With new technology comes new challenges. Learn about how you can help your students navigate the world of social media.
Today’s students have never known a time without online social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
As educators, we often feel as if we are in a M.A.S.H. unit when it comes to student use of social media. We are consistently in a position of damage control. This article outlines some of the issues associated with social media to help increase understanding of what our students are doing online so we can become proactive in helping them maneuver through this virtual world.
As you read, keep in mind that this is a generation that is all about the “like.” Just like generations of teens before them, students want to be liked and included, and the internet is one of the most important avenues through which children are getting important peer feedback. They live their lives online and crave feedback. The number of “likes,” “hits,” and retweets/repostings of their images and words measures popularity and equals acceptance. If they post and get no responses, they feel bad. Seeing likes and hits increase makes them feel good, even when their posts are mean or inappropriate.
Technology is an amazing tool. It has changed how we work, communicate, and play. It has restructured such common practices as shopping, reading, banking, travel, and entertainment. Online reviews influence our decisions every day. Social media allows us to connect and share with people all across the neighborhood or the world. Whether one loves it or hates it, technology is part of life. However, as with any innovation, there are always negatives that come along with the positives. Although this article dwells on some of the negatives, understand that this is just one aspect of the larger picture.
What Is Different Today?
There are five important features of social media:
1. Instantaneous: Technology today is instantaneous. Before the heavy-set child can leave the locker room, a mean-spirited picture of him is on Instagram and tweeted out to others. There is no wait time before posting and, as a result, no thought as to appropriateness, feelings of others, and long-term impact.
2. Visual: We are a visual people. Images link us with text and thoughts, creating a greater memory of the event. Images are easy to pass around. With one click, an image can be posted or sent to millions of other people. Once the image is in cyberspace, it cannot be retrieved.
3. Pervasive: Technology is pervasive. It permeates everything we do. Have you noticed the number of amateur videos played on the nightly TV news? As soon as an incident is occurring, someone whips out a cell phone and begins recording. It appears that, for some, it is more important to capture the action then help out in the situation.
4. 24/7: Many children are connected to technology 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are connected to their virtual lives in and out of school through smartphones, iPads, and other devices. It is not only how they talk but also how they plan work, play, and meet-ups.
5. Forever: What goes on the internet stays on the internet. Pictures, graphics, and postings are not easy to remove. Even if an item is removed from where it was originally posted, it can be sent elsewhere to the point where it is nearly impossible to remove completely. The term “going viral” is appropriate. A virus continues to replicate long after leaving the original host. It spreads in such a way that it is difficult to track exactly where it went. This is true for anything posted to the internet.
Problems with Social Media
This article offers broad strokes to three negative issues associated with social media: virtual tattoos, cyberbullying, and sexting.
With every image and post, children are creating a virtual tattoo. Every post adds to that tattoo; and, like a tattoo, it does not go away. Media has brought this point home to young people. Now there are sites such as Snapchat that allow users to send images and captions that disappear after several seconds. The company states that the image is deleted from their servers; however, they state that, once sent, the image can be captured by the receiver. Trying, then, to save evidence of cyberbullying from Snapchat can be difficult. Educating students about how to take screen shots and preserve evidence is important.
Bullying has always been around in schools. Schools have made massive efforts to teach children to be nice, to use kind words, to speak with “I” messages. Students hear these messages; and, in front of adults, they appear to be playing along. In reality, though, the bullying is still there, it is just that much has moved from the physical to the virtual world. However, even if the bruises are virtual, the damage is real. One needs only watch or read the news to find a new incident of cyberbullying that has led to a child’s suicide to see the impact. According to one study, 43 percent of children 13-17 years of age experience cyberbullying. It is higher among females than males and most prevalent among 15- and 16-year-olds (National Crime Prevention Council, 2007). In another study, children were asked why they cyberbully. Of the children surveyed, 81 percent reported that bullies think it is funny, 81 percent don’t like the person, and 45 percent view the victim as a loser (Harris Interactive, 2007). Almost all states have now authorized laws concerning cyberbullying. Schools are updating their policies to include cyberbullying and reporting guidelines.
Sexting is the sending or posting of sexually explicit messages and images. In 2008, one of every five teens reported sending or posting a nude or semi-nude image or video of themselves, and 39 percent stated they sent or posted sexually suggestive messages. Nearly half of the teens reported they received sexually suggestive messages (The National Campaign, 2008). Sexting can bring on very serious legal consequences. Nude and semi-nude images of minors (regardless of who takes or alters the image) are considered child pornography. Production, distribution, and possession of child pornography can land a person in jail and/or listed as a registered sex offender. Although state laws are changing slowly, laws regarding child pornography were never designed to catch minors; however, if the law does not stipulate the age of the person taking the image, a minor could end up facing a very serious charge.
What Can We Do?
Negative issues around social networking will continue to spill into our classrooms. How then can we be proactive? Education is the greatest weapon we have. Education regarding digital tattoos, cyberbullying, and sexting involves understanding the long-term impact of what is posted. As a community, these issues should be added to our curriculum and discussed. Exploration and discussion could take place in science, physical education, and religion classes. Policies in handbooks should identify that each student is a representative of the school 24/7. Posting images and texts that have negative impacts on the faculty, the staff, and the school and its reputation is not tolerated. Policies should be clearly promulgated to the student community.
As Catholic educators, we have the obligation to protect the children in our care. Cyberbullying policies should be included in schools’ harassment policies. Reporting and investigative guidelines must be identified and followed.
Parents, students, faculty, and coaches should all receive education on the negative aspects of social media and their impact on student health and well-being. Adults should consider the following:
• Listen and observe what is happening with students. When you hear something new (i.e., a new website they are using), check it out or ask around about it.
• Act as if you know more than you do and question what is going on. You may not know much about Instagram, for example, but you can act as if you do and then go find out.
• Take all cyber relationships and threats seriously. If a student tells you or you hear he/she is in a relationship with someone he/she has never met, find out more or inform the parent. If you hear or are told there was a threat made, take it very seriously and report it.
• Expect appropriate behavior in virtual spaces just as you do in the real world. Behavior is a choice. Part of education and growing up is learning to make the right choices.
• Educate and empower parents to find out what their children are doing online.
• Educate children to retain evidence of cyberbullying. Teach them to take screen shots and retain evidence, in case the bullying does not stop.
As part of our goal to help children to grow intellectually, morally, and spiritually, we must educate them to behave well in both the real and the virtual worlds, for as Catholic educators there is no greater mission than to prepare our students to do God’s work in all arenas.
Top Sites for Cyberbullying
The following sites can be used for good or ill. This list merely shows
sites this author currently sees commonly used for cyberbullying.
Resources for education about social media issues
Common Sense Media: commonsensemedia.org/educators/professional-development
Stop Cyberbullying: stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying
Net Smartz Kids: netsmartzkids.org
National Crime Prevention Council—Cyberbullying: ncpc.org/cyberbullying
Harris Interactive. (2007). Teens and cyberbullying. National Crime Prevention Council. Retrieved from ncpc.org/resources/files/pdf/bullying/Teens%20and%20Cyberbullying%20Research%20Study.pdf
National Crime Prevention Council. (2007). Teens and cyberbullying. National Crime Prevention Council. Retrieved from ncpc.org/resources/files/pdf/bullying/Teens%20and%20Cyberbullying%20Research%
The National Campaign. (2008). Sex and tech. Washington, D.C.: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Retrieved from thenationalcampaign.org/sextech/pdf/sextech_summary.pdf