An Eye Opening Experience

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This week’s reading was some of the most fascinating so far for me. I definitely consider myself a heavy user of social media, with Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram accounts. Working in the world of tech, it is almost a requirement to be engaged with social media to some degree.  My social media accounts are important for family, friendships, my professional learning network, news, and many other functions. What I found so engaging this week, were the eye opening experiences I read about, which really shifted my understanding of how teens engage with social media.

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When I think about the way I communicated with my friends as a teenager, compared to how students communicate today, I would honestly say the only difference is that the speed of the communication has changed. Friendships are paramount to teens, just like they were to me, and maintaining those friendships just as important. Additionally, being in the know was part of the friendship experience for me; who was dating who, when was the next party, and many other topics as outlined in the articles that we read.  With the addition of smartphones, teens are able to always be in touch, and I believe have more friendships that are far reaching. As an adult, growing into social media use, I have seen the way I interact with my friends change, and remain the same. Being able to connect with family and friends from afar is a huge benefit as an international teacher, but I also value being able to sit down, face to face, and catch up with family and friends, unplugged, unwired.

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I would like to think that I was pretty up to speed on how students used social media. Having taught teenagers most of my career and having had good relationships with kids I could ask them questions about how they interact with social media and get a pretty honest response.  However, when I read Like. Flirt Ghost: A Journey Into the Social Media Lives of Teens and 13 Right Now I definitely had my eyes opened even more. Some of the new learning for me was how dependent teens were on getting “likes” and “emojis” from their peers or crushes. Also, the fact that they combed through their social media profiles deleting pics if they were older, or if they did not garner enough attention.  Additionally, I was surprised that there were so many unwritten rules about how one interacted with others through social media, or maintained their own account. I had the chance to talk to some junior and senior level students at my school, and in terms of Instagram, they were indeed able to confirm some of these unwritten rules. Although, these students did not spend so much time deleting posts that did not have a certain amount of likes, they definitely spent time “cleaning out” their Instagram accounts, so that only the best of the best photos survived. Specifically, in the article 13 Right Now, the father Dave, spoke about the fact that his daughter, Katherine, has never had some of her very best friends over to their home. I recall having friends over all the time as teenagers, in fact one of my best friends practically lived with us for a while.  I could not imagine growing up and not visiting my friend’s houses. Part of me wants to question the authenticity of the friendships that form solely digitally, but another part of me thinks that I need to also understand that norms change, ways of human interaction change, and paradigm shifts happen.

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The pace of communication has changed drastically, and so has access to information. This has affected the way in which social interactions take place. Teens can spend time nurturing those relationships that are important to them. While this is important, teens can literally be connected with their friends 24 hours a day, and they are in some cases. Statistics tell us that teens are indeed sleeping less, from 2012 to 2015 the number of teens sleeping less than 7 hours per night jumped 22 percent according to two US National Surveys (Analysis: Teens are sleeping less. Why? Smartphones).  From the teens I spoke with at my school, all of them keep their smartphones with them at night, and only a few power down the device. This is why even older teens need guidance and support from parents when managing their social media and smartphone usage.

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Recently, there was a great article from the Washington Post, entitled: New report: Most teens say social media makes them feel better, not worse, about themselves. This article has lots of informative statistics on teen use of social media, but the key takeaway is that, overall, teens are much happier on social media than we would expect.  And I think this makes a lot of sense. As discussed above, their relationships have shifted to the digital space, and so, if there interactions are taking place in this space, then of course they are going to be much happier here. They have grown up in this space and with relationships in this space, so putting our adult lens on it does not make sense, because we cannot truly understand it, as our experiences were much different.  The other point that I would like to comment on is that there are those segments of teens who are vulnerable and do experience cyber-bullying, or those that might come across inappropriate content. This is where parents still need to be involved and have conversations with their kids about what they are doing in a digital space, even when parents think their kids are old enough to manage, they still need to keep dialogue open.

One of my favourite YouTube channels has always been Crash Course, by John Green. His videos are quick paced, informative and very witty. I used many snippets when I taught World History.  He recently had a 10 part series on Digital Information, with the final episode dedicated to social media. It is definitely worth the watch:

“When we’re this reliant on a media ecosystem full of pollution, we have to take responsibility for what we read, post and share. And to do that we should fully understand how social media networks really function including the good stuff, and also the terrible stuff.” This quote from John Green is powerful, and speaks to why dialogue with parents and a good digital citizenship program are essential for kids. Our teens are spending a great deal of time on social media and as such are seeing all sorts of ideology, advertisements, and news. Teaching them how to decipher what is real from fake, and how to search laterally for information is a vital skill.

This week more than any, I am really curious about what my peers and others experiences were like in speaking with students around the topic of social media? What were your new insights? How did your thinking shift from what you thought before?

Open Dialogue is the Key

Sharon McCutcheon

There is much to write about when it comes to the plethora of reading this week.  However, there is one topic that really resonates with me, that I want to expand on.  The reading Children in a Digital World points out the fact that youth, aged 15-24, are the most connected age group in the world.  This is not surprising at all, as these Digital Natives, have grown up constantly connected. The report also spoke to the phenomena of children being left alone with digital devices in their bedrooms, even overnight. The report states: “Smartphones are fuelling a ‘bedroom culture’, with online access for many children becoming more personal, more private and less supervised”. It still surprises me that many children are left alone in their rooms with digital devices.

Boudewijn Huysmans

This infographic from Common Sense Media on Teen Social Media Experiences had some statistics to further my point.  57% of teens stated they were distracted by a mobile device when they should be doing homework, and 29% said that they have been woken up by their smartphone.  When we look at the full report from Common Sense Media on Teen Social Media Experiences it contains some other powerful statistics, 37% of teens stated they were on the mobile devices when they were supposed to be doing homework, and 26% stated that their devices impeded their sleep.

Taken from Common Sense Media

We can’t assume that teens are going to make good decisions around having screens in their bedrooms, and making positive assumptions around this can be dangerous. Like any other life skill that we work with teens on, this is something that needs to be addressed with our kids and revisited frequently.  The challenge for many parents and teachers alike, is that we grew up with a totally different experience and thus have nothing to fall back on. It is really important that we read research and keep ourselves informed. Here are a couple of great resources to start the conversation:

Should bedrooms be No Phone Zones for Teens

Teenagers’ sleep quality and mental health at risk over late-night mobile phone use.

I recently was passed this article from a friend that I think really drove home the point as to why teens need to check their phone in at night, entitled “Our Daughter’s Nightly Struggle”. Beyond the lack of sleep, this article points out to other pressures are kids might be dealing with that we don’t know about.

We know our kids are more wired than ever before. We also know that being connected is highly important to them as individuals, and to their success in social circles and relationships.  As adults we have a responsibility to teens to guide them through making smart decisions around their use of tech. We need to open up the dialogue.