Trend Lines: The Future of Social Media Education

NAIS

Summer 2018

By Laura Tierney

Teens build relationships with friends through FaceTime and group chats. They nurture friendships with compliments on Instagram and Snapchat. They stay in touch with friends and family overseas with messages on WhatsApp. Social media is just how they socialize these days.

Students are spending an average nine hours each day on their screens, according to Common Sense Media, and social media has become one of the greatest influences on our children’s happiness, health, safety, and future success, according to other reports. Many of the parents and school leaders I’ve talked with initially just wanted social media to go away, but now that it’s here to stay, some adults and students are beginning to see it as a powerful and positive tool.

According to The Social Institute’s 2017–2018 Social Media Survey with nearly 4,450 students from independent schools, more than 80 percent of fifth- through 12th-graders said they believed that social media can have a positive impact on their world, whether that means their school or local community, state, or country.

This is why many independent schools are adopting a proactive, growth-minded, and sustainable approach that empowers students, parents, and educators to positively navigate social media. They strengthen their reputations, protect their privacy, follow positive role models, and more. This new approach better aligns with a school’s mission and values, supporting students’ health and wellness. The future of social media is bright, and it’s one where we empower and equip, rather than scare and restrict.

The Current Landscape for Schools

Since social media really took off 10 years ago, few institutions or parents have found a relevant, effective solution to helping kids navigate the world of posts, texts, and selfies. Why? There are three current issues at play: what schools teach about social media, who teaches it, and how it’s taught.

Schools continue to approach social media education as a matter of digital citizenship. Common Sense Media defines digital citizenship as the ability to “think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in our digital world.”

We all want students to have digital skills, but telling students to use “digital citizenship” when using technology is like telling them to use “proper navigation” when driving a car. In the world of social media, relevance is everything, and “digital citizenship” is simply not relevant.

Furthermore, most schools use a top-down approach in which adults teach students. Of course, this happens for nearly every school subject, why not social media? The problem again lies with relevance.

According to the 2017–2018 Social Media Survey, 100 percent of students said they believed they know more about social media than their parents or school faculty. How are schools and parents supposed to teach something teens believe they know better (and likely do)?

Lastly, digital citizenship is often taught by adults strictly through “don’ts.” Don’t post this, and don’t share that. Don’t join that app, and don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see. However, imagine if a coach only taught how not to throw a ball or how not to shoot it. Players wouldn’t know what to do. Students are not being taught what to do on social media.

This relevance-lacking, top-down, don’ts-driven approach is failing our students. Students are progressing through school unequipped to navigate life with a phone in their hand. They are overwhelmed by the pressures of cyberbullying. They are being rejected by colleges because of racist Facebook posts. Sleep deprivation among teens is rising because they can’t put their phones away at night. Nude photos of teens are shared around school. Tweens are committing suicide because they’re cyberbullied.

As long as students feel like they are being lectured, they will tune out. They will fall victim to the same landmines, and this negative cycle will continue, potentially tarnishing the reputation of both students
and schools.

The Future of Social Media Education

We must refine social media education with a positive and proactive approach. The Social Institute works with several independent schools to implement such an approach and empowers students, parents, and faculty. We are halfway through a three-year strategic partnership with Ravenscroft School (NC) and have learned four best practices.

Integrate the curriculum. Rather than putting “digital citizenship” in a corner, Ravenscroft integrates social media life skills into its school’s advisory program, which encourages character development, health, and wellness. The school weaves lessons throughout its advisory program, which promotes “leading self,”
“leading with others,” and “changing your world.”

Students learn to have their social media profiles represent their true self and character. They learn to use empathy when engaging with and posting about others. And because social media is a student’s microphone to the world, sixth- through 12th-grade students learn how to use platforms to spark positive change. The program resonates with students because it supports their belief that there is no distinction between your “real self”
and “digital self.” It’s simply “you” and your ability to have high integrity and character—with or without a device in your hand.

Use a bottom-up approach. Rather than using a top-down approach, in which students are lectured by adults, Ravenscroft students co-lead the program. Student focus groups help develop materials and lesson plans, ensuring they are most relevant to the apps and behaviors students witness online. It’s effective because younger students admire the older student-leaders, and student-leaders help set the standard around social media use at the school. With a train-the-trainer approach, Ravenscroft’s 11th- and 12th-grade student-leaders are now learning to teach sixth- through 10th-grade students, parents, and faculty about positive social media use. It’s a team approach.

Focus on the do’s. Rather than harping “don’t do this” and “don’t share that,” we have found that reinforcing the actions to take allows students to strengthen their reputations, better handle the challenges, and change their worlds for the better. In Ravenscroft’s #WinAtSocial program, students learn seven Social Standards—including “protect your privacy like you’re famous,” and “use your mic for good.” (See “Gold Standards,” below.)

Assemble a cross-departmental team. The power of social media impacts nearly every administrative department. Susan Perry, Ravenscroft’s assistant head of school for student affairs, says, “Our students and parents have longed for a sustained, systemic message about how to connect conversations and educate about technology and social media. Our work with our faculty, students, and parents allows us to have an ongoing, supportive, and educational dialogue about how to leverage social media for respectful outcomes. We feel our commitment to community health must include such a systemic educational approach to understanding the potential positive impact social media can bring.”

