Slice of Life Day 20

Today’s slice is a thread I wrote on Twitter about social media and teens.


I’ve spent a lot of time the past few days thinking abt social media + how it influences teens. My students read this article yesterday and had a great discussion about ideas that are introduced as a joke and then become discussion-worthy on social media

One of the sticking points in their discussion was that Youtubers like Pewdiepie, who has been called out for racist and anti-semitic words, is just entertainment. They compared him and others to South Park and similar controversial TV shows from the 90s-00s.
There were a variety of opinions about whether all teens (and kids even younger) can differentiate between good and bad satire. But what most agreed on was that the level of access is so different today.
When South Park debuted you had to watch it live (after 10pm) or illegally download it later. Downloading it could take hours (or days!). And there were a limited number of episodes.
Youtube is available 24/7 with almost no restrictions. Instead of watching an episode of a controversial TV show, a viewer can watch hours of videos with almost no controls placed on them.
Today’s teens don’t know a world w/o 24/7 access to all the information in the world, including some of the darkest ideas being spread. I, however, do see a difference between then and now. Some teens do make jokes, like Pewdiepie’s, and become indignant if someone gets upset.
But those jokes become normalized. And then it’s a problem. I feel like the trajectory from “joke”—->normalization is a million times faster and easier today thanks to social media.

Most of my teens recognize that, but they don’t know what to do. They pointed out Youtube has demonetized antivax videos. Some applauded the decision; others thought it was stupid. However, they universally understood the danger of spreading antivax ideas.

But antivax ideas have clear, physical ramifications. Things like the normalization of replacement theory are more abstract. It’s much harder to see, especially for teens.
I don’t have a solution, but it was a fascinating conversation and there’s a clear divide between generations (in my experience). One thing we all agreed on was that extremist ideas are no longer confined to the dark corners of the internet. You can find them in plain sight.
We need to teach kids how to think critically abt media, but media needs to expand beyond the adult ideas of newspapers, 24/7 cable news, etc. Media is Youtube, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Reddit, etc for kids and they access some of these sites before kindergarten.
And they often access them without parent supervision. When the Momo challenge articles were going around I was shocked by the number of parents, with very young kids, who allowed unrestricted access to Youtube Kids.
These adults were shocked when they played around on Youtube kids and found stuff they did not want their kids watching. As adults, we need to stop trusting algorithms. They aren’t perfect.
But we also need to start talking about social media way before kids turn 13. We don’t let kids drive until they have a license, so why do we think they will instinctively know how to make smart social media choices without training?
I know way too many adults who don’t want to talk about social media with kids because it’s too dangerous, scary, unknown, hard, or a million other things. But we have to stop it with the excuses. Social media literacy is 21st-century literacy.
Many kids and teens spend more time on social media than they do in school . According to Common Sense Media, teens spend 9 hours a day online. Social media is where they form their ideas about themselves, their peers, current events, science, culture, and everything else.
They spend more time on social media than on reading books, being outside, watching TV, or hanging out with friends (in real life). We have to stop ignoring social media in our curricula.
I also know a lot of parents and teachers who assume their kids know everything there is to know about social media. Or “they know more than me”. There are resources out there to help! Ask your librarian, your child’s school, and other parents.
If you are really overwhelmed, get your kid a “dumb” phone, put the computer in a heavily-trafficked area of the house, + make your kids go outside instead of online. (My master’s project focused on nature deficit disorder in teens, so more time outside is always my answer!).
Teachers, make social media a part of your curriculum. When you teach students how to find credible sources talk abt Reddit, Youtube, + Twitter. Instead of saying “you can’t cite that!” (which is a gross generalization), talk about how they should analyze info from those sites.
It’s imperative that we talk abt consuming social media as entertainment, too. When we teach students abt satire we need to talk abt bad satire. We need to look at Youtubers + bloggers who publish satire. What works? What doesn’t? Why is it important to know the difference?
Because guess what? Our kids are watching/reading/talking about some of these idea that “just a joke”, but they need to understand what the implications are. It’s our job as adults to help them with that.
Lest anyone think I’m a Luddite, I’ve been
-blogging since ’07
-on Twitter since ’08
I’m a regular user of Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, etc. I first logged on to AOL at 10/11. The HS I attended had its own BBS. I used AIM exclusively to communicate in college. I love social media!
But I firmly believe we are doing our students a massive disservice by pretending social media doesn’t exist. Or that the only things to be worried about are sexting (YES SUPER IMPORTANT!) and creating a positive digital footprint.
Kids are creating AND consuming on social media. They need guidance on the consumption side, too.
Final thought (for now): we can’t let social media companies off the hook, either. But until they figure out how to handle this mess we need to arm kids with the knowledge to critically consume social media while being a part of the future of social media.