Give principal an F for urging parents to ban social networks

N.J. middle school principal urges parents to forbid the use of Facebook and the like

Reasonable people may disagree as to whether it's appropriate for middle-school-age children to have a Facebook page or belong to any other online social network.

Anthony Orsini, principal at the Benjamin Franklin Middle School in Ridgewood, N.J., does not seem to be a reasonable person, at least not based upon my reading of an e-mail he sent to parents that all but accuses them of child abuse should they allow their youngsters to use such networks. From a local CBS television station's Web site:

"It is time for every single member of the BF Community to take a stand! There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! ... Let me repeat that - there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None."

As a parent, I'm not sure which I would find more worrisome about that rant: the unhinged tone or the principal-knows-best presumptuousness.

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And Orsini did not stop at "none," not by a long-shot.

"Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today!

"Let them know that you will at some point every week be checking their text messages online! You have the ability to do this through your cell phone provider.

"Let them know that you will be installing Parental Control Software so you can tell every place they have visited online, and everything they have instant messaged or written to a friend. Don't install it behind their back, but install it!"

OK, it's the tone. And the exclamation points (honestly, a middle school student should know better).

As for the substance of Orsini's missive: Of course, parents should be monitoring how their children use the Internet and their cell phones. But where does a school official get off lecturing parents in such a way? ("They are just children still?" ... Good grief.)

And who is Principal Orsini to decide that there is a universally appropriate age for ascension into the world of social networking? My children are only 8 years old, and, as I peer into the future, 6th grade would seem too soon (even though they grow up so fast). But who's to say someone like then 11-year-old Jon Penn wouldn't have been able to handle social networking -- and had plenty of need for it? After all, Penn was old enough to be running his school's computer network.

I have no doubt that plenty of 8th graders can handle Facebook.

Bottom line: Children are different, parents are different, household situations are different, and all of these variables can factor into the decision as to what age is appropriate for a youngster to accept the responsibilities and risks associated with social networking.

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