How We Get There

As one of the most powerful influences on a child being happy, healthy, and successful, social media needs to be a priority. Schools have the opportunity to get ahead of the game. It starts with administration teams determining why it’s a priority and championing a holistic approach to educating students, parents, and faculty. The upfront work is hard, but the impact is remarkable—these are lifelong skills that students require.

Once schools make the commitment, there will be less helicoptering and more huddling. Less fear and more trust. Less bullying and more empathy. Fewer fire drills and more high-fives. Less negativity and more positivity. The future of social media education is bright, and it’s one where students are empowered and hold one another to high standards, whether online or off.  ▪

How does your school teach students, parents, and faculty about social media? Tell us on Twitter at @NAISnetwork.

AUTHOR

Laura Tierney is founder and president of The Social Institute, which empowers students, parents, and educators to use social media positively. She works with a number of independent schools as well as organizations like the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Help Tweens and Teens Clean Up Their Feeds

Eliminate the posts that lead to negative emotions, and load up on stuff that feeds your soul. By Caroline Knorr 
Help Tweens and Teens Clean Up Their Feeds

You know that girl from TV — the one whose Instagram always looks perfect even with #nofilter? Or what about that amazing singer on musical.lywhom you can’t believe is only 14? And then there’s that kid whose Snapchat stories of Coachella got 500 views. Your kids may be following people like this right now. Obsessing. Over. Every. Detail. And starting to feel kind of crappy about it.

Keeping tabs on the rich, famous, and just-plain-cool is nothing new, of course. But social media can take that fixation to a pretty dark place. The feeling is common enough that some doctors are calling it social media anxiety disorder (SMAD) — although what most kids have is more like FOMO… on steroids. While it’s tough to see your kid in despair, there’s a good solution that doesn’t require an all-out social media ban: Just help your kid clean up their feed.

Self-comparison is a natural part of the tween and teen years. And for most kids, so is social media. While there are plenty of good things kids get out of their online connections, sometimes the combo can lead to a negative feedback loop that gnaws away at them. Depending on whom they’re following and what’s going on in their lives, their overall self-assessment can cycle from wistful (“I wish I was like that”) to highly critical (“What’s wrong with me that I can’t be like that?”). Even for kids who know when to close their laptops and move on, their self-esteem may take a hit. And for the more self-critical, anxiety and depression are real risks.

If your kid mostly enjoys social media but suffers the occasional bout of self-doubt, help them find a healthier balance. Ask if — or what — they’re already doing to take care of themselves. They may already be tweaking their social media feeds to limit posts that make them feel bad. Or they may be intentionally trying to curb the endless scrolling through the cool kid’s Insta. Work together to prune out the parts of their social media feeds that trap them into judgy comparisons, and encourage the stuff that bolsters positive social connections, supportive relationships, and validation of their inner qualities.

Encouraging your kids to see and appreciate their individual strengths has always been a part of parenting. And learning to stop comparing yourself to others is a part of growing up. By helping kids clean up their feeds, you’re bringing together two critical aspects of raising kids in the digital age. Try these tips:

Identify the triggers. Maybe it’s a certain couple who always look happy and in love, when your kid really wants a romantic relationship. Maybe it’s ads from a dog-toy delivery service that makes your kid miss your old mutt. Explore what’s behind their emotions. Sharing your own FOMO-induced feelings will likely get your kid to open up. Once they recognize the cause of their emotions, they can take steps to manage triggers.

Fine-tune levels of engagement. All social media offers ways to see and hear less from your contacts — without totally unfriending them. Check out settings such as these from popular platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter: unfollow (you’re still friends, but their posts won’t show up in your feed); hide post (see fewer posts from someone); snooze (temporarily stop seeing posts); mute (turn them off for a while); and do not disturb (temporarily block the person).

Turn off notifications. Most social media apps send updates — and none of them are life-and-death. To prevent your kid from interruptions — especially ones that might trigger negative thoughts — you can encourage your kid to check their social media once or twice at a certain time of day — say, 4 p.m. That might be a stretch, but you can still encourage them to turn off notifications either in the app itself or on their phone.

Follow people who nourish your soul. Kim Kardashian may be all over social media, but there are lots of folks who post uplifting, life-affirming, thoughtful, inspiring things that get kids thinking — and maybe even behaving — in ways that make them feel good about themselves. Follow these kinds of people.

Suggest apps to help with focus. Just as you can use technology to excess, you can use it to rein yourself in. These productivity apps help keep kids on task, boost concentration, and remind you to stop doing stuff that’s not good for you.

