Although late night TV is not typically part of my routine, I must confess to frequently laughing at the Jimmy Kimmel "Mean Tweets" segments. In case you aren't familiar with this segment, I'll explain the premise. Celebrities and political figures are invited to the show to read aloud some of the negative tweets that have been written about them by strangers. Giving voice to these tweets is a way for celebrities and political figures to demonstrate they have a sense of humor and can handle what is sometimes brutal criticism. When read aloud, what is immediately evident is the tone and intention behind the "mean tweets" is in fact the laughable portion of the segment. The targeted victim, in a way, becomes the victor in these one-sided online attacks or barbs.
A recent guest speaker to Porter-Gaud, Richard Guerry, spoke with both students and parents about the nature of postings as public and permanent. While much emphasis is placed on the danger of negative postings being linked to a student's identity, Guerry offered an alternative to this. He suggested students could actually leverage their social media presence to benefit those around them, to cultivate positivity, and in turn, demonstrate personal traits such as kindness and empathy in the process. As an educator and as someone who uses social media, that idea has been rattling around my head for weeks, and my goal is to be more proactive with students with ways in which they can do this.
Much has been made of this "selfie" generation, and whatever we can do as the ones who guide students to step out of "self" and consider others is important and essential work. What we model with our own social media presence is a big step in doing so. After several conversations over the last few years with parents concerning social media use, I've learned every time we have an opportunity to lead students through discussing what they text, Snapchat, or post, we can make a little bit of headway. Consider having your child read aloud what he/she has written, or maybe you read the lines for them. It may resonate in a more powerful way. What is a hilarious online segment may actually be an effective tool in examining the impact of what is typically an impulsive commentary. While students may feel comfortable posting something negative online, I have a hard time imagining them saying these things out loud to one another. Adolescents are still developing the skill of understanding the perspective of others, even as that pertains to the impressions others have of them. Holding a mirror up to social media use may help further develop this important skill.
In my seventh grade Reading Comprehension course, we recently read an article about what is the appropriate age for students to have cell phones at school. When I polled the students after reading the article, there was an overwhelming majority of students who felt they should have access to their phones during breaks in classes, community, and lunch. When I asked a follow up question, "Even if you want your phone, how many of you are secretly glad we hold on to them?" I was met with a begrudging agreement. When most of us grew up, if there was a problem at school, we could come home, maybe talk to our parents about it, go to bed, and hope the next day might be better. Today, with constant communication, small social missteps can be blown up into massive text threads, the content of SnapChat commentaries, and a rumor mill that spreads with a speed and reach that is mind-blowing. It can be a nonstop cycle. Like my students, I regularly check my phone for emails and attempt to reply as quickly as I can. Although we all likely experience work stress, I suspect it hardly compares to the social stress our children experience. Although our cell phone policy helps with academic focus, I am also grateful for the social break it affords them. It may be a break of sorts at home and on the weekends could be beneficial as well.
Our students revel in complimenting each other. Our Service Club recently started a Third Party Compliment campaign, with jars all around campus for writing supportive notes of one another. I've seen our students cheer on a peer crippled with stage fright before a talent show. Our students step in and help or ask for help in navigating social difficulties at school. Many of our students speak up when they are troubled by something they see at school or online. Our students extend invitations when they see a student alone at the lunch table. I would love to build upon those positive strides by having students bring those same traits of care to their use of technology. I don't think I'm naïve by thinking our students can do this!
So for me? Although I never posted anything negative about people, maybe the images I have curated over the last ten years can give a false impression. No more "perfect" pictures – rather I'll use social media as a way to express gratitude for all that I have, laugh at my own stumbles, and comment positively about the postings my friends and family members make. Maybe that's not as exciting – I suppose I'll have to settle for never hearing my tweets read aloud on Jimmy Kimmel!