Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How Teens View Their Digital Lives, from Common Sense Media

This great infographic from Common Sense Media reflects recent studies of children’s media use. (The term “social media” involves social networks, text messaging, instant messaging, blogging, chat rooms, online video game chats using voice or text, etc.)  With just over 1000 kids aged 13-17 surveyed to collect this information, it is a somewhat small-ish study, but one that offers interesting insights into how kids view social media and themselves.
The research confirms and quantifies what many educators and parents already know:
  • Most teens text (68%) and use social networks (51%).
  • Of social networks, Facebook is king (75%) among teens.
  • Social media use can make some kids feel better about themselves and their abilities to make and maintain relationships, but it doesn’t work for everyone.
  • Girls are more likely to use text messages and social media to share photos and messages.
  • Although they share more often than their male peers, girls report being stressed by photo sharing about twice as much as boys.
The following might surprise some, though:
  • Kids still prefer interacting with others in person (49%) instead of electronically.
  • Kids generally understand and often express concern that their use of social media technology can interfere with those personal interactions that they prefer.
  • Many kids actually like to “unplug” and experience what life was like “when there was no Facebook.”

So what does this all mean for teachers and parents?

  1. Social media services can be valuable tools to help build students’ social and emotional resiliencies. 
  2. More often than not, kids tend to feel better about themselves and their abilities to create & maintain friendships through the use of tools like text messaging and social networks.
  3. Kids (83%) in this study report that what happens in social media services doesn’t really impact their feelings of self-worth, depression, etc., as significantly as we might have heard or assumed in the past. That’s not intended to downplay the experiences or feelings of those kids who are negatively impacted, nor to say that a kid will never be hurt physically or emotionally through social media use at some point in the future. As parents and educators who care for kids, we of course would never want to see or hear of a child being hurt. The study reports that most kids do not feel hurt by social media interactions. They usually ignore the negative stuff when it does happen, and more often than not they simply don’t let it bother them or impact their confidence or self-worth.
  4. Kids still overwhelmingly prefer to interact with others face-to-face rather than over social media avenues.  They also get annoyed – just like their parents & teachers – when texts, tweets, or status updates interrupt their in-person time with family and friends. Some actively choose to “unplug” or “lose their phones” temporarily, even longing for time without social media access.

In the classroom:

  1. Learn how your students prefer to interact. We teachers tend to avoid what we don’t know, so we should find out how kids in our classrooms prefer to interact. As adults we might like to tweet or blog about something, but students may prefer a text or a status update instead.
  2. Incorporate these preferences into meaningful instructional activities. If your school allows it, look into ways to incorporate texting or social media into instructionally-relevant learning activities. If specific sites like Facebook, for example, are blocked in your school or district, try alternatives like Edmodo, Schoology, or Fakebook. If cell phone use is allowed in class, try having kids text responses to you using services like Poll Everywhere or Study Boost, or send homework reminders with services like Remind101 and others.
  3. Adapt for the Have-Not's. Not every child comes from a home that can afford or will allow the use of social media. What will you do for the kids who do not have cell phones or computers at home? Schedule some time with lab computers at school and guide kids as they develop new social media skills. Try finding non-tech ways to incorporate similar skills and activities into your lessons. Let kids write out their ideas for a blog post or comment and submit them to you on paper for the same amount of credit as those who do so electronically. Or try something like this Historical Facebook Profile. (Direct link to the Google Docs template) The possibilities are only limited by your creativity!
  4. Teach Internet and Social Media Safety. If you’re going to teach kids using social media, you must also teach kids how to use it safely. There are tremendous amounts of resources available to you. For our District, I’ve compiled links to online resources by grade-level cluster and required focus areas according to Illinois’ Internet Safety Mandate.
  5. Change it up. Any anthropologist will tell you that “technology” describes the tools and materials that are used to communicate, enhance and share the knowledge and skills of a society or culture. You don’t have to use social media technologies in the classroom all the time, but these tools are becoming a more widely-accepted tool in our students’ culture. Therefore, it is important to begin incorporating the safe and responsible use of social media tools into instruction when is it educationally- and developmentally-appropriate to do so. This data shows that social media is not some end-all-be-all panacea that will automatically engage every child and cure all of your classroom management headaches. It doesn’t have to take over everything you do, either. Start with just one of the ideas above and try it out when it fits in with your lessons appropriately and helps support or display student learning. If it takes, look for meaningful ways to expand its use elsewhere. If not, try something else some other time. Mix it up with some quality uses of presentation software, or even <*gasp!*> a debate or a poster or shoebox diorama or a good-old crayons-and-scissors project. If you only use one form of technology to help kids communicate their mastery of content & skills, they’re going to want to try to switch it off eventually. That will mean trouble for your lesson and for kids’ willingness to learn. The way I understand this study, variety is the key.

Okay, so what’s the point?

Yes, there are dangers and pitfalls inherent in the use of social media tools. But think about it like fishing: Some like to go fishing and think it is a valuable social & family activity. However, if you take your kids fishing, they could fall into the stream or pond, stab themselves with a fishhook, cut themselves with a fillet knife, or encounter a whole range of other dangers. Can kids learn valuable skills and build strong social and family bonds through the occasional Saturday morning excursion to the local fishing hole? Of course they can. Is it the best or only way to build those skills and strengthen those relationships? Maybe, maybe not.

The point is, social media use is rapidly becoming part of many kids’ lives today. In fact, this study reports that 9 out of 10 kids have used some sort of social media at some point by the time they reach their teen-age years. Sure, there are dangers inherent with many activities in life. Should we insulate our children from those experiences? Should we never teach them how to fish? No, of course not. It simply means that kids need adults in their lives who will guide them through learning when it is safe and appropriate to use these new tools and activities, and help them learn how to integrate them into their lives in productive and healthy ways.

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