What Parents Need to Know About Social Media and Anxiety

Learn to recognize the warning signs of anxiety disorder and help your kid keep social media use healthy and productive. By Caroline Knorr 
What Parents Need to Know About Social Media and Anxiety

From cyberbullying to FOMO to cruel comments, social media can be a land mine for kids. Issues we parents never had to worry about, such as an intimate photo texted to the entire school or Instagram videos of a birthday party we weren’t invited to, are now a risk for many tweens and teens. With kids’ digital well-being a concern, researchers are exploring potential links between social media and the rise in teen suicide ratestech addiction, and loss of real-life social skills. And many parents are wondering: Is social media causing my kid to have anxiety?

It’s an important question — and one that makes for compelling headlines for worried parents. While it’s too early to say with certainty (this is, after all, the first generation of “digital natives”), the reality is somewhat nuanced. Some research has observed a relationship between social media use and anxiety in kids, but it’s difficult to know if and when social media is causing anxiety or whether kids who are anxious are turning to social media as a way to soothe themselves or seek support. How kids use social media matters, too: Social comparison and feedback-seeking behaviors have been associated with depressive symptoms, which often co-occur with anxiety.

Of course, it’s common for kids to feel anxious sometimes. But there’s a big difference between occasional anxiety and an anxiety disorder that requires professional care. If your kid is overly self-conscious, has uncontrollable and unrealistic anxiety, is unable to make it go away, and avoids things, you may want to seek help. (Learn more about anxiety in kids at the Child Mind Institute.) For these kids, social media may act as a trigger for — though not the root cause of — their anxious feelings. There are also kids, who, for a variety of reasons, may be more sensitive to the anxiety-producing effects of social media. For example, kids with social anxiety disorder may prefer online interactions over face-to-face interactions. Bottom line: You may not know the impact of social media on your kid until issues surface.

Unfortunately, simply cutting off social media isn’t necessarily the answer. It’s such a huge part of many kids’ lives that not having access to social media could take a toll. In fact, being connected to friends through social media may counterbalance some of its negative effects.

Without conclusive research to back up claims that social media causes anxiety — and some evidence to show it’s beneficial — it’s up to you to keep tabs on how your kid’s doing. Though it adds an extra layer to your parenting duties, it’s a good idea to get a good sense of your kid’s online life. Ask kids to give you a tour of their social media world. As they’re showing you around, you might hear some of the positive stuff you weren’t expecting, as well as some of the problem areas your kid could use help with. Also, add social media to the “wellness checks” that you already do. For example, when you ask how they slept and what they ate, ask how they’re feeling about social media. Is it mostly positive, helpful, and supportive, or do they want to step back but aren’t sure how? Here are some more tips for keeping social media a positive for kids:

Encourage self-care. Seeing photos of a trip to the beach your friends didn’t invite you to can really sting. If your kid is super bummed or tired of digital drama, suggest they take a break from social media for a while. In fact, if they post a status update that they’re taking a break, their friends might be very accepting because they’ve had similar feelings.

Help kids put social media in perspective. People post stuff that makes their lives look perfect — not the homework struggles, or the fight they had with their dad, or the hours it took to look as good as possible for the camera. Remind kids that social media leaves the messy stuff out — and that everyone has ups and downs.

Encourage offline activities. In a world where kids could spend their days lying around looking at Instagram, it’s doubly important for them to feel as though they’re cultivating their inner lives. Prompt them to balance social media with soul-nourishing activities such as hobbies, exercise, reading, and helping others. Otherwise, what are they going to brag about on social media?

Talk about their feelings. Ask them what it feels like to look at other kids’ feeds. Is there a tipping point from when they feel OK to when they start to feel bad about their own lives? Encourage them to stop before that feeling sets in and do something good for themselves instead.

Let them know you’re there for them. You may not understand everything about your kid’s online social life. But recognizing it’s important to them makes your kid feel valued — and more likely to come to you when they encounter problems.

Get help. If you see any cause for concern, including mood swings that seem to result from social media, not taking pleasure in activities he or she used to enjoy, and having accompanying symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches, visit your kid’s pediatrician for a professional opinion.

The Child Mind Institute contributed to this article. Learn more at childmind.org.

How to Have Honest Conversations About Social Media with Students

Common Sense Media

When young people feel seen, heard, and respected, they will want to engage.

January 11, 2018

Rosalind Wiseman

Founder, Cultures of Dignity

Who hasn’t sent a text or email to the wrong person? Who hasn’t posted something online they later regretted or seen something in their feed that made them uncomfortable? These are difficult moments for people, no matter their age, and it’s natural to be unsure what to do. But the most common advice young people get about social media is usually limited to “Think before you send” and “Once you post something, it’s always there.” These clichés may be true, but they don’t help young people address the situation they’re in.

If you work with young people in any capacity, you are also teaching social media norms and expectations. But what do norms mean in the context of social media? Norms are a standard or pattern of social behavior that is typical or expected of a group. Our social media use is still so new that we are all trying to figure out what our social media norms are and should be. From when we use it to how and where, we are all trying to figure it out as we go.

We start by looking in the mirror. We must reflect on how we use social media ourselves. What is true for our students is also true for us.

