While on the surface, it seems social media has connected us, in my humble opinion, it has disconnected us. We've all seen it; a family out to dinner. The little one is watching a movie, as another is playing a game on the phone. The teen is texting a friend, and mom and dad aren't talking. In our family, we have an unstated rule, when we are out to eat, no media! We talk and we laugh (Annie Doyle likes this).
I know I am not alone in being concerned that media, in particular social media is negatively impacting communication. I haven't grown up with social media. In fact, I remember when we first went "online," I was terrified. I recall chat rooms that could be pretty dicey. I also remember the thrill when I heard the classic "You have mail." Who me? Today, I err on the side of caution. I make it a point not to have any online "friendships" with my students, their parents, the children of my friends, or my children's friends, so I really don't know what they are posting about. I have heard tragic stories of social media run amok and it is disturbing. We, as parents of teens, have access to our children's passwords and they know we DO check. We are steadfast in our roles as parents and know our children are not always happy about our "meddling," but it's a scary world.
I also am aware of the effect social media has had on me. I have made some wonderful connections via the Instagram and blogging world and I am so grateful for that. I have reconnected with friends from thirty years ago. There also have been times I've been consumed with social networking. Never has this been more apparent than since I have started blogging. I have asked myself: "Do I really have 15 followers? Woohoo!!" "How many page views today?" "Why won't so and so acknowledge my posts/efforts?" I have experienced emotional contagion whereby I have felt the emotions of others after viewing a posted video of the homeless or a mother singing to her dying daughter. I've read with disdain political rantings and ad hominem attacks made without the need for civilized discourse. As an adult I can choose to ignore these posts, block the author, or unfriend individuals who use Facebook as a sounding board. Middle school and high school students, whose social life incorporates social networks, may not have the wherewithal to to do the same.
What follows is just a brainstorm of the possible problems our students might "face" when using social media.
Over-sharing: Many people become turned off by posts documenting every moment of everyday.
Impulsive posting: Posts that are written when hurt or angry.
Confidence killers: So many gauge their popularity by the number of friends they have or the number of likes a post receives.
Misinterpretation of posts: This happens so frequently. We can't know the tone of voice without hearing it and we don't know the intent with which posts are written.
Misperception of our posts: Likewise others don't have the benefit of knowing our intent.
Bullying: The internet is rife with opportunities for harassment. Individuals are so often emboldened by the cover of anonymity.
Feeling alienated: What is it about that "like" button? We are all too aware of who likes our posts and who ignores them and many are easily hurt by the passive-aggressive nature of "not liking."
Macy's window: When a post is out there, it is out there forever. It's like standing in Macy's window for all to see.
FOMO (fear of missing out): Kids often feel left out and alienated when they see posts of friends doing fun things and they aren't included. As a kid who wants to belong, there is often nothing worse than feeling excluded.
Ranting: Tirades are off-putting!
Attention getting: Kids are needy and social media is the perfect outlet for posting for attention. Positive or negative, attention is attention and meets the same need.
Not being in the moment: I have seen more people stop enjoying the moment to post a picture to Facebook or Instagram (guilty).
Time blackhole: Why waste time texting, waiting for a response, texting again...?
Disingenuous posts: Kids can post without honoring what they are really feeling. There have been sad stories of kids who have shared seemingly happy posts all the while hiding deep sadness.
What's missing: At least 80% of our communication is conveyed through tone of voice and body language, so while we may seem connected there is an awful lot we are missing.
As communication gurus we can help our older students not get caught in the social media quagmire. Let's collectively encourage our students to have a healthy relationship with social media. Let's work toward being models who use social media to improve the world we live in, to disseminate quality information, to learn, and to spread joy.
For instance, let's all consider the following, and teach our students as well, to...
- Read and reread posts, text messages, and emails and if there is a nagging feeling that says, "Don't post," trust those instincts.
- Don't put stock in the number of likes on a post; it really is meaningless and what counts is the sharing of a valuable moment or idea.
- Don't post controversial material: try to keep it happy, as social media is no place for political tirades. If feeling compelled to make a point, do it respectfully and without profanity and hurtfulness.
- Turn off notifications. It can make you crazy.
- Make efforts to engage in face to face conversation or at least the telephone. Allow yourself to key into tone of voice and body language. When firming up plans, how about a real conversation? Just pick up the phone for Pete's sake!
- Don't over-share. People don't really want a play by play of your day by day.
- Be sure that what you post is a reflection of what you truly believe or feel. Be genuine and if you need help ask for it. In this day and age no one should suffer alone.
- Learn to take posts at face value. Without a conversation you can only guess what the intent or motivation of another is.
- Don't post when you are emotionally charged, you will regret it.
- Live in the moment: when doing something fun don't stop what you're doing to post. Wait until the activity is finished and then share.