Facilitating Student Use of Social Media in Responsibly Purposeful Ways
It’s easy to be disturbed by studies showing that about a quarter of teenagers describe themselves as online almost constantly. And while cyberbullying and privacy can be real problems, it is also true that there can be positive aspects of social media. Adults can help facilitate student use of social media in responsibly purposeful ways. Here are some ideas for doing just that:
First, encourage students to use social media to advance causes that they are interested in. Students will be inspired to do and create amazing things when they link their tech savvy to their desire to change the world. For example, one teenager crowdfunded a documentary on mental illness. Other students have used online petitions to protest cuts to education funding, and others have used their voices to amplify charities and other good projects.
Second, don’t be too quick to assume that social media use destroys friendships. In fact, some data suggest just the opposite: that social media connections help students to develop deeper and more meaningful friendships. Interestingly, teens report feeling much less lonely than teens in the past; the most likely explanation for this is that they can connect with friends online. This may be particularly meaningful for teens who, for whatever reason, don’t fit in well in their local communities. The key here is that overly-heavy social media use can be problematic, so adults will need to help students figure out how best to balance their online presence with their real-life interactions.
Third, digital tools can help students express their unique interests. Social media can help students share those interests, whether it is their drawings or music. Adults can help students be sure that they are observing any relevant copyright laws and that they are protecting their privacy online. It’s hard to imagine a more purposeful use of social media than sharing one’s creative talents with a wide audience.
Fourth, adults can help students manage the drama of social media. Students often need help in learning how to respond to cyberbullies—or avoiding becoming one themselves. These things are not as intuitive as adults might assume. Open communication is important, and coaching is essential.
In sum, it’s understandable that adults—who grew up without the constant presence of smartphones—would struggle a bit in helping children navigate this new world. But a balanced perspective is important: not all social media use is problematic, and adults have an important role to play in helping students figure out how to navigate the terrain.