When it comes to issues that impact their lives, young people are equal to us in subject-matter expertise, if not more so. But this is easy to forget. When we do, we miss the larger context and therefore the opportunity to actually accomplish our goals: teaching them how to apply critical thinking to the information they receive, recognizing when it is being used to manipulate their opinions and perceptions, defining what responsible social interactions online look like, and developing awareness about how its use can impact their sense of self and understanding of the world.

So how do we do this? We start by looking in the mirror. We must reflect on how we use social media ourselves. What is true for our students is also true for us. Social media is a constant social exchange (for better and worse), a way to maintain important connections and relationships, a place to find support and share interests with like-minded people (especially when you can’t find it in real life), and a source of information that profoundly impacts the way you see yourself and the world around you.

Reflecting on Your Own Experiences

At Cultures of Dignity, we believe that successfully teaching any kind of social and emotional learning requires teachers to ask themselves the same questions they ask their students. Before initiating a discussion with your students on topics of responsible social media use, take some time to reflect on your own experiences with this exercise:

Part One:
Put a check next to the question if you can answer “yes.” Have you …

  • Posted something, then checked repeatedly to see how many people liked it or made a comment?
  • Accidentally sent an email or text to the wrong person?
  • Been in school when someone showed you a post about you, a colleague, a parent, or a child that made you feel sad or anxious and didn’t know what to do next?
  • Had a friend or someone in your family post something that made you really upset and affected your relationship with that person?
  • Now write down a few sentences that describe your experiences and feelings to any of these questions.

Part Two:
Look back on your social media posts of the last six months and ask yourself the following questions:

  • If a stranger saw the posts you just looked at, what would they think about you?
  • What do you want people to think about you and your life?
  • How accurately do your online posts and interactions reflect what’s going on in your life?
  • Do you take steps to protect your online privacy? How important is privacy to you?
  • Is the way you handle conflict online similar to the way you handle conflict in real life? Are you proud of how you conduct yourself in either or both contexts?

Bringing Your Reflection into the Classroom

Now take a step back and remember that the majority of young people are extremely skeptical about anything we tell them regarding how to use social media. We have to show them that we are doing the work we are asking them to do. We have to show them that we acknowledge we are affected by social media too. So no matter what you teach — math, social studies, Spanish, language arts, or computer coding — sit down with your students and say something along the lines of:

I know I’m your math teacher, so technically my responsibility is to teach you math, but I also want the time we spend together to be good. And I know that I can be the best math teacher in the world, but if something comes through your phone that upsets you, you’re going to have a really hard time focusing on what I’m teaching you. I’ve been thinking about the technology rules we have in the school and in the class. I want to take a few minutes of our class time to dig a little deeper because I think it’s more than me nagging you to put away your phones and not being mean to someone. So we’re going to take 15 minutes to answer a few questions and then have a discussion. This doesn’t have to be the only time we talk about this. If what we do seems like a good use of time, let me know.

You can do the same exercises above and then have a discussion. Share some of your own insights — which shows them that you don’t think you’re above these issues because you’re an adult. Your goal is to approach the topic from a place of curiosity instead of blame and judgment. From there, you can fine-tune your class agreements about how social media is used in and outside of class.

Remember what you know: When young people feel seen, heard, and respected, they will want to engage. When they see that you hold each of them to high standards and you implement those standards fairly, they engage. When we admit adults’ hypocrisy, they engage. And when they are given a voice to express their own experiences and opinions, they will hold themselves to higher standards then we can ever impose.

When to Worry About Your Teen & Social Media

Is social media damaging your teen? Here’s what to watch for 

Keeping your teenager out of the social media world is impossible. Whether we like it or not, our kids are growing up in a digital era — and although that creates major opportunities, it also comes with some pretty big risks. We saw this firsthand when we asked a group of tweens and teens to give up their phones and social media for a week; it was as though we’d asked them to part with a limb.

Even Barack Obama agreed that the internet can be both a “blessing and a curse” during an interview with Prince Harry aired as a BBC podcast on December 27. “On the internet, everything is simplified,” he said. “And when you meet people face-to-face, it turns out they’re complicated. There may be somebody who you think is diametrically opposed to you when it comes to their political views, but you root for the same sports team.” Obama may have been talking about complex political issues, but his words apply just as much to teenagers and social media.

A recent study of more than 10,000 sixth- to 12-grade girls carried out by nonprofit organization Ruling Our Experiences found that high school girls spend an average of six hours a day on social media. And the effect of too much logged-on time is clear. The study found kids who spend eight hours or more on technology per day are five times more likely to be sad or depressed. Adding to the pressure is that 2 out of 3 high school girls report being asked to send a revealing photo to another person, and most of them report that most students their age send sexually explicit texts and photos to each other.

“The more typical and sometimes subtle challenges of adolescence are even more amplified with social media and can be more damaging to a girl’s sense of self,” says Dr. Lisa Hinkelman, a licensed counselor, founder of Ruling Our Experiences and author of Girls Without Limits: Helping Girls Achieve Healthy Relationships, Academic Success and Interpersonal Strength. “During the teen years, girls experience drops in confidence and self-esteem, have difficulty navigating friendships and relationships and often come to dislike their body and appearance. These inherent insecurities of adolescence are exacerbated with the overlay of social media, with the constant comparison of self to others. When every aspect of a girl’s life is on display to be viewed, dissected and judged, her self-concept can be negatively impacted and her decision-making altered to gain the approval — the likes — of her peers.”

