As I read through the article Rules for Social Media, Created by Kids, I couldn’t help but think of this clip from 21 Jump Street. The stories and discussion that the students in the article were having paired perfectly with the idea of “two-strapping” in both its ridiculousness and its realness. For generations “grown-ups” have been calling the trials and tribulations of youth ridiculous, but if we look back and compare the challenges of today with our own stories of growing up, we may just be able to remember how incredibly real and important it all felt back then too.
Reflecting on the interactions that take place on the various social media platforms, I find myself trying to draw comparisons to my own experiences as a teen. Cell phones weren’t quite the norm yet, and only a few of my friends had them to keep in contact with their parents. In class, the communication method of choice was still the “note”. There were girls who even had dedicated notebooks solely for the purpose of sitting next to their friend in class, writing back and forth about the latest drama, but this was only effective if you were in the same class. Out of school, everything happened on MSN Messenger. Of course in the days of dial-up internet, you couldn’t be on for too long before someone would need to make a phone call, and you would have to go find something else to do. While we were always wanting to be connected with our friends, it wasn’t really possible. To me the biggest difference for our students today is that they are connected with their peers, for better or worse, almost constantly.
As I work in the elementary school, this constant connection is not nearly as present as in the older grades, but it is clear that students are still aware of it. The conversation quickly moves away from phones and social media and into other platforms. Most students in our elementary school have a phone with the intended purpose of staying in touch with their parents. While the majority of Grade 5 students have phones, it quickly becomes the minority in the grades below. That being said almost all students have access to iPad or other devices at home, and the connections and opportunities for both positive and negative digital social interaction are everywhere. Platforms like Robolox, TikTok, and Fortnite are ways that younger students connect, interact, and begin exploring online social interactions.
We recently held a parent discussion in our elementary school to facilitate discussion among parents about how they are monitoring and understanding their children’s online presence. Our biggest point that we tried to get across was the importance that parents try to understand the activities that their child is enjoying online. We found that parents were mentioning apps that they knew their children were using but were unsure exactly what they were. We encouraged them to have conversations with their children about the apps, not in order to judge them or determine their appropriateness but to understand why their children enjoyed them, and how they were using the apps. We also directed them to a great resource based out of the UK called Net Aware that outlines important information on a huge range of apps such as the data they collect and the type of content that children may be exposed to.