Engaging the Social Media Generation

There are a number of misconceptions about social media. Particularly around the usage of it among younger children. 

Social media is a powerful tool. It helps companies reach consumers and connects people in ways that are economically feasible. 

Social media began with adults in mind. The goal was to keep friends and families connected. Especially when they lived in different states, countries, or time zones. 

As social networking evolved, it allowed for complete strangers to connect with each other. 

For example, educators started to connect with others across the world to discuss pedagogy. This expanded everyone’s immediate network and has changed the way people engage in their lives and professions. 

Naturally, social networks appealed to teens, tweens, and now young children. 

The appeal to younger children was natural. Children have a need to be seen and connected. Social media provides this for them in a way that feels impossible with face to face interactions.

As children continue to use social media, adults worry about the long and short term effects. 

Teachers are no different. They worry about how cyberbullying will trickle into the classroom. They worry about the digital identities their students are developing. And they worry about keeping students off of their phones and engaged in learning.

Cyberbullying is Pervasive, Or Is It?

Cyberbullying certainly does happen. The data on it is overwhelming. According to the Guard Child, 65% of teens have experienced cyberbullying. 

Sadly, unkind and cruel things can and do happen on social media. The data does heavily focus on teens and tweens. 

However, pop into one of your favorite Facebook groups, Twitter Chats, or even scroll some of the comments on Instagram or YouTube. You’ll notice that it is just as prevalent amongst adults. 

So, is cyberbullying really a concern for school aged children? 

Yes, in the sense that no one deserves to be treated unkindly online or in person. 

One unkind or cruel act can last with us through adult hood. I don’t know about you, but I still remember the horror of being bullied as a middle school student. I just can’t shake it. 

Add into that mix that when people communicate online so many things are hard to decipher. Things like tone, facial expressions, inflection all make a difference in face-to-face conversations. None of this is visible in texts or online posts. No matter how many emojis are used. 

Children who experience unkindness online, or persistent digital cruelty, struggle to concentrate in school and can experience depression and anxiety.

What Do We Do?

  • Adults can be better role models in how we treat others in person and online. The more children see the adults they trust and admire engage in prosocial analog and digital interactions, the more they will do the same. 
  • Teach children how to treat others and give them ample opportunities to practice. Consistently taught, practiced. and reinforced analog behaviors transfer to the digital world. Social skills are not innate and need to be taught. 
  • Use social media and/or edtech platforms that have social networking characteristics in the classroom. Consider tools that provide students, even our youngest, with opportunities to comment on and like each other’s schoolwork. 

The more positive behavior students engage in, the more likely it will turn it into a life-long habit. This will decrease incidents of cyber cruelty and increase cyber positivity. 

Students’ Social Media Consequences

A common concern about what young adults and children post online is that they don’t realize the long-term impact it will have on their lives. 

As adults, we have the capacity to consider what will happen next and what will happen IF. 

This is just not the same for teens and pre-teens. Developmentally, they are incapable of  thinking long-term. What they are considering is their peers and their own image. 

Young adults and children are making decisions based on how they see themselves, others see them, how they can help themselves fit in, and what makes them feel good. 

They are not thinking long-term. Because of this, they are not contemplating what impact today’s post will have on future education and/or employment opportunities. 

What Do We Do?

  • Engage students in many conversations about identity, reflection, and self-awareness. The more that they understand who they are and how not to compromise that, they more they will stay true to themselves online. 
  • Use social media and/or edtech platforms that have social networking characteristics in the classroom. Consider tools that provide students, even our youngest, with opportunities to make critical decisions about what type of work to post online. They need platforms that help them think deeply about what to say when reviewing someone else’s work. 
  • Help teens and tweens understand that our actions create reactions and perceptions. Engage them in activities that identify their characteristics, which characteristics they want others to know, and how they’ll communicate those characteristics. In other words, teach them to control their narrative. 

These types of activities help students make decisions about who they are and what they want others to know about them. We can create subtle changes in how teens and tweens use social media through the activities in our classrooms. We can help redefine our students’ purpose for using social networks. 

Student Time on Phones

Sure, social media can be a distraction and an escape. Some even say that it is an addiction. 

These are not the real reasons why students are turning to their favorite Tik Tokker instead of doing their homework or focusing on classwork. 

For better, or worse, today’s digital world has taught us all to expect immediacy and constant engagement. It has taught us that if it doesn’t deliver, we can just swipe to the next post. 

So how do we ensure that our students are staying engaged with our educational content?

What Do We Do?

  • Use social media and/or edtech platforms that have social networking characteristics in the classroom. When we use tools that are similar to what students use in their everyday lives, they love and appreciate our effort. 
  • Ask students to teach you the latest social media craze. They will happily show you how to add filters, participate in the latest challenge, and how to put together a good post. You can apply all of what they teach you into what you’re comfortable posting about.
  • Use other engagement strategies. We don’t always have to embed social media characteristics into our teaching. Our students’ brains are engaged through movement, talking and working with their peers, playing games, and having an appropriate amount of challenges put in front of them. 
  • Sprinkle in personalized learning and self – paced learning. This engages students who frequently use YouTube! 

Instead of ignoring or avoiding (even unintentionally) what our students are doing outside of school, we can and should incorporate elements of it into our lessons