The Ruling Our Experiences study put the spotlight on girls, and it’s worth noting there’s a marked gender divide when it comes to social media use and its repercussions. Another study, carried out by Common Sense Media, found that girls straight-up use social media more than boys and are also more likely to experience negative consequences. Half the girls polled admitted that content posted online often makes them worry about their appearance or social status, while just a quarter of the boys said the same. An earlier study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project came to similar conclusions: A third of 12- to 13-year-old girls who used social media believed their peers were mostly unkind to each other online, while only 9 percent of the boys agreed.

Of course, these differences don’t mean we shouldn’t have concerns about boys and the impact of digital overload or online bullying. In fact, other studies have shown that boys and girls can be equally damaged by social media.

With all these statistics — plus the look of horror on a kid’s face when they’re separated from their digital device — it’s no wonder parents are concerned about their kids’ online lives. So why aren’t we doing more about it? The Ruling Our Experiences study found that 60 percent of girls report that their parents “rarely or never” monitor their use of technology. Experts recognize it can be difficult to know how to help our teens cope with the pressures of social media, but there are red flags we can look out for that may indicate it’s time to intervene.

According to Tom Kersting, licensed psychotherapist, family counselor, author and educator, the most common warning signs of an unhealthy relationship with social media include: sleep deprivation, anxiety and/or depression, lack of interest in anything not screen-related, constant fighting and arguing about screen time and believing you can’t live without your devices.

Hinkelman adds that signs of digital distress include withdrawal from activities a teen typically enjoyed, changes in eating or sleeping, increased levels of sadness or crying and persistent anxiousness and isolation. “Social isolation is a key element of depression, and excessive use of technology can equate to less in-person connections with others,” she says.

It’s also important for parents to recognize just how important social media is to this age group. Yes, Snapchat does matter. “When we minimize the importance that social media plays in the lives of girls, we effectively make ourselves less relevant and more out of touch,” says Hinkelman. “However, right now, the strategies that we see many parents implementing are to tell girls to stay off of social media, to limit access to their phones and to say unhelpful things like, ‘If it is making you that upset, just put it away’ or ‘Why do you even try to be friends with those girls if they are so mean?'”

A more productive approach is to help kids develop effective and supportive relationships both via technology and IRL. We need to teach our teens how to trust their intuition, set boundaries, value their own voice and opinion and deal with pressure and coercion. “These are the skills they need for success in life,” says Hinkelman.

That said, if you have concerns your teen is being bullied online, you need to pull out all the stops, says Kersting. “Keep your teen off social media, period,” he says. That means don’t let your teen use technology in their bedroom, have mandatory family conversation every night, and don’t let your teen go to school with their phone until the problem has been resolved. The most important thing is for teens to feel — and be — safe, online and in the real world alike.

Parents can get more advice on helping their teens stay safe online at ConnectSafely.

How Tech Experts Monitor Their Teens on Social Media

The Wall Street Journal

How can parents keep up with smartphones? Tech executives take various approaches to managing their children’s social-media use

While investor protests about smartphones’ harmful social effects began making headlines only recently, Silicon Valley parents have struggled with the issue for a long time.

Tech executives with children share many of the same concerns other parents have about tweens’ and teens’ social-media use—that it will disrupt sleep, homework or face-to-face socializing, or expose their children to bullies or predators.

Those who are experts on the internet and information security also wonder: What hidden security threats lurk in the latest social-media app? Which of many possible paths might hackers take to invade their children’s privacy?

The routes tech-savvy executives choose to protect their tweens and teens online vary, from close monitoring to guiding them in managing the hazards themselves.

Teaching Decision-Making

Steven Aldrich foresees his 16-year-old son Jackson constantly surrounded by apps and devices designed to grab his attention.

Mr. Aldrich, chief product officer at GoDaddy Inc., a Scottsdale, Ariz., provider of internet domains and websites to businesses, and his wife, Allison, shun the parental-control apps and filters with which some parents control their children’s internet and social-media use. “No amount of monitoring is going to teach responsibility or judgment,” Mr. Aldrich says. “The kids have to learn to live in a world where that’s the reality.” Instead, he and his wife “focus on, how do we create an environment where Jackson has the chance to learn judgment, by participating in setting limits and creating boundaries for himself.”

Steven Aldrich, GoDaddy's chief product officer, says ‘No amount of monitoring is going to teach responsibility or judgment.’
Steven Aldrich, GoDaddy’s chief product officer, says ‘No amount of monitoring is going to teach responsibility or judgment.’ PHOTO: GODADDY

They started early, letting Jackson decide as a child, with parental coaching, how much candy to eat from the pantry. This has evolved to teaching him to finish a homework assignment before checking social media. Mrs. Aldrich sometimes asks Jackson to let her know when he takes breaks from homework, Jackson says, making him aware of whether he’s diverting his attention too often.

