23/03/2011 08:24 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Should Children Be Facebook Friends With Their Teacher?

'You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies'; that's the tagline for 'The Social Network', the new film about Facebook and its creator Mark Zuckerberg. But even for those of us with far fewer online 'friends', Facebook isn't without its issues and dilemmas.

Forget wasting time worrying over whether to accept a friendship request from a school run mum you hardly know, or an ex work colleague you'd rather lose touch with; the big debate right now is whether pupils and teachers should be 'friends' on Facebook.

While in the old days 'friends' would have been just that; mates you saw regularly and hung out with; translate that into online speak and 'friends' can now often extend to anyone you've ever heard of. The average Facebook user has 187 'friends' so hardly surprising that kids, keen to build their buddy list, are even asking their teachers to join them online.

Controlling a class of teenage kids can be tough enough, as many of my teacher friends will readily admit; and as Linda, a secondary school teacher puts it, 'once you blur the boundaries and allow pupils to become 'online' friends, they see your holiday snaps and family photos, life in the classroom can get a whole lot harder'.
But while the majority of teachers may be super professional, both in and out of the classroom; you don't have to search too hard online to find stories of teachers being sacked for dodgy comments on Facebook. There was the head teacher who boasted about the size of her breasts and another from Massachusetts; sacked after publicly referring to her pupils as 'germ bags' and parents as 'snotty' and 'arrogant' on her Facebook page.

While there's no law against pupils and teachers being 'friends' online, teaching unions like the National Union of Teachers, strongly discourage it and some schools now have strict policies banning teachers from accepting pupils as friends. For its part the NUT claims the consequences of befriending pupils on Facebook, (or other social networks), could be damaging to a teacher's career and says it 'strongly discourages members from putting themselves in a situation that could be easily misunderstood'.

But not all schools have a definitive policy on this and in an attempt to avoid 'rejecting' pupil requests some teachers have set up two Facebook sites; one being a 'fan club' style version for pupils, past and present, and then there's their personal site which remains pupil free with tight privacy settings.

One friend of mine has no problem with her daughter being 'friends' with her teacher through her 'fan club' site on Facebook, but admits she'd consider it inappropriate if her daughter was a 'friend' on the teacher's personal site. Yet another mum whose son tried to track down a previous teacher after both had left the school breathed a sigh of relief when her son's friendship request was refused saying she doesn't believe it's right on either side; both for the child and for teachers who need to protect their own privacy.

My own daughter is too young for Facebook right now, as the minimum age for registration is 13, but I'm sure I'm not alone in knowing there's plenty of 'under age' children regularly using the site. This however could present further complications as far as any online teacher and pupil relationship is concerned, as it raises the question of whether teachers' obligations extend beyond the school gates.

For example is it ok for them to accept 'under age' pupils if they know the child's age or if they read about pupils regularly drinking should they speak up or are they safer not being 'friends' in the first place?

Would you allow your child to be friend with their teacher on Facebook?
If you're a teacher, do you have pupils as 'friends'?

If you want extra peace of mind when your child goes online, have a look at AOL Safe Social.

Recent Facebook dilemma articles on Parentdish: Why I don't want to be a Facebook friend to my children

Should my 11-year-old have a Facebook account?