What does that mean anyway? And why should you care?

A social media policy means the school (or board) is thinking proactively about what their students, teachers and staff are doing online. It means they are thinking through the guidelines for acceptable behaviour, safety and accountability. Some schools just ban social media (like Facebook) outright, but increasingly schools and school boards are realizing that they need to actively teach how to manage this important form of communication instead of sticking their heads in the sands and hoping it will all just…. go away.

Why should you care? Because your child will benefit from learning about social media from someone other than their friends (and maybe you). Because social media can be used in all sorts of creative, productive, exciting and challenging ways (not just to comment on what your friends are wearing). Because knowing how to use these tools effectively will certainly be a part of their future.

I spent the morning attending a meeting with the digital awareness committee at Trafalgar School for Girls, and I was so impressed by their creativity and forward-thinking. They have drafted a clear and comprehensive policy that emphasizes respect and safety. As we discussed a number of possible ways to stimulate and maintain a dialogue about social media with students, staff and parents, certain things emerged as particularly important:

  • Student involvement: giving them a voice and the power to get involved means they will be more likely to buy in.
  • Educating parents: parents need to know what this is all about, how it fits into what we know about adolescent development, and how they need to be involved.
  • Understanding how technology has changed what it means to be a teenager: sure, websites and apps like Facebook, Skype and Viber are cool, but they also introduce all sorts of new stressors. For today’s kids, the camera is always on. They spend hours cultivating and maintaining their digital personas. Old boundaries of privacy are not respected. Hateful and hurtful comments that would have been tossed out in the schoolyard and quickly forgotten are now hyper-public and enduring online. The usual adolescent anxieties around self-esteem and identity development are magnified — the stakes for every interaction have gotten higher.
  • Try to see past the panic: with each new technological leap, we tend to panic about what this will mean for our children, how it will destroy the moral fabric of our society, and how it will corrupt our girls and women (See Carolyn Marvin’s brilliant book, When Old Technologies Were New). I don’t mean to underplay the serious challenges we face, but we need to also maintain a clear vision of the fabulous opportunities these technologies open up for us.

There’s certainly a lot to think about, but this meeting with a group of bright, involved educators and parents left me feeling particularly optimistic.