They’re helping him learn time management, such as scheduling homework, sports practice, dinner and sleep in advance so that social media doesn’t crowd them out. “We’ve seen it start to pay off in how he prepares for tests or projects,” Mr. Aldrich says.

He and his wife also encourage Jackson to think about everything he posts as part of his permanent personal brand, Mr. Aldrich says, asking him: “Think about what you might have chosen if you’d gotten a tattoo when you were 3? What if you got a Barney tattoo, and now you’re in middle school? Would you want to be walking around with a Barney tattoo?’”

They’ve used examples from Snapchat of mistakes other teens made in oversharing, and asked Jackson to imagine how the sender felt afterward.

Jackson, who uses Snapchat and Instagram and also has a YouTube channel of his own about videogames and soccer, says he has learned to ask himself before posting anything to consider how it might affect his image. “Would I want the principal, a future employer, my teachers to see this?” he says. “Once you post something, it will be out there forever.”

Keeping a Watchful Eye

The powerful allure social media holds for teens has led Michelle Dennedy to take a hands-on approach to monitoring its use by her two daughters, 11 and 16. “Once you hand that phone to your child, that is the beginning of a million micro-decisions for you as a parent, and for the child,” says Ms. Dennedy, chief privacy officer at Cisco Systems Inc., the San Jose, Calif., networking company.

 

She checks privacy settings every six months on all the apps she and her daughters use on their smartphones. If social media distracts them from homework, “the Wi-Fi goes off and the books come out,” Ms. Dennedy says.

She teaches them how marketers use free apps to get personal information. “Do you know the difference between free and paid music?” she recently asked her younger daughter. “What do you think an advertiser would want to know about 11-year-old kids?”

She refrains from making judgments about teens’ social-media habits. “Apparently if you don’t respond with a selfie fast enough, people get upset. I respect their culture. I can’t just say, ‘That’s dumb, these people are ridiculous,’ and walk away,” Ms. Dennedy says. Instead, she asks, “What is this doing to your self-esteem?’ And I have to be quiet and listen. It’s an ongoing struggle.”

She also requires her daughters to get permission before downloading apps. “Sometimes they’ll send me an app that is just ridiculous. My older daughter asked for a celebrity app, with a lot of pictures of body parts,” Ms. Dennedy says. “ I asked her, ‘Write me a memo about what this will do to improve your life, and then we’ll have a conversation.’ She wrote the memo, tongue-in-cheek, with a lot of eye-rolling, saying, ‘I like the Kardashians because they annoy my mom.’ She still didn’t get the app.”

Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer at Cisco Systems, checks privacy settings every six months on the apps she and her daughters use on their smartphones.
Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer at Cisco Systems, checks privacy settings every six months on the apps she and her daughters use on their smartphones. PHOTO: CISCO

She steps in when social media ignites too much teen drama. “One problem for my older daughter a couple of years ago was when friends were using FaceTime while doing homework,” she says. “Walking into her room, I’d see another student talking about how stressed out she was, how hopeless it was, how awful parents were to force them to get good grades.

“I had a long conversation with my daughter later: I know you want to help your friends, but some of these students may need professional help. And I ask her, is this helping you get the grades you could get and want to get?”

She encouraged her daughter to talk with her friend and tell her: “I’m worried that this conversation isn’t productive. What can we do about this?” Or, “My weirdo mother is going to call your weirdo mother. Maybe we should stop.” Ms. Dennedy does sometimes call other parents in such situations. “That can be an awkward conversation, but it’s one you have to try to have.”

Monitoring Closely

Eight-year-old Jack Arkin’s online activity so far is limited to watching children’s videos on YouTube and sending email. But his father, Brad, who is chief security officer for Adobe, the San Jose, Calif., cloud-software company, has already begun shaping his attitude toward social media.

Adobe’s chief security officer Brad Arkin says, ‘I try to teach my kids to understand the tech concepts behind what they’re doing.’
Adobe’s chief security officer Brad Arkin says, ‘I try to teach my kids to understand the tech concepts behind what they’re doing.’ PHOTO:ADOBE

Mr. Arkin and his wife, Carolyn, closely monitor everything Jack does online. They restrict screen time for Jack to 30 to 60 minutes on most days. They read Jack’s emails over his shoulder and stream his children’s videos on the family TV, setting YouTube on restricted mode and keeping an eye on content. “He gets zero privacy and zero expectations of privacy,” Mr. Arkin says.

Jack will probably get his first phone next year, but it will be an old-fashioned flip phone, so he and his parents can call or send texts while he’s walking to and from school.

Mr. Arkin doesn’t plan to rely on parental controls when Jack, and his two younger brothers, ages 6 and 3, eventually get smartphones. “At my day job as a security guy, I know that software controls can be circumvented by determined adversaries,” he says. Instead, “I try to teach my kids to understand the tech concepts behind what they’re doing.”

