When Bullying and Social Media Collide: Understanding the Struggles Your Students Face

by | Oct 1, 2018

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It is no secret that students these days face very different challenges than their teachers did growing up. With the use of technology growing rapidly and social media readily available at each student’s fingertips, it should come as no surprise that new challenges accompany this epidemic.

As a child, growing up is full of unexpected and often times confusing change. Trying to fit in and make friends while also learning about who you are and what values you hold is no easy task.

As a parent, challenges lie in every decision as you watch your child grow, learn and make new friends.

As an educator, it’s critical to understand the adversity facing both your students and their parents during such vulnerable times.

STUDENTS

How Are Students Accessing Social Media Accounts?

According to the Merriman-Webster Dictionary, social media refers to forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content such as videos.

Social media extends far beyond Facebook and Twitter. Students are gaining access to a variety of platforms including but not limited to:

  • Websites
    • Facebook
    • LinkedIn
    • YouTube
    • Reddit
  • Apps
    • Instagram
    • Twitter
    • Snapchat
    • Tinder
    • Pinterest
    • Periscope
    • Tumblr
    • Whatsapp
    • Skype
    • Kik
    • GroupMe

Additional social platforms to consider include games and chat rooms where students are able to talk directly to others, often strangers, via messaging or video chat.

How Much Time Is Really Spent Using Social Media?

The data on this matter varies greatly depending on age and/or social media platform. Data from various sources would suggest that the usage of social media continues to rise as new apps are created and more day-to-day uses for technology grow. Research states that individuals worldwide are spending on average 135 minutes or 2.25 hours on social networking sites and apps each day. This is a substantial growth from 2012, when the beginning of this study showed the average daily time spent on such sites was 90 minutes or 1.5 hours.

Who Is Affected By Social Media?

As usage of social media continues to rise, it should come as no surprise to hear that social media is affecting children and adults of all ages. Social media is becoming more and more prevalent among younger generations. Such effects extend far beyond convenience as children and adults have access to more information than ever before. The substantial growth in technology is leading to lasting effects on intellectual, behavioral and social development.

Why Is Social Media A Concern?

While social media have provided a convenient means of communicating and sharing information, it comes with factors that leave significant room for concern. Consider the following when pondering over the use of social media for younger and more vulnerable populations:

  • Anonymity: Have something you want to say but don’t want to disclose your identity? This may seem harmless, but what does anonymity bring into the realm of social media? This provides an outlet for students to openly say whatever they may desire to and believe there will be no repercussions. Not only that, but that it is likely that no one will ever know who the author of the post, comment or message was.
    • If students can post and keep themselves anonymous, who else can? Catfishing and other predator type scams are a huge concern, often overlooked by the young and naive who believe something that bad couldn’t possibly happen to them.
    • If your personal information can be identified and your social media presence can be tracked then everything you do on the internet can come back to you. What does this mean for students when they try to get a job in 10 years?
  • Bullying: Displaying your actions, feelings and opinions on the internet leaves ample opportunity for others to respond. Students that are able to hide behind the internet may be likely to respond more critically than they would in person. Separately, this gives students the opportunity to post comments, messages, images and videos of others without explicit consent before doing so. Due to the vast array of social media platforms, it is not uncommon for such posts to go viral without the individual referenced within ever being aware. Does every student have the support they need to overcome these new challenges?
  • Mental Health: From a decrease in physical activity, to terrifying and life-threatening internet challenges, social media can bring a spectrum of concerns to students’ lives. Do students have the means of identifying, discussing and solving such complicated situations?

EDUCATORS

How Does This Affect Your Students?

Whether this seems obvious or comes as a complete surprise, most students are affected in some capacity by what social media has to offer. Students have increased access to an abundance of technological information and tools to reach, communicate and share information with others.

Many students lack the maturity and appreciation for how powerful of a tool social media is. While it brings convenience and stimulation, it can also evoke negative responses as students begin to compare their situations and experiences with those of peers.

Consider some of the most common types of posts: The fun, exciting things individuals are doing and the tragic, negative experiences they have recently gone through. This can make it very difficult for a young person to identify with others in addition to giving them an unrealistic depiction of life.

Additionally, social media has made privacy and discretion something of the past. Shared information and posts can follow students around for years, offering continuous punishing effects if they are not careful.

How Does This Affect Your Schools and Classrooms?

School climates and school environments help set the stage for a safe, healthy and productive educational experience for all students. It is important that schools and classrooms reflect a positive, welcoming and encouraging space for students to learn and grow. For this reason, it is critical that administrators, teachers and other support staff learn how to recognize the leading indicators of social media aftermath extending into the hallways, classrooms and cafeteria of their schools.

How Can You Help?

As an administrator, teacher or supporting staff member you have significant influence in the lives of your students. Use this influence to your advantage as you teach and lead by example when addressing social media in the classroom.

  • Teach your students about social media
    • What are the pros and cons.
    • What is privacy on the internet and how can you control it.
    • How can you use social media to maintain a positive image for yourself.
    • What are the potential risks and dangers.
  • Hold honest and thought-provoking conversations
    • How everyone’s actions have consequences
    • How current decisions can have long-term and lifetime effects
    • How posts, images and videos travel fast
    • How you can’t simply take something back that has been shared on the internet
  • Provide a safe space
    • Give your students a judgment free zone
    • Create an opportunity for students to address concerns privately
    • Encourage your students to speak up both for themselves and for others
  • Maintain open communication with parents

Data would suggest that the use and presence of social media are only going to continue to grow. For this reason, educators need to put their best foot forward in ensuring that the presence and aftermath of social media in the classroom are positive. It is critical that schools maintain a safe, healthy and high-quality educational environment for all students.

If you are an administrator, encourage your staff to attend trainings on the latest social media trends to recognize and understand the struggles students are currently facing.

If you are a teacher, take the first step in learning about how you can help your students through this social media epidemic and encourage your peers to do that same so you can maximize success in your classroom for all learners.

 

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