A new study released yesterday documents the benefits of social networking and time spent online.

The most extensive U.S. study on teens and their use of digital media finds that America’s youth are developing important social and technical skills online – often in ways adults do not understand or value.

The lead author of the study, Mizuko Ito, found that time online is essential for kids to learn social and technical skills vital for success in the 21st century.

It might surprise parents to learn that it’s not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online. There are myths about kids online — that it’s dangerous or makes them lazy. But we found that spending time online is essential for young people.

Rob Anderson, a former principal at Orlando’s Edgewater High School agrees.

Online activities force kids to employ collaborative skills as they share ideas and arguments with others who live worlds away. It also requires them to analyze, evaluate and synthesize information, a process that sharpens critical thinking.

So here’s the question.

If time spent online, specifically time spent in social networks, is good for all kinds of things, why are so many schools working so hard to block access to social networks?

I spend a lot of time in a lot of different schools and am constantly hearing stories from teachers who are frustrated with how hard it is to access Web 2.0 tools. And I know there are sometimes technical reasons for blocking access (especially issues with bandwidth) but we need to start having more conversations between classroom teachers and system admin people to more access quicker and easier.

This study is just one more piece of evidence that supports less filtering, not more, and we need to be talking more about it.

So I’m excited that we’ve been able to schedule a time for a small group to talk about the issue next month. The goal is to develop some sort of rubric that teachers can use to evaluate their Web 2.0 use and that system admin people can trust to then unblock (quickly and easily) the sites needed by teachers.