Students and Social Media

By Jonathan Briggs, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer

One of the great attributes of my Middle and Upper School experience is that there is no permanent record of it. Seemingly small shifts in technology, such as three-way calling, had profound effects. Is someone else on the line with me? Is this call legitimate or am I being entrapped into exposing who I have a crush on to a third party? Compared to the plethora of interactions that our students wrestle with, it seems quaint in comparison. Beyond understanding the landscape of social interaction today, we also know that it will change significantly over the eight years that students are with us and we want them to go into college and beyond continuing to be savvy users of social media as well as all other forms of digital communication. Is this even possible? How can we tackle such a task?

Yes, it is possible—and necessary; we just have to zoom out a touch. All of our communication tools whether instant messaging, Snap Chat, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are tools that connect people. You don’t need to know a thing about the underlying technology to help a child navigate that landscape as long as you know about people. As a species, we don’t change nearly as much as we would like to think we do. If we did, Shakespeare’s plays would no longer make sense to us.

Technologies have the power to present baser temptations; it is easier to convey—anonymously—mean-spirited words than it is to say them to someone’s face. Such a communication is wrong—no matter how it’s conveyed. Students ages 10 – 18 are in the midst of developing their sense of moral “rightness,” and social acceptability. Such temptations are not helpful.

So, how do we address communications and social media with our students? We address it by talking about how we relate as human beings. The same behaviors that are necessary at the dinner table, or in a classroom, are appropriate in digital communication. We have expectations about how individuals relate to one another; that doesn’t change because we’re using a different medium. We expect students to make mistakes, and we coach them righto “make it right.” For our youngest students, concrete guidance is necessary; “don’t say or type anything that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in front of your grandmother.” As students develop socially, emotionally, and intellectually, we reinforce those same principles.

Have confidence that, as parents, you already know 90% of what you need to know to help your children navigate these waters. It’s about being kind to others. You’ll find that while they may know a lot about SnapChat filters, you know a lot about people.