If you ever want to feel old, all you really have to do is talk to some 10-year olds about what they get up to on social media.
This week’s topic is fascinating to me because, even though I work with my 4th graders every day and know a lot about them, I’ve never viewed them as the experts. That all changed this week after exploring some of the online resources and coming to terms with the fact that these 9- and 10-year-olds are far more ‘hip’ to youth culture than me- and I’m pretty hip. It hadn’t occurred to me until reading the Wired article, Like. Flirt. Ghost: A Journey Into the Social Media Lives of Teens that there were unspoken rules about what’s socially acceptable and ‘cool’ when hanging out with friends on social media, but really, of course, there are. And despite my students only being 9 and 10, they are incredibly connected in virtual spaces through social media and gaming. Here are some of the things I learned:
Instagram is the New Facebook
I’ve known for quite some time that Facebook is for old people. Case in point: this is the preferred social media for my mother and grandmother. In fact, according to the Forbes post, Social Media Matters for Baby Boomers, older generations are far more active on Facebook than teenagers. This fact was echoed by the 4th graders in my class who let me know that Facebook is for “old people,” a category in which, they say, I fit. I was then schooled on how Instagram is a far more superior platform for the following reasons:
You don’t have to write a lot
Pictures are better than words
More people to connect with
Parents don’t use it
Selfies are fun
Celebrities to follow
More likes and comments
Self-expression and sharing
Boomerang and filters
I also realized that there is not an even distribution of social media users in the pool of students I talked to about their use. It turns out that the girls are much more active on Instagram than the boys meaning that although the boys all admit to having accounts, they never post. The girls, on the other hand, can’t seem to get enough of Instagram. They are posting, liking and commenting fiends.
This was a timely post too because last week, we had a problem in 5th grade with fake accounts, profanity and cyberbullying on this preferred platform. It turns out that someone created a fake account of a student and used it for bullying purposes using a ton of inappropriate language and content. Another student shared screenshots with a teacher and it spread like wildfire through the upper elementary. Naturally, had to address it as a school community with students, staff and then yesterday with parents. It was a great opportunity to start a discussion with all shareholders about social media use and responsibilities. The good news is that I think I’ve decided on a project for the end of course 2 though!
Back in My Day
This week’s resources (and much of the course content in COETAIL so far) sparked tons of dinner conversations between my partner and me. Besides the obvious conversations about how we’re glad social media didn’t exist when we were growing up, we talked about how much video games and gaming subcultures have changed since we were kids. Although I’ve never really been a ‘gamer’ per se, I did enjoy the occasional Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, or Tetris game when I was growing up. A good friend of mine had a Super Nintendo and we used to play at his house after school; it was always more fun to hang out at his house because we had something to ‘do’ whereas, at my house, we had to play actual board games or go outside.
Like me, Jeff’s parents never let him have a video game console either so we laughed at what a nice treat it was to go play at a friend’s house who had the latest game system. Naturally, all of this reminiscing led us to discussions about how the very act of gaming has so fundamentally changed. Back in our day, the only thing social about video games were when you had a friend over to play with you. It was a mostly solitary and somewhat introverted form of entertainment and has now morphed into a shared experience for millions of connected players worldwide. Online gaming communities are providing kids with opportunities to communicate, connect and share. Gaming has moved out of mom’s basement and become a place where people can meet, connect and even form relationships. That didn’t happen “in my day.”
And while we’re still on gaming, this week’s discussions with students revealed another reminder of how out of touch I am… I’ve never even heard of the boys’ favorite new social media, Discord. After a bit more digging, I learned that this not-so-new application is a preferred medium among gamers (and alt-right lunatics) because of its support privacy and anonymity capacity. Even more alarming to me is the high rate of abuse reported in their chats labeled as “raids” which can flood users with all kinds of harassments and controversial topics including race, religion, politics, and pornography. The fact that I’m a technology teacher and had never heard of it didn’t fill me with faith that my students’ parents know they use it at home. And then all of this left me wondering what more I could do to prepare these kids for things they may encounter online.
The world has changed and continues to change. Social media can be used for good or evil. It’s important to model appropriate use online for kids. Discussions among students, teachers and parents about social media are essential. Schools have an obligation to review and refine policies often. I have a lot to think about as Course 2 unfolds.