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In our opinion: Schools should take proactive approach to cell phone, social media education

Cell phones are one of the greatest inventions of the last 30 years. Coupled with other technological advances such as wireless internet and the creation of social media, cell phones have given us the ability to connect to the world in the palm of our hand no matter where we go.

In misguided or uneducated hands, though, cell phones can be dangerous. Criminals use cell phones to plan and execute crimes. They can be used to perpetuate hate. They can be used at the wrong time, such as behind the wheel, and be the cause of life-threatening circumstances to others.

And in schools, in the hands of kids who don’t fully grasp the effects of their actions, they can be objects that promote cruelty and lewdness, and can seriously damage a child’s future.

A middle school in Basking Ridge in Somerset County is dealing with this situation right now. Last week, administrators said they found nude photos of students on several cell phones. The district’s superintendent sent a letter about the incident to parents, informing them of a deadline for children to delete the images, otherwise they’d face disciplinary action through the school and possibly criminal charges from the county prosecutor’s office. Because the nude pictures were of middle school students, under the age of 16, it would be classified as child pornography.

Monitoring a child’s cell phone usage — which includes their calls, texts, video chats, web browsing and social media usage — is ultimately the parents’ job, much like monitoring what they watch on TV or look at on the computer at home.

But it may be time for schools to step up, too, and take a proactive approach with education. Schools already take on tough subjects with young students, such as educating them about “stranger danger” and sex education.

Today, this education should expand to include the potential dangers of texting, sharing and social media usage.

Cell phones are great. Texting is great. Facebook is great. Twitter is great. And so is everything else you can do on a phone.

But if it’s not done properly, with the right education and guidance, it can go tragically wrong with the tap of a touchscreen.

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