Is social media ruining childhood?

This week in EC&I 830, the most anticipated debate (in my opinion) took place. The statement:

Social media is ruining childhood

A bold statement, but one I could easily agree with at first.  All I was thinking about was the hours that teens and pre-teens spend on their phones and devices. The hours that could be spent reading a book, playing outside or having a real life face-to-face conversation.  And then I thought about my role as a teacher and sometimes dealing with the negativity of social media use among students – exclusion, gossiping and hurt feelings.

How often do you sit back and think, “I’m glad social media wasn’t around when I was a kid!”

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A recent Instagram post by actress Lena Dunham

When I was in Grade 6, I signed up for my first e-mail account which then lead to using MSN Messenger fairly frequently.  MSN was the perfect breeding ground for cyberbullying – a phenomenon that we didn’t have a term for at the time. Cyberbullying is “deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing or hostile information about another person”.

Luckily we relied on dial-up Internet at the family desktop computer in the kitchen, so the ability to spend hours online was impossible, therefore somewhat limiting the damage that could be done.MSN-MessengerNowadays, pre-teens and teens (and even younger) have their own smartphones which allows for access to the Internet all the time. This can be managed by putting certain restrictions in place, like no phones after a certain time before bed, or no technology at school.  At my school, all the senior students hand in their phones at the beginning of the day, no questions asked. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone complain, instead it is just an expectation that has been established from the beginning and students are aware of the consequences if they use their devices during school time. There are exceptions, like using the device to listen to music during a work period, but this does not happen often.

jordan-tweet.png A unique cellphone bucket created by one of my colleagues.

One of the suggested articles looks at the ways pediatricians can help parents monitor their children for potential problems with social media and cyberbullying.  The suggestions by pediatricians are for parents, but are also applicable for teachers. These include:

-talking to your children about social media use

-participating in social media (maybe the parent has an Instagram account and follows their child)

-regular checks of privacy settings and online profiles

-supervising online activities in a more collaborative and communicative way instead of using third-party monitoring apps or programs

It is also important for parents and teachers to be aware of what it might look like if a child or student is being cyberbullied. Here is a very informative infographic from Rawhide.org.

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Before cellphones and other personal technology, bullying occurred in places like the playground.  Our society worked together to figure out ways to combat bullying, which they now have to do again with the rise of cyberbullying.  Cyberbullying.org places some ownership on the role of the parents to educate their kids about appropriate online behaviours, just as they have to complete appropriate offline behaviours.  It is also mentioned that parents are not able to monitor their children 24 hours a day, so they need to “cultivate and maintain an open, candid line of communication with their children, so that they are inclined to reach out when they experience something unpleasant or distressing online”.  

The article also explains that schools have the responsibility of the most important preventive step to focus on teaching digital citizenship responsibilities and educate the school community about responsible use of devices. It is also “critical for educators to develop and promote a safe and respectful school climate – one marked by shared feelings of connectedness, belongingness, peer respect, morale, safety and even school spirit”.

Team Agreepresented a very strong argument that the risks of social media far outweigh the benefits, like instead of strengthening relationships, they might hide behind their phones.  Kids are missing out on practicing real life communication skills and often avoid meaningful face to face interactions. There is also the added problem that by constantly being connected to social media, students are suffering from sleep deprivation and may even be addicted to their phones.  While I do agree that some teens in today’s world need their phones to entire them, I think we need to give young people more credit for what they are capable of doing with technology and social media.

By the end of the debate, Team Disagree convinced me that social media is not ruining childhood, but rather opening the door to create meaningful conversations through positive experiences.

Instagram-1024x410.jpg FOMO (fear of missing out)

Yes, social media has negatives, like inappropriate uses (sexting), cyberbullying and the dread FOMO (fear of missing out). But CommonSenseMedia.org  suggests that adults can help kids “nurture the positive aspects by accepting how important social media is for kids and helping them find ways for it to add real value to their lives”.  For example, some benefits of social media listed in the article include:

-giving teens a voice on social issues

-helping teens make friends and keep them

-offering a sense of belong

-provide genuine support, and

-give kids an opportunity to express themselves with a wider audience

My niece Sarah opened my eyes to a unique experience she has cultivated with social media.  A few years ago, she went to a Taylor Swift that had a new Canadian artist as the opener: Shawn Mendes.  At the time, she followed a few different “fan accounts” on Instagram, and decided to create her own account to share her love of Taylor Swift and Shawn Mendes – @sparksflymendes

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Fast forward a few years later, and Sarah has over 19k followers who follow the account simply because my she posts a different picture of Shawn Mendes or Taylor Swift each day.  She connects with her followers with open and honest captions, usually expressing something about her life (“MORE SNOW? Why?!?!?!” or “I have math test today, wish me luck”). The captions usually have nothing to do with the photo, but she receives lots of comments and words of encouragement from her followers.

