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Peggy Buffington

Peggy Buffington, superintendent of the School City of Hobart

While none of us would want to turn the clock back on what technology has to offer, serious ethical and moral issues have risen with technology use in society. Everyone is scrambling on how to handle the misuse of technology.

Legislatures cannot agree on laws to regulate piracy, and the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review Internet cases surrounding free speech that question hurtful and potentially disruptive speech in schools.

What are the boundaries? Can it be regulated? Should we have laws that govern technology usage? Great questions!

Right now, let's take charge by setting the expectations we have for moral and ethical use of technology. Specifically, the proper use of social networks is where adults can set expectations for digital behavior that shape the lives of children and their futures.

Why start with social media? Social media use has become so prevalent in the lives of American teens. A report conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project in partnership with the Family Online Safety Institute in November indicates that 95 percent of all teens ages 12 to 17 are now online, and 80 percent of those teens are users of social media sites. These have become spaces where much of teen life is displayed for all to see in both positive and negative ways. The Pew report found 88 percent of social media-using teens have witnessed other people being mean or cruel on social network sites.

What are the responsibilities of the adults in teens' lives for establishing proper use of this technology? In schools, federal law states that students shall receive education about the following:

• Safety and security while using email, chat rooms, social media and other forms of electronic communications.

• The dangers inherent with the online disclosure of personally identifiable information.

• The consequences of unauthorized access (e.g., "hacking"), cyberbullying and other unlawful or inappropriate activities by students online.

While schools provide this information in their curriculums, is this enough for teens who are connected 24/7?

What type of digital footprints are our youth establishing and leaving behind for prospective colleges and employers to explore and determine the kind of person they might or might not choose to accept or hire? High moral digital citizenship has to be an expectation.

Morals and values begin with children's first teachers — their parents. Parents should be the main supervisors of their teens' Internet experience. The Pew report indicated that parents are the most often cited source of advice and the biggest influence on teens' understanding of appropriate and inappropriate digital behavior.

Parents are also responsible for keeping their teens safe online and offline and have a number of tools at their disposal to do so:

• Talk to teens about safety and risky online practices and about appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

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• Answer questions that teens have and give advice in response to questions.

• Take concrete steps to monitor or check up on teens' online activities, including the relatively low-tech techniques of checking which websites a teen has visited, viewing his or her social media profiles, or friending him or her on a social network. This monitoring also might include use of parental controls on the computer or cellphone that a teen uses.

As with all aspects of helping teens mature and become responsible adults, we have to remind them constantly of expected behaviors. Setting boundaries on what is private and public is critical.

Modeling civility and leadership in our own adult lives is important. Demonstrating the "golden rule" by treating others the way we wish to be treated seems so simple, which is why it is a great expectation to establish right now. From birth through young adulthood, children imitate the significant people in their lives. Make every moment count. Be there! Log on!

To view the complete Pew report, visit http://www.pewinternet.org. Click on Popular Topics under Teens.

Peggy Buffington is the School City of Hobart superintendent. The opinions are the writer's.

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