A new Missouri law will make one-on-one social networking between students and teachers illegal.  The law, which will go into effect on August 28th, is part of an effort to more clearly define teacher-student boundaries.

While texting and Facebook have become a part of our everyday lives, the lines have become blurred between what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behavior online.  As I spoke about with a local news station last year, many schools lack clear Internet use policies and guidelines regarding student-teacher interactions online.  Far too many parents allow their kids to have free reign online; they have little knowledge of what their kids are doing, who they are communicating with and where they are going online, leaving kids at risk.  And, unfortunately, we have seen several cases where teachers have crossed the lines—where relationships began or became more intense through the use of technology.  Just last month, a number of cases surfaced where male and female teachers sent and received sexually explicit messages, photographs and videos with students through Facebook and mobile devices.

While child sexual abuse is not new in this country, sites like Facebook do open up new avenues for online predators, older family members, young adults, teachers, etc. to seduce minors.  As Kevin Outland highlighted last week, individuals that want to target youth will exploit technology to build a relationship with our kids.  In the online world, many of the social norms and boundaries we have in the physical world don’t exist, leaving kids, adults and websites to define the new norms of appropriate behavior. Additionally, in our highly sexualized culture, kids are feeling pressure to pose provocatively, dress suggestively and engage in a level of sexual discourse for which they are not prepared, and which can even lead kids to initiate sexual conversations with adults online. ABC Family’s hit show “Pretty Little Liars” actually romanticizes and exalts a student-teacher relationship—sending an incredibly powerful and misguided message to its tween and teen viewers.

I have spoken with teachers that have become online “friends” with their students, and who, as a result, have been shocked to see the pictures, posts and videos their students promote through their Facebook pages.  Some have been knocked off their seats when a student started trying to chat with them through their Facebook account; these teachers have had a hard time knowing how to move forward “appropriately” in the online environment.  As a result, many of them “unfriended” their students.

While I am not sure how the Missouri law will be enforced, I do think that we should consider measures to enforce boundaries to limit inappropriate contact between students and teachers, and I recommend that every parent talk with their school district to see what policies and guidelines they have in place to protect students and teachers from falling into an inappropriate level of contact online.  Additionally, parents should have regular, ongoing conversation with their kids regarding who they communicate with online, and parents should consider utilizing monitoring software and parental controls, such as SafeEyes, to keep tabs on what their kids are doing online and with whom they are communicating.

So, what do you think, should teachers and students be online “friends”?