The whole thing seemed kind of weird at first.  Her parents were concerned about posting anything that could identify her location, so they both follow the account. In fact anyone in my family that uses Instagram follows her account, just as a way to see what is going on and engage with the community she has created.  We aren’t monitoring it in a negative way, rather just staying part of the conversation with the added bonus of knowing what she is posting online.

Sarah has made some real friends through this account – fellow #MendesArmy supporters.  She even met one of the girls at the last concert she attended. Something that her mom (my sister) felt a little unsure about. But it ended up being a great experience with both girls and their moms going to dinner before the concert and strengthening a relationship that will continue for years to come.

This experience is lucky, unique and has a positive outcome. I think it happened because my niece used social media in a positive way and her parents have had an active role in supporting and teaching her responsible digital citizenship.

From the experience of my niece, it is easy to understand that social media can help teens cope with anxiety, depression and self harm.  The suggested article from MediaSmarts.ca  lists examples of social media sites that provide supportive communities that offer healing, strength, friendship and love.  The site Tumblrhas built in safety messages if certain trigger keywords are searched (like #suicide, #cutting) and then the user has the option to be redirected to a specific organization that can be helpful in their situations.

One of the most exciting ways that young people are using social media is by focusing their passions and talent into social advocacy. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)discusses a new age of digital citizenship – “learners who use their technology-driven powers conscientiously – and with empathy – to help make the world a better place.

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Educators have an opportunity to help students turn fear and frustration into activism by having difficult conversations. “Fostering these types of discussions requires dynamic and careful teaching skills, says educator and advocate Katie Schellenberg. By establishing a normative surrounding argument, laying ground rules about when and how to present counterarguments, and enforcing “the necessity of evidence and rationality with a side of humor and flexibility,” teachers can impart valuable lessons about how to be a respectful advocate.”A great example of translating feelings into action took place at my school earlier this month.  With my middle years classes, we researched different social issues and created art pieces to raise awareness about their chosen cause. I spoke about the use of Twitter to connect with other schools in the division who were also participating in the project in my blog post class week. Students presented their art and research in a gallery opening, #YQRActivistArt and guests were blown away by the passion and creativity of the artists and messages they had to share.  Our hope is grow the project next year through social media to collaborate with students in different communities outside of Regina.

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#YQRActivistArt Gallery at my school

Students have the capability to use social media in positive ways, especially when they incorporate the “Digital Citizen Standard”, one component of the ISTE Standards for Students.  One of the suggested articles from Team Disagree explains that the Digital Citizen standard “expects students to do more than merely know the dangers and risks of technology tools; students are called on to understand the opportunities the digital world presents and to use these tools to do good in the world. It appears that many students have already accepted that challenge.”

I think Team Disagree made some good points that social media has the ability to strengthen relationships among youth and offer a sense of belonging by providing genuine support.  More importantly, Team Disagree stated that social media part of modern society and that we need to teach the elements of responsible digital citizenship. If proper use is explained at an early age, the possibilities for positive experiences are endless.  

A winning essay submitted by 17-year old Elena Quartararo to the New York Times urges adults to give teens a chance. While she understands the drawbacks to social media, “this connection to a diverse plethora of information has given us the opportunity to reach our own conclusions about the world…

 …and it has created a socially and politically aware, opinionated and unafraid youth, who are wholly prepared to change the world.”

The future is bright for our young leaders as long as we build in the supports to teach responsible digital citizenship and positive social media use.

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

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5 thoughts on “Is social media ruining childhood?

  1. Brooke says:

    Thanks for your excellent post Catherine! It was very well thought out and explored the risks and benefits on both side of the debate. There was certainly a lot of evidence to support both sides. I think the examples you provided of your niece and of the students at your school lie at the heart of this debate topic. Yes, there are negatives but kids are also doing amazing things with social media under the guidance of caring and informed adults. Thank you again for another thoughtful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. esthermaeers says:

    Thanks for your post Catherine! I really enjoyed your stories of your life experiences with social media. Through your experiences, I was able to get a glimpse of the positive benefits of using social media. It is true that we need to give young people a chance to show their strength and creativity. I remember feeling that way as a teen, that I wished adults could just understand how strong teens really are. I agree with what you stated at the end of your post, that we need to build in supports for our youth to help guide them to becoming great leaders in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. catherineready says:

      Thanks, Esther! I think we all need to be on the same team, cheering for our young people and celebrating their creativity. Teachers have the role of guiding and facilitating the process- something I learned from classmates during this course!

      Like

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