Parents and educators have long been concerned about the impact of social media on children. And those concerns have increased significantly as students spend more time online due to social distancing measures and virtual learning.
But aside from the problems related to social media — such as bullying, potential predators, and increased depression among our youth — there are also benefits of the technology. Social media is key to keeping students engaged in creating and strengthening relationships with friends.
A panel that included students and experienced educators discussed the pros and cons of social media, and how to avoid the pitfalls, during a recent webinar held by the National Center for School Safety.
A Student’s Perspective
Lena Kalandjian, a member of the Sandy Hook Promise Youth Advisory Board, noted that the top concern among students is making social comparisons with their peers, leading to an increase in anxiety and depression.
“The problem is that most of what you see on social media is not real,” she noted. “People always put the best of themselves on social media. When we start comparing ourselves, we can often feel inferior. This impacts the development of our identity and self-esteem. Several studies link social media use with depression and lower self-esteem because we believe others are happier and living better lives.”
Conducting an informal survey of her classmates, Lena found that 93% of students felt worse about themselves after viewing social media. And 73% reported that their time spent using social media could be more productive if used on other activities.
An Educators Perspective
Kristin Kuklinski, a long-time guidance counselor in North Carolina, said the use of computer technology and social media, in particular, is unavoidable at this point. It’s all that most students have ever known. However, she noted that when used properly, it can be an invaluable tool for educators.
“There isn’t a teacher out there who can say that it hasn’t drastically increased engagement,” she said. “Social media has significantly helped build our school community. When COVID-19 hit, we were immediately cut off. We were developing creative ways to connect and let students know we cared as much about their wellbeing as academics.”
Social media can help connect students to their peers and to support systems, she said. A recent student who was nervous to come to school found new friends on social media. Students can use social media, she said, to build meaningful connections with peers who share similar interests.
A Parent Perspective
Sharmain Brown, the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Jared’s Heart of Success, said her biggest concerns surrounding social media as a parent is cyberbullying and online predators. Another concern is spending so much time on social media that things like homework and chores often go undone.
“My advice to parents is: have that important conversation with your child. Ask them what they are using and show you the platforms. Become familiar with them and routinely monitor your child’s online activity.”
She stressed parents need to talk with their children about the unrealistic images on social media, and how it makes them feel. And remind their children that using smartphones, tablets, and computers comes along with the responsibility of using them properly.
The National Center for School Safety has been hosting a series of workshops in recent months in conjunction with Sandy Hook Promise about students’ mental health and challenges. Learn more about how parents and educators can face these challenges:
- Supporting Student Mental Health During Distance Learning – Three educators with decades of classroom experience recently shared their strategies for connecting with students during physical distancing.
- Sustaining School Safety Programs – Educators highlighted cost, sustainability, and staffing capacity as major factors when selecting a safety program for their school district.