Chain e-mail, privacy, and a bunch of elementary school girls

A fairly disturbing chain e-mail (it mentions rape, murder, and skin flaying) is making the rounds among a group of elementary school girls here. [click here to read it]

A few things to note about this…

  1. Most parents of these girls had no idea that this was occurring because they’ve never, ever supervised their elementary school daughters’ e-mail use. Once they found out about this message, many were horrified.
  2. Many parents are unsure whether they should be notifying other parents that their daughters are receiving and reading this.
  3. Some parents’ reactions have been to see this as confirmation that ‘the Internet’ is ‘evil’ and to consider prohibiting their daughters from using it.
  4. At least one parent’s reaction allegedly has been to declare, despite knowing the content of this message, that she doesn’t want to invade her daughter’s privacy because e-mail is like a diary or journal, trusts her daughter to do the right thing, and is (at least publicly) unconcerned that her daughter is passing this along to others.

I tell the administrators with whom I work that schools MUST play a role in educating children about appropriate Internet use. If they don’t, kids and parents will be left to fend for themselves and, as this incident confirms, many parents have little to no clue about what they should be doing in this area.


15 Responses to “Chain e-mail, privacy, and a bunch of elementary school girls”

  1. My daughters (a junior and a senior in high school) said these chain emails have been around for a while, mostly forwarded on facebook as opposed to personal email. Kids just delete them and ignore them and know that they are just foolishness. Really it’s just a grotesque form of spam, targeted at young girls….could also look at them as online versions of a spooky urban legend.

  2. Urban legend or not, the main point is that supervision is a must, for all people and their kids. I realize that more and more kids have their own computers in their rooms and all but what we’ve told parents is that if their kid wants to be on Facebook or whatever, the parents set the password. Not foolproof but it’s a start. Supervision, supervision, supervision.

  3. Thanks for this Scott. I’ve been doing web and blogging stuff with third graders for a long time now – but in the past year I’m getting personal emails from some of my kids, on their own accounts – and some use their parents’ (do mom and dad know?). And I have received forwarded, chain type emails from some. So far they are religious….

  4. Observation: Unless I really make an effort to find out, I don’t know who my daughters friends are, who calls her, or where she goes. She, luckily, is a great kid with a good,no, excellent sense of right and wrong. But with my older kids, we knew, because they called the house. This was before cell phones and email and facebook etc. Yeah it’s a dangerous place out in cyberspace. Yeah as parents and teachers we need to be much more diligent than ever before. Not far from where I live, the famous case of the girl who killed herself when being bullied by a kids mom who invented a boyfriend took place. It is real and it can be dangerous.

  5. I think back to the ‘scary’ stories that were circulated when I was younger. The one about a couple ‘making out’ in a car and scraping sounds on the roof, etc. I have to ask were they any less shocking for the time? I think unfortunately we, and definitely the younger generations, are more desensitized to our world. Violence is more graphic and sex more explicit. While I totally agree that most parents don’t know what is in their kids e-mails. Did our parents know what we discussed at sleepovers? I think part of this is just growing up and shouldn’t be over dramatized.

  6. While schools should educate parents and kids, I think it boils down to the parents’ understanding of their kids. With my own, one of them I supervise very closely (his gmail forwards to mine so I can read all his incoming mail), and the other I occasionally scan his Facebook page and that’s about it. This is what their characters and personal sense of responsibility require. I don’t think that one size fits all on the Internet any more than it does in any other realm of parenting.

    The important thing is to ensure parents are making informed decisions. There is nothing else, IMHO, that anybody else can do short of a documented abusive situation.

  7. It is an interesting and unfortunate situation… These situations are powerful teaching moments when it opens the dialogue for appropriate internet use. It shows us the need to be prepared to help students, parents and faculty when ‘issues’ come up, be it inappropriate emails or other types of cyber-bullying.

    Too often when these situations arise the staff/parents become reactionary. Instead of educating the students we end up creating more fear.

  8. It is important that schools actively teach email awareness, safety and etiquette. This should be done in conjunction with the parents awareness and involvement. I believe schools should try and be the parents guide about email use.

    We did a recent study of our students email inbox at the school I teach at to see what a group of 6th graders are receiving (with student and parent permission). The results showed that students were receiving a high amount of spam, junk and so forth. Often they had not set up their email junk settings. Emails that we adults would find offensive were in the students inbox. It became apparent that many parents had no dealings with their child’s email account and many were unaware of the content of many of the emails.

