A quaint public service announcement on television in the 1970s and 80s stated the time late at night and asked parents, “Do you know where your children are?”
Today’s version of that question, “Do you know what your kids are doing on social media 24/7?”
“It’s beyond me,” says Joyce, mother of three teens. “They’re texting all the time. They’re on Instagram and Facebook all the time and something else I can’t think of the name of.”
“I’m close with my kids, but not when it comes to social media,” says Bob, who has one girl in middle school. “I don’t have time to keep up with all that nonsense.”
A California-based company makes it their business to keep up with the nonsense.
School districts around the country have hired Geo Listening to monitor public social media posts made by its students to find out when teens are either in trouble or could be causing trouble.
“Our goal is not to get children expelled,” says Chris Frydrych, the CEO of Geo Listening. “Our goal is to help that child be a very good digital citizen/citizen of society.”
The company is not the NSA of ABC’s. They’re not intercepting texts and hacking into private accounts.
They only look at social media posts that are publicly available. Fortunately for them, students tend to put a lot of information out with no restrictions.
Geo Listening provides a daily report to school on posts involving crime, substance abuse, vandalism, bullying, vulgar language and suicide.
“We have provided information to school districts, which has led to numerous successful interventions on behalf of students that intended self-harm or suicide,” he says.
The company is gaining clients because schools don’t have the time to monitor what students are doing through social media, but they realize it’s become a huge part of kids’ lives that teachers can’t ignore.
“The role models that children are following for proper use of social media are celebrities, athletes, politicians,” Frydrych says. “As we’ve seen those are not necessarily good role models because a lot of those folks appear to the general public to be beyond consequences.”
Having information about what children are doing through social media helps schools educate students about improper use of the digital tools.
“The notion that a child is called in and their post is thrown down in front of them, that’s not the case,” he says.
“We bring them in, we talk to them about a post that they may have made – maybe it’s an over use of vulgarity, and obscenity, or disrespectful – and they see the light bulb go off with the kid who realizes ‘Ah, that’s not the best way to express myself.’ There’s nothing wrong with a child expressing their feelings, but if they do it in a way that is threatening, obscene or harassing, that is a corrective behavior.”
One guideline Geo Listening suggests for teens’ social media use to have a “Grandma filter.” If a child wouldn’t want their grandmother to see a post they’ve written on social media, then he or she probably shouldn’t put it on a social network in the first place.
That’s a little too idealistic, in my view, but he has another suggestion that I do recommend.
“We encourage parents who do have Facebook accounts to friend their children. That is the most effective tool – better than any technology that’s being developed – in order to ensure that kids are being good digital citizens,” says Frydrych.
“As far as all of the other technologies we certainly don’t expect any parent or community member to be as effective as we are in monitoring all the other social networks.”
Frydrych won’t talk about which school districts are using his company’s services this school year because he doesn’t want a backlash against the schools. When asked if any school districts in Washington have hired them, he had no comment.
“I like the idea of the schools monitoring social media,” says Joyce. “That’s one less thing for me to do.”
By LINDA THOMAS