So, I’m old. Ok, I am ONLY 49. But in a class about educational technology and its influences on today’s youth, I am definitely at a disadvantage. In previous blogs, I explained how I didn’t even think this computer thing was ever going to catch on. I even told my brother that very statement! I remember using a computer mouse for the first time, when I had already been teaching for about 7 years and being blown away by the technology.
So, how my age becomes relevant in regards to this week’s ECI830 debate entitled “Social media is ruining childhood” is my personal connection to a childhood completely sans technology. Our social media when I was a kid was passing notes in class and calling our friends on the telephone…that was attached TO A WALL, BY A SHORT CORD, and had a DIAL (not buttons).
Having said that, I also can appreciate how different does not always mean bad. I am not a “Get off my lawn” old lady.
I respect that technology has both benefits and detriments to our lives. In the article, A Generation Zers Take on the Social Media Age they said that “social media has given us a way not only to speak out, but to educate ourselves and expand our minds in a way that is unprecedented”. I can appreciate that comment, as I have evolved to include some form of social media in my daily diet of work, communication, and entertainment.
The agree group listed dangers of social media, including depression and anxiety as well as other mental health issues. They suggested that social media might lead to more attention seeking/risky behaviours . Cyber-bullying was also described as a negative factor in the social media influence sphere. The info-graphic Teen Cyberbullying and Social Media Use on the Rise [INFOGRAPHIC] provided by the agree group is a useful tool that could be used with students, parents and staff alike.
From the disagree group, the topics of student autonomy and digital identity came through as an opportunity for children rather than a negative effect. The disagree group promoted connectivity and access to answers through social media. They were particularly adamant that use of social media can help students make social connections and give them access to mental health supports online. I was particularly interested in the article How students become influencers and advocates as part of my personal mission as an educator is to empower students to change the world for the better.
If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen a news article shared by myself about my Grade 7 students’ recent social action at the Saskatchewan Legislature. George Lee Students Lobby Provincial Government for Better Youth Mental Health Supports.
Students made an impact by using their collective voice in a social action walk. However, we also shared our action on Twitter and Facebook. As a result, almost a week later, we are still making change in our province and their voices are continuing to be heard as the story continues to be shared by the social media communities. The stories have had many social media shares and our message was heard beyond our school community.
Today, I was ambushed in my VP office by a group of grade 8 students who want to create a “Stop the Trash Talk” day before the end of the year. They are tired of people, particularly girls, being body-shamed and trash-talked about their body shapes and sizes. Their plan is to organize a day where all protesters wear garbage bags to make their point. But, they are also planning a social media campaign to make their message more clear and to gain traction for their mission. While I find their mission commendable (and I am honestly heart-burstingly proud that these people are my students), I was compelled to ask where they are hearing those negative comments. Their first response was “on the playground” and their second answer was from a variety of social media sites. It’s rather ironic that students are using the very platform that has been used to demean them to speak back and take their power back from the cyberbullies. I am excited to see where this plan takes them! Stay tuned!
So, when I reflect on whether social media is indeed ruining childhood, I think that we need to ask some important questions…
- Is childhood today the same as that which existed almost 50 years ago?
- Do we, who did not even experience childhood in the same way these students are, have any right to exclude social media use? Just because it didn’t exist in my childhood, do I have any right to unequivocally judge it as negative?
- How can we guide and teach students to embrace the healthy benefits of social media when we ourselves are ‘virtual’ rookies at the system? (Pun intended)
- Do students have the developmental ability to negotiate this new system for their own benefit?
- Why did Shelly ever think this computer thing was never really going to catch on?
I think that social media is a part of our daily lives in North America now and it is not going away. Therefore, we need to challenge our youth to create a balance in their worlds, in whatever way is healthy for them. They need to be encouraged to use their voices to empower themselves and their friends, and if a social media platform is their stage, then so be it. Those of us with influence need to use our opportunity to educate ourselves and then our students about ways to negotiate this world in a healthy manner.
In the class debate, opinion was fairly divided and I would say that I am personally somewhat divided myself. I think that the pendulum has swung too far away from the relatively mediocre and socially barren days of my childhood, and a balance needs to be regained to include a variety of interactions and activities to more fully embrace this thing we call life.