That includes the hidden hazards of social media: “If you post a photo, people can figure out where the picture was taken, and at what time,” Mr. Arkin tells his son. “When you think about posting something, the questions are, ‘What do you hope to achieve by publishing it? Why does this need to be viewable to the world?’”

“I’m doing my best,” Mr. Arkin says, “to make my kids savvy but not over-fearful.”

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at sue.shellenbarger@wsj.com

Teen Girls And Social Media: A Story Of ‘Secret Lives’ And Misogyny

NPR

Nancy Jo Sales interviewed more than 200 teenage girls about their social media and Internet habits while researching her book American Girls.

Knopf

Social media and dating apps are putting unprecedented pressures on America’s teen girls, author Nancy Jo Sales says. Her new book, American Girls, opens with a story about one 13-year-old who received an Instagram request for “noodz” [nude photos] from a boy she didn’t know very well.

“When I was a girl and the things that would come up in your life that were difficult or troubling or whatever — there was always a Judy Blume book for it,” Sales tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. But, Sales says, when it comes to responding to an out-of-the-blue solicitation for naked images, “there’s no Judy Blume book for that. There’s nothing for them to turn to, to know, like, ‘How do I react to this?’ ”

In the 2 1/2 years she spent researching her book, Sales interviewed more than 200 teenage girls around the country about their social media and Internet usage. She says girls face enormous pressures to post “hot” or sexualized photos of themselves online, and she adds that this pressure can make the Internet an unwelcoming environment.

“I think a lot of people are not aware of how the atmosphere has really changed in social situations … in terms of how the girls are treated and how the boys behave,” Sales says. “This is a kind of sexism and misogyny being played out in real time in this really extreme way.”


Interview Highlights

American Girls

On how males’ and females’ pictures differ on Tinder

I talked to an 18-year-old girl who is talking about looking at Tinder with her older brother and … she said she was struck by the way in which the boys and men’s pictures were very different than the girls’. Guys tend to have a picture like, I don’t know, they’re standing on a mountain looking like they’ve climbed the mountain, or they’re holding a big fish or they’re doing something manly, or in their car. … But the girls’ pictures … tend to be very different; they tend to be a lot more sexualized.

This is a pressure on social media that goes back, for women and girls, a long time. … I trace the origins back to a site called “Hot or Not” which came out in 2000. … The whole idea of “hotness” has become such a factor in the lives of American girls, unfortunately, because according to many, many studies, including a really landmark report by the American Psychological Association in 2007, this has wide-ranging ramifications for girls’ health and well-being, including studies that link this pressure to sexualize on all kinds of things like rising anxiety, depression, cutting, eating disorders. It’s a thing that I don’t think that boys have to deal with as much.

On boys asking girls for nude photos

I think the fact that so often we’re talking about nudes and sexting is because kids are watching porn. There’s multiple studies that say that they are. We know that they are. They’re curious. They’re going through puberty. They’re watching porn. And yet, nobody really talks about it or talks about the fact that it has an effect on how they behave and what they think about sex and sexuality and how they deal with each other. And there’s really no guidelines for girls about how to react to all of this. …

Some 13-year-old girls in Florida and New Jersey both told me that if they didn’t [send photos] they had been threatened with boys sending rumors about them, sending around a picture that actually wasn’t them and saying it was them. I mean, there’s a kind of thing in adult life that we know about called revenge porn, and that happens among kids as well, unfortunately.

It’s very risky for girls to send nudes because when they do, if they chose to, those photos are not private. They can be shared and very often they are shared. I heard story after story of situations where girls had pictures of themselves sent around to groups of people. It has become such a normal thing to them.

On “slut pages”

A “slut page” is when someone, typically a boy, not 100 percent of the time, but mostly a boy or boys, will collect nude photos of girls in their school or in the area’s schools and post them on a page. I’ve seen them on Facebook or Instagram. It looks like an amateur pornography site — it is an amateur pornography site, I would say — and it’s underage girls and pictures that are sent to someone, very often that they think won’t share them but who does. It’s a nonconsensual sharing of these pictures, and sometimes without their knowledge.

I’ve talked to girls who found out about it through text. Suddenly their phone blows up and they find out, “Oh my god, you’re on this page.” I think it’s very threatening because it’s abuse of a certain kind and it’s harassment, and it’s very often not punished in any way, or even known by adults.

On how porn is affecting sex

It was through talking to girls that I started thinking about porn, and they really enlightened me about the effect that porn was having on their lives, because they would start describing to me interactions that they had with boys. For example, “Send me nudes,” or a boy sending a nude picture of himself. … These things that they’re describing sound violent to me. They say, “[Boys] expect this, and they expect that, and they want you to do this, and they want you to do that.” And these things, they’re all the hallmarks of the most popular online porn.

There’s different things that are sort of popularized in porn. Pornographers have found that they get more traffic, more clicks, more views, whatever, the more extreme that it is. That seems to be the trend that has happened in porn in the last decade or so, right? So there are certain acts or moves or behaviors, whatever, which are filtering their way into the sexual encounters of teenage girls and boys.

The Unspoken Rules Kids Create for Instagram

Photo

CreditJake Michaels for The New York Times

The challenge of growing up in the digital age is perfectly epitomized by the “bikini rule.”

