A couple of weeks ago I blogged about Social Media and the stress it can cause to the lives of young people. I have found it interesting for years how social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can have huge impact on the lives of the people we teach but that as teachers we ignore the topic all together. We ignore it mostly because we don’t know what to do with it. When I was writing my dissertation for my Masters on the topic of teaching in the 21st Century, I made the same point; that I too don’t know what place they have or how we can use them. However, the students that come into our classrooms are full of these technologies and networks.
Following on from my blog, I delivered an assembly to my year group (Year 10) in which I discussed how I felt their lives are different to our lives when it comes to how integrated they are to the internet and mass communication. I made the point in the assembly that when I was their age I would rarely text my friends (because it cost so much and not many of my friends had mobile phones) and sites like Facebook et al did not exist. I left school in 2000 to start University and graduated in 2004; I didn’t join Facebook until 2005.
The main focus behind this all was the way that all of this interaction and connection can cause stress. I made the point that you can leave school at school, homework in your bag, your parents downstairs, but now, with mobile phones connected to wifi or 3G you cannot block your friends out. When I was at school, and it is the same for pretty much all teachers, if there was a fight or falling out it got left at school and usually by the next day it had died down. This is not the case if the person who you had a falling out with posts a message on your profile which is commented on my 15 people or retweeted to the whole year group.
The problem is that we as adults, teacher and parents, don’t really realise the stress this causes. We didn’t have it in our day so, at best we can’t empathise, or at worse we downgrade the significance of it seeing it as trivial. Yes, having this connection to all of the information of the world is fantastic at times when you need it but young people these days do not have the luxury of an off button, unless they choose to do it and social pressures of wanting (or needing) to be in the loop often stop this. The same kind of argument is often extended to the darker side of the ‘net. Parents proclaim they ‘don’t get’ Facebook so let their children spend too much time on it and potentially open themselves up to the dangers we hear about on the news more and more. I have spoken to teachers, who are also parents, who talk about how they get their children to show them have to work these sites. I am digressing from my main argument, but you wouldn’t let your child teach you how to cross the road, so why let them learn themselves how to use these potentially dangerous sites?
The second aim of my assembly was to help manage this. In the first instance through recognising the impact it does have on their personal lives. I challenged them to not use either all, or part, of their social networks for a whole weekend. The assembly ended with them writing down something they would aim to do. I also took up the pledge: to not use Facebook or Twitter for 48 hours. I wanted them to realise the time it took up of their lives and to think more about the future.
For myself, I found it hard. Twitter in particular is a big part of my life. I check it every morning (I also have two accounts) and every evening when I get home from work; I am then on it constantly throughout the evening. I watch TV with it in my hand; I use it to check football scores (making a weekend blackout even harder), keep track of news, interact with blogs and comments….everything really. Cutting it out meant I had so much more time. The weekend I chose was a pretty quiet one, meaning that I had loads of time to potentially tweet. Instead however, I read a book (pretty much from start to finish), I cooked more than usual and I planned my lessons probably more successfully then usual. It was in many ways a revelation. Since the blackout, I have gone back to using it but I think with the awareness I do use it too much sometimes. I have tried to charge my phone away from the bed side so that it isn’t always there as soon as I wake up and I have tried to put it down more in the house, instead of having it in my pocket.
After the weekend of blackout I emailed (the irony is not lost on me) a survey to the students for their feedback. These are some of the responses:
It gave me more time to do other thing, such as read a book. I did. however, also feel I was bored.
I read more
I could get on with homework quicker.
It was hard not to do it on auto-pilot but quite nice not to feel like I should be keeping up to date BUT then I got an email saying I had a message on facebook and I have not checked it yet…
It made me realize that I don’t always have to be on Facebook all the time, although it made me use messaging on my phone more!
Less stress about my social life.
This has shown me how that social media comes with a lot of stress so in the future i will be online a lot less throughout the day and at nights.
Some of the response were less positive to what I asked them to do. A few said that it didn’t teach them anything or that they gave up half way through the process. One student said they needed to use it ask their friend about some Science homework. I was buoyed, however, by those that had a go at it and reflected a little bit on the process.
From a pedagogy point of view it was also helpful. We as teachers don’t do enough research (where would we fit that into out schedules?) but getting feedback on the assembly was helpful. There were about 240 students in the assembly, just over 30 replied but I do see the just over 10% response as positive (how many of your class would do homework if it were optional?). Mostly, the whole process got me thinking more about social media. I don’t have the answer to how we can use it, maybe we can’t, but we do need to realise its presence and acknowledge the strains it can put on young people in and out of school.
Today I delivered my first assembly in a while on the stresses of social media. I think it went really well. I started with some vox pops from students in the year group about their interaction with social media, these were playing as they came in. I then discussed my own social media interaction before discussing the differences between the way they communicate with each other and the way I did when I was their age. I ended by challenging them to change their habits this weekend. They all wrote a pledge to try and do something like cut out Twitter or Facebook. I myself will be seeing if I can not use or check either Twitter or Facebook from this evening until Monday.
I am going to follow up next week by (ironically) emailing them to see what impact it had and gauge some reactions; which should be interesting.
Social media defines our lives. It’s true. It doesn’t just reflect or broadcast what we do, it defines how we live. The first thing I do in the morning is grab my phone and check my twitter feed and in the evening after I have got home for the day, I sit in my chair and scroll through my different accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, Twitter). I don’t use it at work but otherwise it is always there. But the thing is, I remember a time in my life when these different applications didn’t exist. Students in our classrooms around the world don’t have this luxury (and I think it is a luxury to remember a different time).
I remember a time when dial up internet was cutting edge, when mobile phones had to be carried in a rucksack, when people with email addresses were a minority… I am not a grandad (although talk like that makes me sound like one) but with these memories we don’t realise how embedded these website and technologies are in young people’s lives. And the crux of this is that social media can cause stress. I am not talking about bullying and the horror stories that we hear on the news (although they are obviously huge issues that need to be addressed), I am talking about general stress.
When I was a teenager, I had a good group of friends who I spent all day with in school and then hung out with after school for a couple of hours each day. This is no different to teenagers now. The difference is the connection to this social world. When I got home after spending time with them, I would be left without this social contact until the next morning. There were rare occasions when I would make phone calls in the evening (usually to girlfriends) but they were public calls sat on the stairs without the modern phenomenon of free minutes. There were no text messages, tweets, Facebook comments etc that keep teenagers constantly connected, and this is a good thing. We all need downtime and social media often takes this away from us.
At school we have just started with Year 10 for our year group and we are starting to pick up quite a few issues to do with stress and anxiety and I think a lot of it comes down to not being able to manage the many spheres of being a teenager. School work, homework. parents and friends are the main spheres but school work is left at 3 o’clock, homework can be completed, the bedroom door can be closed on the parents; friends via social media don’t seem to have an off switch.
On Friday I am delivering an assembly on this topic and I am going to be challenging the year group to have a social media blackout. I am going to pledge to not check Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr etc for a whole weekend. I am going to ask them to pledge to cut back and see how it reduces the stress in their lives. Sometimes as adults we scoff at how teenagers have it a lot easier because of the all the technology in their lives that we don’t realise that these developments can bring strains that we equally don’t understand.