By Joshua Johnson

This past October, Saint Timothy Catholic School in San Mateo caused a stir when it added an addendum to its parent/student handbook. The new rule? Any student with a Facebook account will be suspended until the account is closed.

Monica Miller, principal of Saint Timothy, acknowledges that she panicked some parents.

“I hit a nerve,” said Miller. “And I know that I hit a nerve. It’s just part of my M.O., that when I see things happening I need to take a stand and look at them.”

After some parents complained, Miller called a meeting. A meeting that began in prayer.

Miller told parents you have to be 13 to have a Facebook account. Most students at Saint Timothy are too young. But Miller said that’s not stopping some of their kids.

“We have one in kindergarten, five in the first grade, and countless numbers throughout the school who have Facebook accounts. And with the permission of their parents,” said Miller.

Saint Timothy falls under the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s Department of Catholic Schools. Each school sets its own policy for online behavior, in line with the Archdiocese’s overarching Code of Christian Conduct [pdf]. Diocesan rules essentially view underage Facebook users as having lied to get an account.

Jenny Luciano has two kids at Saint Timothy, ages six and 11. Luciano says she sees Principal Miller’s point, but she also thinks parents should take the lead in keeping their kids safe on line.

“Those social filters become harmful; they become very knee-jerk, and we need to figure out how to both protect our kids as well as arm them with the tools that they need to be, you know, self-protective,” said Luciano.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center confirms some of Luciano’s concerns, saying that 88 percent of teens say they’ve witnessed online bullying. Fifteen percent were the target of bullying.

Pew also finds that most teens consider their peers to be mostly kind online, and their parents have taught them how to behave responsibly.

But Pew researcher Amanda Lenhart says teens still need all the good advice they can get.

“Youth pastors, coaches, neighbors, parents’ friends, it really does take the entire village to help raise the digital child,” said Lenhart

Principal Miller agrees.

“Catholic social teaching is one of the best-kept secrets in the Catholic Church.”

Still, Catholics have been wrestling with how to behave online. Back in June Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech on the digital age for the 45th World Communications Day. The Pope said that digital interactions cannot replace the real world for spreading the Gospel, and he warned against the inauthentic, self-indulgent side of social networking.

However, the Pope added that there is what he called a “Christian way” of being online: honest, open, responsible and respectful.

“I would like then,” the Pope said, “to invite Christians, confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible. This is not simply to satisfy the desire to be present, but because this network is an integral part of human life.”

Principal Miller says her student’s Catholic faith should be a good guide for their behavior on line. But after meeting with parents, the school’s pastor approved a more relaxed policy.

Now rather than automatically suspending any student with Facebook account, a committee must consider each incident separately and recommend a response ranging from a reprimand to suspension in an egregious case, such as online bullying.

“For now,” says Principal Miller, “Saint Timothy Catholic School is continuing to choose prevention over permission.”

  • Wow, this seems harsh! I have read many articles that say being online is a way for students to stay hands-on and be interested in their studies. I’d like to hear more about how this plays out!

  • Trav45

    Is this a primary school? If not, what if kids are over 13? What a knee- jerk reaction! How much more thoughtful to integrate online safety into the school curriculum and daily goings- on.

    • cathkids

      It states in the article that most students are too young to have an account, that there are kindergarten and first grade children with accounts, and that “Diocesan rules essentially view underage Facebook users as having lied to get an account.” Who is having the knee-jerk reaction here?

  • cathparent

    Good for them!  These children don’t need the addiction to instant gratification of digital drugs at that age.  If only all parents or schools were willing to be more responsible-

  • Stephen Bissett

    I’ve always thought KQED as a public radio station
    supporting transparency.  I regularly
    tune into their daily broadcast in the San Francisco Bay Area and always with the
    position that their reporting stems from clarity and truthfulness; I may have been

    The fact is Tina missed the headline…and it should
    have been reported as…

    “Community and St Tims respond to Cyber Bullying! Parents,
    Teachers, & Principal work with students to create a respectful and nurturing

    Unfortunately Tina made the headline “Facebook”. This
    was shallow reporting and poor journalism.

    Can I say it again…Tina missed the story!  The front page news is cyber bulling.

    Secondly, I was next to Jenny Luciano when she talked
    with the KQED reporter onsite (which wasn’t Tina) and her KQED article quotes”Jenny Luciano has two kids at Saint
    Timothy, ages six and 11. Luciano says she sees Principal Miller’s point, but
    she also thinks parents should take the lead in keeping their kids safe on line”
    is incorrect and taken out of context.

    Jenny’s comment
    regarding the schools responsibility and parent’s obligations was synonymous; and
    the conjunction “but” redirects two thoughts and in Jenny’s case the intent was
    the conjunction “and” used to connect the two thoughts…as a community we have a
    responsibility to teach our children right from wrong and to protect them from
    predators to include bullies.

    Unfortunately, we’ve
    lost a great principle, a fantastic ally and an awesome leader, Monica Miller
    says good bye to St Tims at the end of the school year.

    I can only hope we
    find someone nearly as dedicated, tireless, and committed, Monica we’ll miss

    • Joshua Johnson

      Hi, Mr. Bissett: I’m the reporter who did the story, not Tina, so I’ll address your concerns. Thanks for writing, first of all.

      It seems that your critique is not really about the accuracy of the story but the tone and perspective from which it’s written. I can respect that – it’s a heated issue, and you are certainly entitled to your perspective on things. The headline, in my view, speaks to the fact that a blanket ban on Facebook, which was the original policy, is controversial. I know this because other parents complained about it, including the one that tipped me off to this story. 

      You should also know that this headline only appeared on Mind/Shift. The original headline from KQEDnews.org read: “Catholics Struggle with Raising ‘Digital Kids'”. Perhaps that would’ve been somewhat better?

      As for the use of the conjunction “but” versus “and”, I guess I see your point. I disagree with your assessment, though, since it seemed from where I was standing that Mrs. Luciano was very ambivalent about the school’s Facebook policy. I asked her what she thought of it, and she was quite careful to stress that it had pros and cons. She also hesitated to come down on one side or another, but was clear that she felt it her responsibility to train her kids about how to behave online. Perhaps if I’d made this point even more clearly, the use of “but” would’ve seemed even more appropriate.

      Also, I didn’t know Principal Miller was leaving… thanks for passing that on. It might be worthwhile to check back in with her before she takes off.

      I hope this addresses your concerns. Feel free to share any other thoughts you may have; otherwise, please know that I do appreciate the feedback and again, I thank you for writing in.

      –Joshua Johnson
      Morning Newscaster, KQED News

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