Header Photo Credit-Jason Howie via flickr cc
I remember when I signed up with Facebook in my first year as an undergrad student. I could’t believe the myriad of possible connections that existed as I discovered old friends and acquaintances that were all part of this massive online community. Now it seems like Facebook has always existed and is one of the places where most of the people in my age group connect and interact online. Since then, the addition of each new social media app has made me feel older as I have more and more to keep up with online. Gone are the days of checking email and then logging off. We are always online and always connected. I often feel like Fred Armisen, stuck in a technology loop wishing for something like “Mind-Fi” to make it easier for me to keep up with the world around me.
For the students I teach, it’s a very different story. Visual identity is a key factor in the use of social media for the students in my classroom and I believe this is one of the reasons many students are migrating to these types of social media apps such as Snapchat, Instagram, Kik, and Youtube . It seems as though the visual aspect of these social media sites has in many ways come to define the youth of this generation. Photos or videos can be instantly uploaded from almost any device. Gratification comes from the comments/likes and many of these apps function much like messaging apps or have the capability to chat with friends, groups, or one to one. As stated in the video below, there are several reasons behind the success of these types of apps. Authenticity and ease of use are huge factors in the adoption of Snapchat by teens especially.
Students use these social media apps effortlessly and are often connected at various periods of the day even when at school or work. It’s effortless because it’s already a part of them. Students in this generation have never known a world without Wifi, or constant connection and communication. The ability to broadcast every moment of your day to your friends, family, or even to the world has become ingrained in the lives of our students. However, it has become clear that social media use among teens has its downsides as well. In her op ed piece for The Guardian, June Udorie outlines several dangers of constant social media use among teens. The loss of necessary sleep for proper development is concerning as teens spend late night hours updating and connecting on social media. Yet, perhaps a more concerning issue is the mental health risks associated with social media use such as anxiety and depression. In a recent documentary, called #Being 13, CNN examined what really goes on in the world of teens on social media. Data concerning social media interactions between 500 thirteen year old students in schools across the United States was collected and analyzed. Students and parents were interviewed about social media use concerning their perceptions. Some students claimed that they accessed their social media profiles 100 or more times per day.
The use of these apps is extremely addicting, especially for teen girls who often derive self-worth from online connections. Girls are now being pressured by main stream media ads but also through advertising on social media platforms not to mention the pressure coming from their networks of friends and acquaintances. For the sake of the mental health of our students, the education system must take steps to address this issue.
Photo Credit-Anthony Stone via flickr cc
While it is true that students today are growing up with amazing opportunities for online learning and connection, educators must always be aware that students are under increasing pressure to always be ‘on’ or ‘perfect’ as they curate their online presence.
I don’t discount the potential for social media tools to make a positive difference in student learning in the classroom. However, there must be an examination of how students are using these tools in their own lives as well. This is certainly why topics like digital citizenship have become more prevalent in health education and social studies courses over the last few years. Parents and teachers alike must be active in teaching students to evaluate self-worth based on factors other than how many likes or comments their status or photos generate. We must demonstrate sound use of social media in educational settings. We must teach the ideals of good citizenship at home as well as in the classroom in order for students to transfer these ideals to the digital world and be transformers of social media for positive change.