Schools should discuss social media with students

social media with students, tiktok
© Mykhailo Polenok

Unsah Malik, social media professional, gives her opinion on why schools should be addressing social media with students instead of ignoring it

I often say what the playground is to kids at school, social media is to the digital world. The rules aren’t any different (wrong still means wrong) but they sure do feel more laissez-faire. Everyone is responsible for their own actions with no authoritative figure, or even general being, to physically pull them away — and with that comes the not-so-great factor of many taking advantage of their own bubble of power. Some do so intentionally, while others blindly follow with little consideration of the consequences felt on the other side.

Is there a need to discuss social media with students?

While we expect adults to know the limits to what can and can’t be said on social media, it’s perhaps a little naïve to expect today’s children, Gen Z, to automatically know or act better.

Why? Because they’ve been raised in the social media era where they’ve grown desensitised about content that should shock them and now find the norm in what should scream unacceptable. Snaps, DMs and IG Stories, Memes, TikTok videos and Gossip Pages have crept up as the new form of communication, play and news. If you aren’t up-to-date with what’s being exchanged behind a phone and on a social app, chances are you’ll have no idea what your friends are talking about at school tomorrow.

The rules are often made by those in their own age group or generation, but who are we to place the entire blame on them when the circumstances of their online contact have changed immensely over the past 10 years, but the curriculum at school hasn’t? While it’s true parents should hold a level of responsibility, children are sent to school to learn, and therefore the dos and don’ts of social media should equally be taught in the classroom.

Whether you call in external experts, train the teachers or engage in friendly debates during form time, there’s no denying the below four points need addressing.

1. The root of bullying or distress on children comes from various mediums

Private messages, exposed pictures, screenshots of group chats, jokes shared on meme pages, viral tweets and videos… you name it. It’s difficult to sensor each platform and pretty impossible to monitor and have your eye on every conversation (even the platforms themselves struggle to keep this on lock), so students in school must be aware of a) everything they’re posting on their social feeds, and b) the consequences of joining in on the trend that attacks an individual. How would they feel if it was themselves? Do they understand that by siding with the bully, it’s a form of singling out a victim? Are they aware of the mental health issues the victim is more likely to suffer as a result of online bullying/trolling?

2. Self-image should mean more than filtered selfies and influencers

Once upon a time, filtered selfies were used occasionally. But now, an alarming percentage of young people don’t take selfies unless there’s a filter or it’s been edited. Harmless fun is one thing, but to decrease in self-confidence and self-esteem from comparing Photoshop-like pictures to reality can have long-term self-esteem and even mental health, problems — most especially from young adults.

3. Freedom of speech is not the same as hate speech

Children should be aware that they can suffer from the same repercussions as adults do when publicly defaming, bullying or harming another individual or company. Media law and trolling is absolutely inclusive of social media, which is a factor many young people are unaware of. If teachers discussed social media with students, these situations could be better navigated.

4. Challenges and memes should be light-hearted and fun only

Heard of the recent ‘Holocaust Challenge’ on TikTok? It was as horrific and inconsiderate as it sounds — teens were quite literally posing dead victims. How about the Black face trend from (predominately young beauty bloggers) done to support Black Lives Matter? Yep, just as terrible. The reason: A lack of education on what is and isn’t entertainment, and what is and isn’t insensitive. The lesson: If you won’t do it in public in real life, it probably shouldn’t be done behind a phone either.


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