Should we be worried about the youth of today and their presence on social networks? Whether it’s self trolling, Memes, inappropriate websites or YikYak, students today have a a lot of different things to contend with. I can’t say that youth today are very different in essence from the youth of any other generation. It seems like they want the same things that youth have wanted throughout time. They want to be recognized, they want to be heard, they want to feel valued. These are very normal feelings for adolescents and in the past there were a variety of other outlets for these feelings. The world of Social Media allows youth in this day and age the tools to fulfill all of these desires. They have access to unlimited audiences at their fingertips. They no longer simply consume media, they are participants and contributors to it. Students can create and be involved in communities of online collaborators who think and feel as they do. As youth seek gratification through Social Media, they can begin to feel that their voices are heard. Gone are the days of “The Rebel without a Cause” teenager sneaking out to race cars with his friends. Being a part of Social Media community is the leather jacket and sports car of this era. To be somebody, to be heard and to be relevant, teens must have the social media currency necessary. Ignoring Social Media is simply not an option for teens in our society. Teen popularity is now measured by the amount of followers, likes, comments, retweets and shares.
Teens are using social networks more often and starting to build their social media presence at younger ages. With teens spending so much time seeking acceptance, entertainment, and gratification from online sources, teachers and parents must do their part to not only teach responsible technology use but also to keep abreast of what students are doing online. The first step is to understand what students are doing online and the reasons behind these actions. It is also important to understand that this is not a phenomenon that is going away. Online presence is how the world is moving. As seen in the statistics below, there are inherent dangers that come with Social Media use.
So, how do parents and teachers go about ensuring that youth are safe online and at the same time help them to curate a social media profile that is a good reflection of who they are? When I was a teenager, most of the time, what you said was forgotten within a matter of minutes or hours. Embarrassing photos were not seen by friends or family if I didn’t want them to be seen (they also had to be developed first). Any home videos shot were of poor quality and were usually never seen by anyone because it took too long to figure out how to hook the camera up to the TV. I read what was assigned to me from a textbook that had been written 10-15 years earlier and no one commented on my writing other than my teacher. It was a very different world.
As I reflect on how I want my own kids to use Social Media, I believe that allowing teens to use it in a responsible and positive manor is crucial, however, there are several things to consider:
a) Model positive and responsible behaviour online
b) Assure your child/students feel valued and validated
c) Have open conversations with your child/students about appropriate social media use
d) Be present on Social Media even if it’s just preview platforms that your child/student wants to use
In essence, we can’t hope to shelter our teens from Social Media forever. It’s simply not realistic. Social Media can be an amazing tool for the creation of a type of digital portfolio of who you are and what defines you. It truly is Social ‘ME’dia. The platforms are all designed to give people a podium for self promotion. No wonder teens growing up in this day and age have taken the opportunity and cashed in on it in a huge way. Social Media is the perfect tool for a time of life when self-absorption, self-pity, and the need for acceptance are the emotions driving decision making.
Teens have become rich and famous by simply letting the camera role as they share their thoughts with the world. Therefore, why are we not teaching students how to cultivate their online presence so that it is a positive reflection of who they are. Here are some examples of how to best use Social Media. Teaching teens to think in this way instead of constantly seeking more likes, retweets, and follows will not only positively influence their futures, but will also help them to form more meaningful collaborative networks in the present. If the only thing Social Media provides our youth is a temporary feeling of gratification as they count the likes on their profile picture, parents and teachers alike have failed in highlighting the ‘social’ part of Social Media instead of the ‘ME’. After all, we are social beings who love to laugh, share, and interact. Why not use these platforms for building positive meaningful relationships? And hey, from time to time, it may be a good idea to put down the phone, turn off the computer and meet some friends for a walk by the lake. We are human after all.
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