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We gave kids power to record and share their lives. Now, we have fights, half-naked selfies.

Today’s smart phone generation has amended the philosophy attributed to Socrates that "The unexamined life is not worth living." Their viewpoint seems to be: The unrecorded life is not worth living.

And once recorded, the event has to uploaded and shared with the world. That extends to every event in their life, even classroom brawls.

The AJC reported a troubling trend this week, one that began years ago but has expanded due to the efficient and instant recording and uploading capabilities of smart phones.

Students in search of social media fame are fighting for the benefit of the camera. And if a more dramatic fight draws a wider audience, some kids are willing to punch up the violence levels.

While the AJC story focuses on school fights, there is another troubling trend: Young girls – and I mean middle school age – vamping for the camera in the same pursuit of social media stardom.

They pose in bikinis and underwear or less in what used to be called “cheesecake” poses for Instagram. They post provocative photos of themselves making out with other girls as apparently such shots draw a lot of likes.

I don’t know if parents are aware of these photos and videos. We've given our kids technology with no real sense of how they are using it. Schools pay the price as parents often complain to them when they discover questionable photos or bullying on social media.

I am not sure what schools are supposed to do – we’re the idiots who gave our kids iPhones and don't monitor what they are doing or posting. And parents insist schools allow iPhones because their children have to be accessible every minute of the day.

When I asked why she can't crack down on texting in class, a teacher this week told me students are typically responding to texts from parents. "I can't win that one," she said.

Here is an excerpt of AJC reporter Tammy Joyner's great story on this trend:

The student sitting at the front of the class doesn't know she's about to be attacked. But others in the room apparently do. As another teenager approaches her from behind, several students in the class whip out their cellphones. They have no intention of dialing for help, however. Their aim is to record the encounter between the two teenage girls so they can upload it to Instagram, YouTube, kik and other sites.

In the recordings, shot from multiple angles, the girls exchange words and, before long, a punch is thrown. A scuffle breaks out, with squeals and laughter from classmates in the background. When a teacher tries to intervene, his glasses are knocked off and he's pushed aside.

This battle took place two months ago at Lovejoy High School, but similar recordings from all over metro Atlanta --- indeed, all over the country --- exist. Educators and parents worry that the recordings are not only encouraging fights, but are sometimes making them more brutal as students attempt to gain notoriety on social media. In some areas of the country, pre-planned, off-campus fights are even drawing a large number of spectators, with non-students sometimes taking part.

One Instagram page devoted to Clayton County student brawls --- clayco.fights --- had nearly 400 fight videos and more than 30,000 followers. It was taken down after the AJC reported on the page Wednesday afternoon. A Henry County page, which sprung up shortly after a similar page was deleted, has more than 3,000 followers. Last year, a distraught Cobb County parent alerted police and school officials to a site called Cobb Hook Session, which featured brawls between young people.

The fight pages are so troubling that some school districts are taking steps to address the problem by monitoring the Internet. If students are caught on tape on school grounds, they could be suspended. If administrators become aware of fights off campus, they try to intervene with the help of teachers, parents, school administrators and counselors. "It's a big thing among the kids right now,” said Clarence Cox, head of security for Clayton County Public Schools. "We think it's a status thing."

The scuffles occur in classrooms, hallways, bathrooms and schoolyards. Some are staged. Many are violent free-for-alls. And, while the popularity of the recordings is on the rise, it's not a new problem. Fayette police encountered similar online fights eight years ago on myspace. One was a Blood-on-Crip fight --- a gang recruitment video --- involving nine Fayette County High School students, said Scott Israel, a juvenile detective with the Fayette County Police Department.

Social sites have been pretty good about removing fights when notified, Israel said. But not always. "We sent off a subpoena in December 2007 to myspace and are still waiting on the return,” he said. Most parents are clueless about the online sites that show middle school and high school students brawling.



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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.