Parents, young people learning to navigate digital platforms.
Like mANY parents, Katie Chustz is concerned about how social media affects her sons.
As for her youngest, an eighth grader at Jackson Academy (JA), she acknowledges social media can make him feel like he’s out of the loop. For instance, by not having Snapchat, one of the most popular social media platforms for middle-schoolers, she knows he is missing out on certain conversations or inside jokes with his friends.
Chustz’ older son is a different story. As a senior at JA, she said he’s become more responsible with his social media usage. However, she still reminds him that certain posts could affect his chances of getting scholarships or landing a coveted internship.
“It’s something we have to respect and something we have to help our kids navigate (during their) teen years,” Chustz said. “Even good kids, the moment they’re around their peers, can make poor decisions. Social media unfortunately can quickly broadcast those poor decisions to many others.”
With social media a way of life for most teens and pre-teens, schools are jumping into the fray to help students and parents address social media issues head on.
Jackson Academy requires fifth-graders to take a digital media citizenship course. The class is required, and provides training on “netiquette” and cyberbullying, according to a copy of the JA newsletter.
For its part, Jackson Preparatory School recently hosted three seminars designed to flip the script on social media, in an effort to give kids and parents the tools to show how the digital platforms can be used as a positive force.
The latter programs were led by the North Carolina-based Social Institute and held at Prep’s Centre for Arts and Leadership.
Events such as these are becoming more common, as educators, parents and students grapple with social media and the challenges it presents.
National figures show training is needed. Ninety-five percent of all teens in the United States have or have access to a smart phone or mobile device, compared with just 45 percent in 2004.
And according to a 2018 Pew Research study, 85 percent of teens had accessed YouTube, while 72 percent have used Instagram, 69 percent have used Snapchat, and 51 percent have accessed Facebook.
As access to mobile devices and social media have grown, parents and children have become increasingly concerned about the effects of digital media usage on students’ everyday lives.
A majority of parents and teens say they have too much social media screen time.
Forty-four percent of teens check their cell phones for message notifications as soon as they wake up and 40 percent say they feel that they should respond to messages immediately, Pew reports.
Other problems come in the form of sexting, sending nude or other inappropriate photos of a sexual nature to others, as well as cyberbullying, a form of bullying that occurs on social media.
Fifty-nine percent of teens reported some form of online bullying, according to a 2018 Pew report.
Meanwhile, colleges and universities are seeing the impacts that social media can have on students’ employment opportunities.
“We are seeing more and more employers doing thorough social media checks on individuals they hire,” said Thomas Bourgeois, dean of students at Mississippi State University.
“It is just human nature when you are narrowing down a group of candidates and you must choose between two or three very qualified candidates.”
Bourgeois said companies pursue students at Mississippi State only to abruptly lose interest, a sign that an employer could have seen an ill-advised post.
“Although those employers didn’t directly communicate the reason, simply looking at those students’ (digital) feeds, I could see possibly why a company may not have wanted to employ that student,” he said.
National data backs up what some MSU students have experienced.
An August 2018 report from CareerBuilder states that nearly 57 percent of potential employers found content on digital platforms that “caused them not to hire candidates.”
Laura Tierney, founder and CEO of the Social Institute, said the best way to deal with social media is to empower young people to make the right choices when dealing with digital platforms.
“Many adults view social media only as a negative. They therefore talk to students in more of a negative way – ‘don’t do this; don’t do that; don’t’ share anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see,’” she said. “We don’t equip students with enough do’s.
“In most aspects of life, we’re taught what to do. Social media needs to be approached in the same way. Focus on the positives and navigate the tricky situations.”
Tierney led discussions with Prep’s high school and junior high classes, as well as a community-wide event with about 60 parents in attendance.
During her presentations, she might ask a group of eighth graders how they would respond when their crush asks them to send a compromising photo on Snapchat.
“The average adult would immediately jump to ‘don’t send it.’ That’s partially good advice, but there are so many do’s to teach. Reply back and let them know you’re not in to sending something like that. Teach them to block the person immediately … Encourage them to find a new crush.”
The fourth option is leaving that person “on read,” which means you read the message but don’t respond to it, Tierney explained. “That’s a real popular one with students.”
The presentation also discussed whether “liking” something on social media was an endorsement.
In one scenario, some kids were suspended from school for liking a picture of a fellow student saying he was going to do something bad at the school.
“Was this an endorsement or a mindless act?” asked Col. William Merrell, director of the Global Leadership Institute. “What does a “like” mean to you?
“We wanted to flip the script from ‘scare and restrict’ to ‘empower and equip,’” he said.
Prep junior John Henry Andress said teens are becoming more aware of the do’s and do not’s of social media, but said the presentation was a good refresher course.
“It talked through a lot of ways social media can affect our lives,” he said. “It gave us a good perspective on how social media can affect our future.”