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Why Schools Should Enable a Chat Program for Tweens by Dee Age 10

Communication is the essence of what makes us human. People learn spoken language naturally; however, written language has to be taught. Schools are the main place where kids learn to write, but communication also includes social-emotional skills. Technology is constantly changing how we communicate, resulting in a greater need for stronger communication, a skill that schools are responsible for cultivating. A way to help fulfill this need is to have schools provide tweens (kids ages 9-12) a chat platform because it would support stronger communication, give kids a sense of independence, and teach them online contact etiquette. 

Today’s tweens are forced to rely on their caregivers for communication with peers outside of school, which often only allows for short messages rather than a full conversation. Caregivers also don’t always have the time to act as the messenger. The adults of today did not struggle with this problem when they were kids.

Before cell phones, landlines were the primary platform for communicating outside of school. Today, most families don’t own landlines, and many tweens don’t own a phone, so they can’t easily communicate with their friends. Many teens without phones use services such as Discord, a chat platform. Those services aren’t available to tweens because most of them have a 13+ age requirement, which closes an opportunity for tweens to build their independence.

A sense of independence is essential for a child to learn how to become a responsible member of society. Landlines helped the adults of today learn those skills. They picked up the phone and talked to the person on the other end of the line with no adult involvement. They had to choose the right words to share their ideas clearly. In the Atlantic article entitled, How the Loss of the Landline Is Changing Family Life, Julia Cho recalls using the landline as a child, “With practice, I was capable of addressing everyone from a telemarketer to my mother's boss to my older brother's friend—not to mention any relative who happened to call.” (Cho, 2019) This example demonstrates that by having the opportunity to initiate and choose the wording of a conversation, a child can build a sense of independence and learn how to communicate better. Tweens today are forced to depend on their parents to communicate with their friend’s parents for a simple message to get through, which denies them the opportunity to practice social skills, and can cause them to be more anxious when having conversations with new people. A chat platform fills the gap, but schools often see it differently.

School administrators can be hesitant to introduce chat platforms in schools because of fears that they will provide more opportunities for cyberbullying. However, with training, those same platforms can provide much-needed practice to prevent accidental or purposeful cyberbullying and teach proper online etiquette. Many schools use email as an introductory online communication tool, but it is not as relevant as messaging for today’s young people. Because of texting’s quick back-and-forth style, it has become more popular than email today. The problem is that it doesn't allow much time to think before responding, and strong emotions can take over that even adults struggle to control. This is the reason why kids should receive online etiquette training at school using chat platforms and have the opportunity to practice with adult support. We would never hand out driver’s licenses to people who have not passed the driving and written tests. In the same way, we shouldn’t let kids use chat platforms without instruction and guidelines, because it can hurt others and the person using it, intentionally or unintentionally. That way, we can provide a helpful tool while mitigating the dangers. 

School administrators who are opposed to using chats argue that they do not have the time nor resources to moderate them, which could lead to cyberbullying, and even if they did, kids could use it during class where they need to be on their computers. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, with guidance and preparation, chats can be used to train against cyberbullying. Some platforms have auto-moderation features, which can remove inappropriate comments. Another solution is to assign trained students as moderators, who have to follow certain guidelines and would lose the privilege if they aren’t responsible with the power. As the famous quote says, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Kids do not have great self-control skills, especially online, but with training and practice, if a school introduces chat platforms little by little just like learning how to bike starting with training wheels, it can ultimately build up their sense of independence and self-restraint. 

Chat makes communication easier and provides many learning opportunities. With thought and preparation, we don’t have to be afraid of new technology’s disadvantages; we can embrace its advantages and make them work for us.

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