Last night I led a group of parents through this question - how do we embrace the use of social media amongst teenagers?
The participants found it it far easier to identify the downsides - bullying, square eyes, peer pressure. So with a flipchart list as long as my arm of the bad side of social media I had the daunting task of turning around the negatives in the room.
Despite their views a show of hands showed that 90% of the audience were in fact Facebook and Twitter users themselves, with even a few middle-agers experimenting with Snapchat and of course users of LinkedIn.
Around 90% of under 24s use Facebook and a good 60% use Twitter, with Snapchat nipping at their heels. So if we want to engage with our kids, or audiences under 24, we need to get with the programme.
Is Social Media Use by Teenagers a Good Thing?
Dr Jim Taylor writing in Psychology Today highlighted several benefits of using social media:
He made several key points:
- Children who use social media experience’virtual empathy’. Even though it is virtual this can make them feel more supported.
- Those who are shy or experience social anxiety may find social networking a low risk way of building up new friendships.
- Technology can encourage connectedness within a family – including those who are nearby and far away.
- Social media encourages kids to be more tech savvy which is of great use in the working world.
- Technology can alleviate stress by widening childrens’ social network.
How can social media be used to enhance learning?
The educationalists Chickering and Gamson in 1987 came up with seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education that are still taught today in Post Graduate teacher training today including encouraging contact between student and staff; encouraging activty learninng; developing reciprocity and co-operation among students and respecting diverse talents and ways of learning.
Encouraging Contact Between Students and Staff
Social Media is a fantastic way to increase informal contact between staff and students.
Facebook can be used to update students on news and share inspirational videos and quotes. It's fairly unobtrusive because it is the individual student's choice as to whether or not they join a social media group
Liz Foulis of Carnegie College describes the previous reticence of teachers toward Facebook, many seeing it as a disruptive force. Then it snowed. With students unable to get into school Facebook became a vehicle for students and staff to engage despite the weather.
Developing Reciprocity and Cooperation among students
But it’s not just teachers that find this useful. At the University of Hertfordshire the Student's Union are big users of social media. Here the Vice President of Student Activities describes how social media is used for live updates, competitions and personal statuses. The benefits shown are the personal touch, enhancing the student experience and giving them a voice.
Just recently my eldest daughter started life at University. It wasn’t long before she discovered the Freshers page. She found this a key part of settling in. Before she had even attended induction she had already met several students on her course and was well on the way to buildling her social network. Starting University can be very scary, especially if you are moving away from home. As Dr Jim Taylor says, social media is useful for building a network of support, and Freshers' Facebook pages have students doing that before they’ve even arrived
Encouraging Active Learning and Respecting Diverse Learning Styles
Not all students learn well through the written word. Use of social media can help develop materials and interest regardless of learning style by incorporating short text, video and images.
Twitter for example can be used in-class for sharing opinions on the lecture material, and out of class as a fast way of broadcasting messages and disseminating useful links to resources. Students use Twitter as a way of following discussion on specific topics. A study by Chris Evans, Senior Lecturer at Brunell University found that Twitter was associated with an increase in student engagement in University related activities, whilst showing no negative impact on attendance or interpersonal relationships with tutors.
What Skills can Teenagers Gain from Using Social Media?
Skill # 1 - Finding Jobs
Social media is becoming a key way of recruiting graduates. Just as educationalists are realising that this is a good way to get the attention of young people, so too are recruiters. Many big brands, such as the BBC, have specific recruitment pages. On LinkedIn jobs can be searched for and relevant job opportunities emailed directly to them. .
Skill # 2 - Business Networking
By encouraging students to have a LinkedIn Profile, they can display their skills and their CV directly on-line. Often head-hunters will find employees this way. It also enables them to make business contacts, which may be useful in their career, and get endorsements and recommendations from people that know them. They can join industry groups and follow news that is relevant to their future profession.
Skill # 3 - Fundraising
Last year my youngest daughter took part in the local schools' Dragon’s Apprentice competition as part of the Bishops Hatfield Girls School team (Blaze). Social media was a central part of their fund-raising activities raising £4000 for the Welwyn Hatfield Women’s Refuge and winning 4 out of the 7 prizes. As well as building their own website, they used Facebook and Twitter to promote their events and share news and photos afterwards.
In setting up the website and social media presence the team learned valuable marketing skills, how to set up events on-line, how to set up a social media presence that is attractive to readers and writing precise communications that will persuade and inform.
Anyone who took part in the ALS ice-bucket challenge will realise the opportunities available to charities through social media. In just 6 weeks ALS raised over $115 million – that’s just over £70m. To put this into perspective last year Children in Need, with their wide ranging activities all over the country and huge celebrity support raised £31million.
Many of today’s students may find themselves in the world of marketing and fundraising where social media is becoming vital to the success of fundraising campaigns.
Skill # 4 – Digital Skills
The BBC reported that "there is a "disturbing disconnect" between parents' traditional careers advice to their children and the needs of the jobs market". In their report they note that 10% of parents would actively discourage their children from taking digital jobs. As technology firms struggle to find enough graduates with skills such as web design and programming, the CBI is calling for UK businesses and the government to boost digital skills. The government has responded with changes to the curriculum due to come into effect this year.
Allowing our children to connect with digital media and start creating their own blogs, videos and social media presence will all help in the development of their digital skills.
Skill # 5 - Creativity
The democracy of the internet allows us all to have a voice and to create content online. Many children today will create blogs, video blogs, on-line photo albums and music videos. No longer is the media just in the hands of large media owners. Running a blog can help children to learn skills of graphic design, copy writing, marketing, social media skills and how to build a network. Perhaps most importantly they can have a voice and be listened to.
Skill # 6 - Entrepreneurship
The savvy amongst the young have been able to turn similar on-line presence into their own businesses with large consumer followings. Tanya Burr, a 24 year old video blogger, demonstrates how to get ready with beauty products. Large brands regularly send her products to review and she has built up a following of over 2 million on Youtube.
How Can You Embrace Social Media Within Family Life?
Well I hope that I have opened up the possibility of viewing social media as having a lighter more beneficial side. As psychologist Dr Jim Taylor says, social media can bring a sense of connectedness in families. With so many families being widely dispersed geographically, it is no longer necessary to rely just on the telephone or sporadic visits to relatives. Social media gives us the opportunity to share news and photos day in, day out. So if you want to embrace social media within your family life here's a few starters for ten:
- Share jokes with your kids that you know they will like – you might seem like more fun to them
- Create a Facebook social photo book for Christmas presents
- Keep in touch with Granny and Grandad – get them an iPad for Christmas so that you can Facetime them
- Create a family charity page – do something good and help others whilst having fun
- Help your kids to set up their LinkedIn profile and search for jobs on social media.
- Embrace and encourage their creative efforts – blogs, video blogs, photos on Instgram.
- Create a family blog and replace the Christmas round robin.
- Be open with your kids, discuss the good side and the downside. Read the NSPCC guidelines and help them to be responsible in their social media use.