Drama in the school counselor’s office

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Sometimes I write a post that I think matters more than most. I would like to ask readers to pass this post on to parents of adolescent children. By the end of the post, you will understand why.

Taken from https://www.yahoo.com/politics/feds-offer-little-guidance-to-islamic-state-090043284.html at Yahoo, I offer the opening of that article for thought:

Aasha, 17, looked up from her hands and saw the faces of six of her closest friends staring back at her. They awkwardly sat in a circle in a small counselor’s office in their high school.

“Why would you do something so stupid?” one of Aasha’s friends, Badra, finally asked.

“We just wanted to go over there to study,” Aasha replied.

“There’s a library right here,” Badra said. “You can study all you want.”

The girls grew up together in a dusty suburb of Denver called Aurora, attending the same mosque with their families on Parker Road. They were like sisters, sharing secrets, complaining about their strict immigrant parents and talking about boys since they were in elementary school.

Intense high school friendships end for all kinds of reasons — boys, social ambition, different schedules. But what this circle faced was far more dramatic — and more hurtful. They were torn apart by the Islamic State, whose recruiters quietly seduced three girls in their group online without any of the others even noticing. Now, the six girls faced down their former friend and weren’t sure they had ever really known her.

Just a week before this conclave at the counselor’s office, Aasha, her 15-year-old sister, Mariam, and her 16-year-old friend Leyla vanished without so much as a goodbye to their family or friends. (Yahoo News has changed the girls’ names to protect their identities because they were minors when they attempted to travel to Syria. Badra’s name has also been changed to protect her identity.) They skipped school one Friday, took a cab to the airport and boarded the first flight on their lengthy itinerary to the Middle East.

The girls were on their way to Syria to join the most feared terrorist organization in the world. They had been communicating with IS recruiters and sympathizers for months using secret online identities, and their views became more radical by the day.

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Eduhonesty: I can see these girls all sitting together in the counselor’s office, young and earnest. In the end, the girls went home and the FBI told parents to monitor their internet use. They have not been charged with a crime. They will continue walking around the halls of their high school.

I recently posted about Snapchat as part of the problems created by the technology of our time. Teachers today constantly battle cellphone use, texting or gaming in class or in the bathroom. In the 91% low-income middle school where I taught last year, a number of students had newer or better phones than my iPhone 5.

How do we manage this problem? I honestly don’t see a fix here. Blocking cell calls at school helps, but what happens after school? I’d like to recommend that teachers specifically talk to parents about the hazards of phone use, especially if a student has racked up phone violations. Please suggest parents look at these phones.

Parents can be too respectful of adolescent privacy. Snapchats may disappear, but a great many details remain on a phone. If Rachelle has called her would-be boyfriend 3 times between midnight and morning, parents need to know. If Rachelle is sexting that same boy, parents desperately need to know. What phone numbers are in that phone? What contacts? What websites has Rachelle visited recently? If Rachelle’s phone history has been erased, parents should consider that erasure a huge red flag. Most students normally erase histories about as often as they clean lockers.

Parents should insist on knowing their children’s passwords and they should look at phones regularly. At some point, these children will be adults and entitled to phone privacy, but a sixteen-year-old boy or girl is too young to manage life without adult supervision. One expectation upon being given that expensive phone ought to be the understanding that mom or dad has the right to check that phone.

Before we all had phones, most parents insisted on knowing many details of their children’s daily activities. Who were you with? Where did you go? Were his parents home? Why are you late? When does play practice end? What movie are you going to see? Etc. Life was mostly transparent and the questions were simple. No one would have thought to say, “Did you contact IS? Who is your contact in Syria? How often do you talk? Why would you want to go to Frankfurt?”

These are scarier times. We can’t put our heads in that proverbial desert sand. Adolescents should not be able to regard their phones as parent and teacher-free zones. Those girls who were lucky enough to be retrieved and sent home from Frankfurt provide a perfect example.