First things first: Should social media be a part of the school curriculum?
Short answer: yes; children need to learn how to use social media safely and effectively. The nature of school can offer a safe and informed place to do this. Equally, given the tech-driven world children and adults are growing up in, the curriculum needs to reflect how society, the world of work, economics and more are evolving. For their wellbeing, future opportunities and more, teaching students how to navigate social media is now more important than ever.
Of course like everything, social media comes with its trials, tribulations and worries for everyone at school. It is a source of online bullying. It can be highly toxic and dangerously influential (the derogatory and dangerous content put out by Andrew Tate is one example). It has a worrying effect on teen well-being and mental health. However, if we turn social media into a teaching and learning subject, we might find its benefits can outweigh its limitations.
We need to learn and embrace the uncertainty of social media
Social media is throwing up (quite literally) new information (fake, real or otherwise) almost every second. It’s a medium that is accessible to kids as soon as they know how to use their fingers and toes (trust me, I have two babies). It’s effectively our generation’s version of Disney. The speed and power that social media can have over our knowledge base is overwhelming; there seems little time to read and watch it and even less time to process it. Many of us are at a loss with what to do with the level of 'stuff' we see. But, we can't just shut it down; for one, it's literally impossible. The next best thing we can do is work with it by learning as much as we can about it. Just like so many other elements of the curriculum, learning about social media is necessary - it is an intrinsic, subconscious part of our daily life and development.
If we flip the narrative of all the problems social media causes, we might say it’s in fact uncovered problems that have always been ‘there’ and we now have the opportunity to fix them and improve by using this technology to our advantage.
I’m pretty sure I wanted more of what I couldn’t have as a kid. I was curious. If we ban socials or limit them without good reasoning or justification, students will find ways into it. We were all kids once - we know the drill.
Let’s create space at school to DISCUSS what we scroll. Let’s navigate WHAT, HOW and WHEN students use it. Everyone and everything needs boundaries; in the same way we teach students to take responsibility for their learning, we can teach them to take responsibility for their use of social media.
How can we start engaging with social media at school?
News about social media can be fairly morbid. But think of what it has given us: a positive move towards race equality, gender equality, literacy to help us navigate global connections and relationships; an understanding of safe spaces; empathy for diverse lived experiences; shared experiences; humour (I mean who doesn’t like the odd Insta quote). All of the above are learning opportunities and current affairs that can so easily become a part of PSHE discussions, form time chats and relevant to so many parts of the curriculum.
Community engagement. Like it or not, social media is the 21st century way of building communities. People thrive off of the connection and relationships that are formed on socials. Of course, no one is suggesting they trump in person, human connection. But they can lead to some wonderful friendships, working relationships and safe spaces. Considering we learn in classrooms (a community) and the pandemic showed us we are more than capable of virtual learning, the extended use of social media for building learning communities is an exciting process. You can network with students abroad, share a wider range of resources. We can teach students how to critically evaluate research and news to keep classroom conversations going beyond the school grounds.
WORK! Who would have thought a mindless hobby (scrolling) could one day turn into a multi million dollar industry. The level of skill and opportunities available in the world of social media is quite literally mind blowing. Plus, socials tap into another realm of creativity - creativity that perhaps many of us don't understand, but all of us appreciate every time we open a social media app. By increasing the teaching and learning opportunities around social media, we are directly preparing students for work, entrpreneurship and a globally connected world.
Socials are fun! Online influencers, communities, figureheads and more can make learning so much fun! Again, teaching students to critically evaluate trusted pieces of information (it most certainly is not all dependent on a blue tick and the level of followers!) can make curriculum content all the more engaging, effective and interesting for students.
Positive activism and lobbying. Engage teenagers in discussions and work around making social media safe and relevant. Let them research and engage with change makers who want to make social media a healthy and safe space for young people. Let them be change makers. There are some excellent books and experts to help with this:
If we want to protect and empower children with an understanding of social media, school leadership need to invest in relevant CPD, research and give teachers the TIME so they know how to effectively and efficiently navigate all conversations about social media and staying safe online. Equally, as much as parents may invest in tutoring, conversations about maths, English and science, TALK to your kids about what they're watching and reading online - don't underestimate its importance, and don't be afraid to learn alongside them either. Social media is an industry like film, professional services and more. If we positively weave other industries into our teaching without questioning them, we can do the same for social media.
Of course, the solutions needed go above and beyond what a school and teachers can do. They go beyond a parent's control too. Tech companies need to take responsibility - we know this. However, parenting and teaching are vital in this equation; we can make a very valuable and necessary start from a young age to ensure students are informed, and responsible with their use of social media (it starts with a simple conversation).
Useful podcasts and resources about this topic:
The School Should Be podcast: How can social media be used as a force for good?
Useful websites about this topic: