Submitted By: Aryeh Eisenberg, Director of Education- Tomorrow’s Genius
Like it or not, most teens have been bitten by the social media bug. The latest statistics show that 76% of all online teens are social media users. With a percentage that high, there is a good chance that your own child or student is already using social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, and more.
As with any other technology or web based tools, using social media has the potential to do a lot of good or a lot of harm. Sure, Facebook has been used to raise money for charities, and to promote awareness on several important causes. The platform has also been the location of many types of unacceptable behaviors such as bullying, identity theft, and other types of inappropriate behaviors. According to the latest reports 88% of social media users say that they have witnessed cruel behavior online.
So, how do we keep our children from becoming part of the negative statistics? Let’s be honest. Telling our children to stop using Facebook is probably not a viable solution for most. Whether we like it or not, social media has become part of our universe. For several years, I was not a supporter of platforms like Facebook. As a teacher, I always felt that the possible harms outweighed any possible good. Eventually however, it became clear that the world we live in today revolves around social media tools. To prohibit or ban these tools would not actually solve any real problems, as Facebook clearly is not going anywhere.
Then what do we do to keep our children out of the negative statistics? Well, you may be surprised to learn that 60% of teens say that their parents most influence their online behavior. Sounds surprising, considering that many parents have never even visited Facebook.com. I suppose however that this is the point. As parents, it is important to know what our children are experiencing online. The best way to make sure that our children maintain a safe social media environment is to understand what staying safe means. Understand how Facebook and Twitter work. Be able to speak to your children about their activities. If our children know that we have no idea what they are doing, they are going to be more likely to get into areas that we would find problematic.
The entire point of social media is to create an open stream of communication. So, if your child has a Facebook page or a Twitter feed, be part of it. Insist that you become a friend on your child’s Facebook profile. Firstly, this will give you a glimpse as to what types of activities your child is doing, and it will also give you some hands on experience as to how the platform works.
It is us the parents and teachers who must stay proactive and keep our children safe. Stay on top of what is happening. If you see a change in your child’s online profile, discuss it. Keep an open dialogue.
Finally, like I mentioned at the beginning, social media can be an amazing tool. A Tomorrow’s Genius student for example recently used Facebook to raise money for an important charity. He was successful because he was able to use the tools of social media in order to deliver his message.
We need to channel social media tools to positive activities. If you are a teacher, think about how you may use social media as an educational tool. Try for example to create a Facebook group for your class in which they can write and share opinions and viewpoints. Writing in the group can be a great homework assignment that makes learning enjoyable for the students. Ask your students to conduct Facebook polls and then use the results to create statistical data. The students will enjoy the social media aspect and will gain experience in collecting and analyzing data.
These are just a few examples of how we can use social media in positive ways. The bottom line is that these tools are only expanding. Keep your children safe and productive by being part of the process.