There are few phrases that you can utter in front of a room full of parents that will immediately grab their attention. Social media is one of these phrases and understandably so. While it is a daunting realm, one that changes with every passing day, hour, minute, even second, this idea of social networking isn’t wholly unfamiliar to most of us. While words like Snapchat, hashtag, or – shudder – Ask.fm, might silence a room of parents and educators, we cannot deny that technology, social media, and other forms of communication are rapidly evolving. Rather than tell our students to avoid these things at all costs, it is crucial to instead demonstrate the beneficial power that technology and social media possess when used properly.
On Monday, along with faculty members from Walker’s Middle and Upper Schools, technology staff, and guidance counselors, I attended a workshop on social media snares and digital consciousness. The dynamic Richard Guerry, founder of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell Phone Communication, kicked off our morning by holding – not a smart phone or an iPad – but a lighter. When our ancestors initially discovered fire, he explained, it was undoubtedly terrifying and lots of people were, quite literally, burned by its use. However, after centuries of trial-and-error, it became quite clear that the immeasurable power of the flame had many beneficial uses that would alter the course of humanity.
You see, technology is the 21st century equivalent of fire – scary yet powerful beyond measure. Yes, it can put us in direct contact with faceless, thoughtless, power-hungry individuals who are intent on ruining the lives of people they know they will never meet – or worse, people they see on an every day basis. It can also ignite passions we didn’t know we had, connect us with people we might have never had a chance to interact with, or allow us to share our work with an audience of 7 billion.
Can you imagine how amazing it would be to read an archive of tweets from the 250,000 people who witnessed Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech? To only have to visit YouTube to see a video of your great-great-great grandparents walking, talking, singing, and laughing? To realize your dream of becoming a published author and photographer, simply because half a million people check your Instagram account daily to see what your dog is up to?
Along with division leaders from our Lower and Middle Schools, I have held a number of crash courses in social media for parents this school year, and the most common concern I hear is the difficulty of staying up to date with the ever-evolving world of social media networks. “The second I finally understand Vine, here comes Instagram Video!” they lament. “How on earth am I supposed keep up?” Simply put, you can’t. It is impossible to name every single tool that uses fire; however, what we can do is model fire safety for our students while setting clear and defined guidelines for how to safely harness the power of fire.
We don’t need to berate ourselves for not knowing every single app, just like we don’t need to scare children away from technology. Ask your student what he or she enjoys about Instagram, Snapchat, or Vine. Use social networking as an alternative way to help with homework. Stay up-to-date on trends in social media and apps by browsing websites like Mashable and Common Sense Media over your morning coffee. Create a social media contract with your family and abide by those guidelines. The more students see you using social media in a positive way, the more likely they are to do the same.
I nearly titled this blog entry, “With great power comes great responsibility.” At first I attributed this famous quote to Stan Lee, of Marvel Comics fame; however, a quick Google search revealed it was actually Voltaire. See? Technology isn’t all that bad.