.
“Kids never think adults see this, but we do see it a lot of the time.”
Her account focuses on her freedom of expression. Social media has granted teenagers all around the world a chance to show their goofy, funny side to the world-wide web.
“I don’t post ‘triggering’ things–maybe some pictures with swear words, but that’s about it,” Angela explained. “Nobody has had anything negative to say.”.
Ultimately, Angela feels that being able to post funny memes and pictures you enjoy at any time is important.
A select few students, though, get in trouble for posting pictures of themselves on social media.
Christa, like many other normal high school students, has numerous social media accounts. On top of her Facebook and Snapchat, Christa has 1160 followers on Instagram. Her reach is enormous.
“I could have more,” Christa said, “but I deleted my Instagram once because there was just too much drama.”
Scrolling through Christa’s page on Instagram, visitors are peppered with selfies. Every here and there, a puppy sneaks into the shot, or a relative, but for the most part Christa’s profile is for her.
“I don’t post anything I don’t feel uncomfortable about,” Christa said. “I love what I post–it’s me.”
However, some individuals express discomfort at the content Christa posts.
“Nobody has told me personally. I get lots of my friends’ opinions on what I’ll post, and they never say that I’m doing anything wrong,” Christa said.
What concerns school officials, as well as other students, is that Christa’s content is too inappropriate to post.
“This is something that schools and parents have really struggled with. Parents think the schools [teach students what to post and what not to post], and schools think the parents do it,” Haase said.
“ I think parents would be astounded if they saw all the nudity and profanity and toxicity their kids were exposed to today,” Haase said.
Christa sees her posts in a different light.
“I think body positivity is incredibly important,” Christa said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re thick, skinny, like it, don’t like it–everyone deserves to love themselves.”
Christa’s interest in body positivity stretches back to her days in middle school.
“I have always been very insecure. I was bullied and had anxiety, since no one wanted to be my friend until middle school,” Christa said.
“As soon as I got into high school, I saw all these girls posting beautiful pictures of themselves. I realized it’s okay to like yourself; it’s good to like yourself a little bit,” Christa said.
However, Christa’s positivity passes off as inappropriate and tasteless to some.
“People say I’m conceited, but I’m not. It took a lot of crying and a lot of hating to get me to where I am today, and everyone deserves to feel like this,” Christa smiled. “Confidence is a major key.”
Christa feels that body positivity is not something to be censored, but to be celebrated. After her own experience coming to grips with her body, she finds it important that others have the same revelation.
“I hope girls read this and realize that it’s okay to be insecure–but it’s not okay to help yourself,” Christa said.
Body positivity comes dangerously close to crossing the legal line, especially when used by teenagers. It can also lead to dangerous activity for students who post said content.
“Predators go where there is opportunity. Twenty years ago, a creepy old guy in a van with candy, and today it’s on Snapchat and Facebook,” Haase said.
“I am not qualified to know if predation has increased or not, but I probably get one or two predator cases a month that we get calls on in Nebraska.”
What can students, schools, and parents do to protect themselves online while also spreading their message?
“ I think every parent should use every app their kids use. If your kid uses Snapchat, download it and figure out how it works!” Haase said.
“Model the same behavior that you expect of your kids. When I am on Facebook, I see a lot of middle-aged women acting like little girls… learn your values!”
“I think the schools need to start stepping in because parents cannot handle this alone. I also feel it should be a collaborative effort in this regard,” Haase continued.
In the event students do not heed the laws of the land or are unaware of them, consequences can be severed. Christa and Angela had no experience with the wrong side of the web, but Haase has seen enough for a lifetime.
“In one case, a 15 year old girl sent a nude to her boyfriend. Her boyfriend saved it to the hard drive of his school laptop, and when the school discovered it, they reported it to the DHHS,” Haase said.
“For taking one nude of herself, this girl was made a ward of the state, had to do 40 hours community service, had to undergo counseling, was put on probation, and the Supreme Court said she should have been placed on the sex offender registry.”
The consequences of digital citizenship are a solemn reminder that students need to be aware and in-tune of what they are doing at all times.
“I love social media–believe me, I do!” Haase said. “But kids need to know how severe the fallout can be.”
*Names changed for privacy purposes