kid with head in hands

Many parents are unaware of their child’s school policies when it comes to suspensions. Every school has the basic offenses which can result in suspension in their handbook, but there are some things your child could be suspended for that may not be clearly written in the student handbook. Smartphones and social media have complicated this once, pretty black and white issue and parents, you need to be in the know.

Did you know, for example, that if your child “likes” a certain social media post they could get a suspension?

Last month, seventh grader Zachary Bowlin received a 10-day suspension from Edgewood Middle School in Ohio. He “liked” a photo of an airsoft gun on Instagram, the caption of the photo simply said, “Ready.” The note the school sent home to Zachary’s parents said that the official cause of his suspension was “liking a post on social media that indicated potential school violence.”

Now, in California, the punishment for cyberbullying? At San Ramon Valley High School, it seems that only gets a child a 3-day suspension. A 16-year-old was recorded on video with her pants down, urinating in the girls’ bathroom and the cell phone video was posted on Instagram. The 17-year-old bully and star athlete was given 3 days out of school but still allowed to participate in a championship game.

A high school student in North Carolina was suspended from Pine Forest High School for recording a fight with his smartphone and in California, a high school student was suspended after racist images that included nooses drawn around the necks of a black student and coach appeared on his social media site.

Now, regardless of your personal feelings about each of the examples cited above, we can all agree that the student handbook would have to be 7,000 pages long if it were to include every possible suspendable offense in this age of smartphones and social media.

Will schools now have a list of possibilities? If you “like” any of the following things on social media you may be suspended? More days for posting a photo of an AK 47 and fewer for an airsoft gun? Racist comments, 10 days? But coded bullying words, no suspension? It seems like it could get pretty crazy.

The easiest way for you as parents to know if your child is behaving in a way that might get them suspended is to use Social Judo. Parents, all you have to do is to be informed, and to parent your child in cyberspace in the same way you parent them in every other space they occupy. Know what your child is posting, know what they are Googling, grab those parenting moments by using alerts with Social Judo.

What is the danger in my child “liking” social media posts?

Kids don’t understand the ways that “likes” can be misinterpreted based on the reader’s frame of reference. Do “likes” say “I agree with that”, “that is funny”, or “I don’t agree but I like the fact that you speak your truth?”

The racist posts on an Instagram account of a student at Albany High School surfaced in March, leading to protests by students and parents. Albany is an affluent community close to Berkeley, a liberal and politically correct place to live.

The posts also included a photo of a black person next to an ape and jokes about students’ weight and appearance. The student who owned the account is facing expulsion, and four other Albany High School students were suspended after “liking” the post.

Schools have broad authority under federal law to limit speech at school that they consider disruptive. There is disagreement, however about whether schools can punish students for off-campus speech that causes disruptions at school, a more likely scenario these days with the reach of social media.

Teens and tweens click “like” for reasons that often have nothing to do with the actual content of the posts. It is a 21st-century popularity rating system where the number of likes and followers is directly proportionate to how popular you are or how well liked you are perceived to be.

Parent’s, you need to know what your child’s school policy is on suspendable offenses. Once you know, it is important to break down the school’s language into real-life examples for your kids to understand. You need to explain “if you post….” or “if you ‘like’ a post with….you could risk being suspended, which will affect your chances of getting into college, and could expose you to other legal issues.”

That still might not be enough to combat the adolescent invincible thinking, or their impulse control issues, but it is a start. To completely ensure your child is protected? Social Judo their phone, it is the most effective way to parent in cyberspace.


Andrea Difilippo is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, nationally recognized parenting expert and Chief Parenting Officer with Social Judo.