Young people are living their lives in public at an alarming growth rate today. As a young teacher in school ranging from prep to year 12 in Brisbane, I am regularly asked by students of all ages what types of social media I interact with and if they can send me friend requests. This increase in use of social media by young people is increasingly alarming due to the fact that many, in my opinion, are unaware of the consequences of using such medias inappropriately. Whilst students in the primary years are often denied the use of Facebook and Twitter, some are allowed limited access to sites such as Instagram. These students often go out of their way to use these sites due to the nature of it being seen as “cool” to own and use one. Students in older years are regularly using Facebook and Twitter, as well as Tumblr, Instagram and Pintrest. Upon asking students how they use these sites it was revealed that their use is not monitored and parents and/or guardians are regularly unaware of how their children are interacting with these sites. I personally find this alarming due to the fact that students that aren’t educated in the proper use of such sites and therefore, can cause harm to themselves and others.
Studies completed in America have shown that approximately 90% of the youth in the USA use social media sites. One of these studies was conducted by Common Sense Media, called “Social media, social life: How teens view their digital lives” (2012). This study was conducted by interviewing a variety of students, aged 13 to 17 across America. As the title suggests, questions regarding teenage use of social media and its impact on their lives were investigated and reflected upon. These questions included:
As the study states:
This generation is the first to have gone through their entire teen years with Facebook and other social networking sites at their fingertips. This [study] documents, on a national scale, what these ‘social media natives’ think about how social media use is affecting their social and emotional lives (Common Sense Media, 2012, p.7).
Data collected from the study states that 90% of the students used social media of some description. However, only 49% of the students preferred communicating in person, with an alarming 33% preferring to communicate via text. This representation of data is quite alarming to me because students are seemingly increasingly more confident with communicating via text rather than in person.
There is, however, some hope. Students were also asked how they felt when their friends were texting or using social media in their presence and how they would feel if the world rewound to a time before Facebook. The results are displayed below in a graph:
Although the percentages may be small, the fact that some students “desire to unplug” and be rid of Facebook gives me hope.
In terms of the students at my school and how they use these social media sites, the school has taken it upon themselves to become a Cyber Smart school. A committee has been formed that includes representatives from all aspects of the school. This committee discusses ways in which the school can educate students from all year levels in the appropriate use of social media, how to be safe and how to report cyber bullying if it occurs. Although this is a small step, the school has embraced the fact that students do use social media and that for them to remain safe, they need to be educated in this.
In terms of the students in my classroom, I am regularly showing them ways to “unplug” and enjoy a screen free environment. We discuss books, games, sports and places they can go with their friends. I regularly challenge them to go outside and explore, and often hear reports of adventures had in parks or shops with friends.
One of my recent challenges to my class was the My Grateful Story. It involved the students taking a photo of something they are grateful for in their life. It could not be anything technology related. The resulting photos that were submitted where then placed in a PowerPoint and showed to the parents. There were some amazing moments of self-discovery through this challenge and all of my students reportedly enjoyed exploring and reflecting upon the things they are grateful for outside of technology.
I think it is incredibly important for students to realize that there is time for living in both the real and digital world, and that embracing and being smart in both leads to a better life.