    We had to address this with this grade and students, we also have been discussing this as a staff, but as of yet haven’t a whole school approach. We are looking into an information literacy curriculum and this is where it would fit.

    I believe that schools need to be more proactive. Teachers cannot and should not accept email homework from students without formalised lessons on email use. There needs to be a whole school approach with schools implementing guides, policies and lessons for teachers to use.

    We took another approach and set up an in house Elearning environment where all mails are run through our system. It is possible for us to fully monitor this environment and because it’s an enclosed system, emails and the spam and junk mail that goes along with it is kept out of the school environment.

    I do think email has a place in schools, but just as we try to keep students away from certain web sites and images we should try to do the same with the emails whilst teaching students to be critical thinkers.

  9. I think schools should be working with their community, parents included, to help educate everyone… for exactly the points you listed. It’s easier to say, “the internet is evil,” and then hope it will go away. Obviously, that’s not realistic.

    I’m always surprised at how many educators approach me after a social networking session I present who want to know more because they are parents. They’re not thinking about what I discuss with them as educators, because they’re using their parent lenses. It’s all fine with me, but it scares me that schools, in general, turn a blind eye to this. We teach about nutrition and wellness (not always deemed an ‘academic necessity years ago), because it’s part of the human experience. Very few will argue that is a necessary piece in a school district’s overall curriculum today. How is this any different?


  10. The email sounds a lot like the horror movies now playing in movie theaters and on DVD. I wonder how many of the “outraged” parents have allowed their children to see these movies, or just dropped them off at the theater without really supervising them. I had to laugh when I read this article in USA Today
    It took a “task force” to conclude that parental oversight is vital. And although the report was directed toward internet use, it applies to all aspects of raising a child.

  11. I just taught a lesson on cyber-bullying to a class of sixth grade students, citing some of the incidents we discussed in class on Saturday. It was disturbing to witness how many thought the internet was a very private place, but even more disturbing when I polled the students on my next question:

    “How many of you have a Myspace page?”

    75% or more of my students raised their hand. None of them are over the age of 14, and in some cases, their parents actually set them up with one. School officials face a daunting task in educating students, parents, and in some cases, themselves about basic internet safety and etiquette. That task is made even more difficult by parents who are willfully ignorant of their child’s online activities.

  12. Hmm, I’ve been asking the upper grade kids about this one. Some have emails, some had gotten this or other chain emails, all said they just delete them either because they aren’t interested or their parents told them to. You know my school’s demographics Scott, these are not your classic “helicopter” parents. I do think families here have a tendency to overplay stranger danger on the Internet.

    I also find when I asked students about problems in the neighborhood, the word rape came up more often than I would have thought. This may be due to fact that the school is in one of the highest violent crime areas in the city, or parents are “scaring” their kids. Anyway, interesting stuff to think about.

    You can type in the crimemapper stats for near my school at:
    (thanks for the tip from Larry Ferlazzo!)
    using 4401 Martin L. King Jr Blvd in Sacramento if that’s of interest?

  13. As a student in highschool, i know that I personally have received a lot of these forwards, but I have learned to look past them and ignore them. Not so much because of the security at our school, but because they are stupid. However I do think guidelines would be helpful at schools, along with somewhat parental supervision if something were to go wrong.

  14. Guidelines and parent involvement are very important especially if they promote “intelligent” use of the internet. It is normal to be afraid of what we do not know but the one characteristic is that it is diverse mindspace. For me, it is a two way relationship learning from intelligent use of the web by our kids and establishing pathways that enable both protection but also innovation. These are uncharted waters but discussions like the one we are engaging presently here are a great start towards navigating new pathways of diversity. I don’t want to lose the “good” in that discovery, but I don’t want others to lose sight of due diligence for those who may not aware that online participation does require thoughtful appraisal.


  15. I also agree with those who remember the stories we told as girls, and don’t think this is really any more shocking than what I survived. Think about how horrible some fairy tales are that are published for children!

    Of course, some children may think this is a true story and be scared. One would hope they would go to their parents with their fears, and the parent’s role is to tell them that this is just a scary story, not something that really happened, and how they can protect themselves in scary situations… AND that breaking a chain letters is not going to bring about bad luck. But if they are afraid that their parents may clamp down on their internet use, or try to restrict them, or never let them see the friend who sent the message, then they simply won’t talk to their parents.

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