On Social Media

The reality is, regardless of how you feel, children are on social media. Many of them have ignored the user agreement and fed the system a fake birthday allowing them to appear older than they are, and obtain an account. This primarily occurs on Snapchat, TicTok and of course Instagram, but across all social media platforms, children are present.
Complicating this issue more, it seems like many parents are either unaware or apathetic to this reality.
Teachers however have had a seemingly disproportionately negative response to this reality. They blame social media for why their students struggle to read, rather than their own antiquated teaching practices (more on this later.)

A common discussion that comes up in the circles that I frequent is that we, the adults, have handed social media down to children without subsequently handing down the wisdom needed to use social media safely. The reason for this, I believe is that we, the adults, also lack said wisdom.

The majority of my colleagues in education consider me to be the “young guy” and yet I didn’t get a Facebook account until I was a sophomore in high school. I got my first smartphone as a sophomore in college. Though that may mean I’ve had plenty of time to grow as a technology user, I still remember trying to make phone calls from my family’s landline only to hear the screeching of the dial up telling me that someone was using the internet and that I could not make a call. I, “the young guy” am too old to be a digital native.  Now we find ourselves in a time where landlines are the punchlines of jokes, and phone calls are seen as burdensome or awkward. Previously we connected ourselves with friends and family by calling them. Now, we turn to social media. Today’s children, who have grown up with this mindset ARE digital natives.

Social media is a space of virtually unlimited potential. We can communicate with friends and family, can learn about news or current events, and can, in rare cases, make money as “influencers.” Naturally, this potential comes with plenty of downsides. Often in attempts to gain followers or popularity, users give identical access they’d give a family member to a complete stranger. Users often look to blog posts rather than reputable news organizations and take them at their word rather than fact checking-often ending up with misguided ideas and dangerous misconceptions. Additionally, many users will do virtually anything for a following. Many stories of YouTubers dying because they did a dangerous stunt to gain subscribers came out in the last year alone. I’ve even had a student tell me that she broke her arm trying to do something that would get her more Instagram followers.

Adults have set an incredibly dangerous precedent with our example of how social media should be used. Now, as we see children following our lead, we unsurprisingly get concerned. In other words, and to put it incredibly bluntly, adults arguably created Snapchat so people could send sexually explicit images to one another. Now, we’re upset that children are following suit. Naturally, parents and teachers aren’t teaching kids how to sext or otherwise behave badly online, but that’s because we rarely talk about how to behave online period. They’re learning from the influencers that market themselves as “cool” and “for kids” that in fact, are chosen by said kids.
Unfortunately, the ramifications for children are incredibly massive and daunting. Recently, there have been reports of social media companies having to crack down on underage users because adults are exploiting kids. Cyber bullying is rampant. Kids are doing things on online but are getting hurt in real life.

So, what do we do?

Before, I said that teachers “blame social media for why their students struggle to read, rather than their own antiquated teaching practices” and that “we rarely talk about how to behave online.”

Why don’t we both discuss how to behave online (digital citizenship) while also creating meaningful learning experiences? The reality is that social media is embedded so deeply into today’s culture, that removing it would amount to removing an integral part of student’s lives from the classroom. Plenty of educators and psychologists alike have written about “funds of knowledge,” or, what students bring to the table. If we access this, learning becomes meaningful, relevant and often, intrinsically motivated (which is THE goal.) Social media is unquestionably a found of knowledge that nearly every kid has- and if they don’t, typically they want to learn all about it!

Teachers can harness this potential in a variety of ways. They can use Flipgrid to “vlog” their opinions and ideas about a subject. Teachers can use this to discuss how people should portray themselves online. Additionally, students can respond to one another, which allows students to learn about how to politely disagree and have a civil discussion. Students can use presentation softwares like Google Drawings to create instagram posts from their own, or from a literary character’s perspective that can later be shared on a back channel like Padlet or even the Google Classroom Stream to provide a timeline layout for student posts. This both would feel more authentic, would be limited to specific people (a class, school or even select classes around the world,) would have accountability, and would allow students to once again practice civility in a comment section.
Finally, #BookSnaps is a huge way to allow students to demonstrate their learning, thoughts and opinions using social media (students can also create these on tools like Google Drawings, Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple Keynote.

The list goes on.

Social media is daunting. Introducing students to it seems like drinking from a fire hydrant, but it’s essential. Not only for the safety of students, but for the relevance of education. If adults don’t show children how to use social media, they’ll learn from their peers, which arguably, isn’t desirable. Social media is a reality in the lives of kids- we should use that knowledge rather than demonize it.