“You can post a bikini or bathing suit picture only if you are with your siblings or your family in the picture,” said one middle-school girl participating in a focus group on digital media. In other words, don’t try too hard to be sexy, and you will be O.K. in the eyes of your peers.

By high school, the rules change. At that stage, a bikini picture often is acceptable — and even considered “body positive” in some circles.

As an educational consultant, I lead workshops on digital media at schools around the country, giving me an unusual glimpse into the hidden world of middle and high school students. While parents sometimes impose rules for using social media on their kids, the most important rules are those that children create for themselves.

And these often unspoken rules can be dizzying.

Girls want to be sexy, but not too sexy. Be careful which vacation photos you share so you don’t brag. It’s O.K. to post photos from a fun event, but not too many.

In one focus group I held recently with seventh-grade girls in an affluent suburb, all the girls were avid Instagram and Snapchat users. It was clear that they understood the dynamic of presenting a persona through the images they posted. It was also clear that they had a definite set of “rules” about pictures.

Aware of their privileged socioeconomic status, they talked about how it would not be O.K. to share vacation pictures of a fancy hotel. They used an example of a classmate who had violated this rule. Like many unspoken social rules, this one became vivid to these girls upon its violation.

As part of a school project, the girl had displayed pictures from a vacation at a foreign resort. Her classmates considered that an immature form of “bragging.” They said other kids had gone on even “better trips” or lived in “amazing houses,” but “knew better” than to post about it.

The same girls identified another peer as “too sexual,” a judgment that some of their parents even encouraged. A few of the girls said that their moms did not want them to hang out with her because she “acts too sexy.” One of the girls expressed this very sentiment in a group text that included the peer in question, causing hurt feelings and conflicts.

Middle school can be an especially complicated time for girls. They are experimenting with social identity, while their always-on digital world intensifies the scrutiny. Many want to be seen as pretty (and even sexy, in some ways), but they also want to be seen as innocent and “nice.” This is an impossible balancing act. Parents can help by suggesting more empowering alternatives to posting bathing suit pictures.

Another group of seventh graders (mixed gender, in a different community) shared with me the rules around how many pictures to post from an event. They had a sense of what was acceptable and what was not. Posting one to three images was O.K., they said, but they all agreed that it was “obnoxious” to “blow up people’s phones” with a huge stream of images from a party or event.

These images can lead to feeling of exclusion as well. Imagine watching a party unfold, in real time, on Snapchat or Instagram — when you’re not there. This experience can be absolutely devastating to teens and tweens. When I asked these particular seventh graders about this, they said that it happened all the time — and that it can be hard to deal with.

With their lives constantly on display, it’s challenging even for well-intentioned kids to avoid making others feel excluded. Their “rule” for this was that “it is better not to lie or make excuses” if you are with one friend and another friend wants to hang out. It’s better to be honest and say, “I have plans” than to lie and say, “I have too much homework,” and then risk sharing images of yourself out with friends later.

Parents often feel as if their children’s smartphones are portals to another world — one that they know little to nothing about. A study released last month found that fewer than half of the parents surveyed regularly discussed social media content with their tweens and teens.

But parents need to know their child’s peers have created their own set of rules for social media, and they should ask their kids about them. What are you “allowed” to post — and what seems to be off-limits? Is that “rule” the same for boys vs. girls? Why or why not? Can you show me an example of a “good” post (or a “bad” post)? Does social media ever stress you out (and can you give yourself a break)? How can kids in your group make group texts or social media nicer for everyone?

In a study published last summer, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that the pleasure centers of teenagers’ brains responded to the reward of getting likes on Instagram just as they do to thoughts of sex or money. Just as parents try to teach children to have some self-control around those enticements, we also have to talk to them about not falling victim to behavior they’ll regret when craving “likes.”

As parents, we don’t want our kids to make a big mistake online: writing something mean in a group text, posting a too-sexy picture or forwarding one of someone else. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 24 percent of teenagers are online “almost constantly,” so it’s essential that they know how to handle themselves there.

Getting your child to articulate the unspoken rules can be the first step in helping him or her be more understanding with peers. When we observe our children harshly judging others who have a different sensibility about how to use social media, they need us to set aside our judgments about their world and to help them cultivate empathy for one another.

Parents Are As Plugged in As Their Kids

Common Sense Media

Michael Robb

Director of Research | Dad of two

Common Sense Media Census Measures Plugged-In Parents

It’s a family thing: How the media environment shapes kids’ use — and what we can do to make it better. By Michael Robb 12/5/2016

Everybody knows tweens and teens rack up lots of screen time. But what about parents? Common Sense Media’s new report, The Common Sense Census: Plugged-In Parents of Tweens and Teens, finally provides some answers. In collaboration with the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University, we surveyed over 1,700 parents of children age 8 to 18 on their attitudes and concerns about their kids’ — and their own — media use. We hope that taking an honest look at how parents use media and tech, how they manage and monitor their kids, and how they talk to kids about media will help us all raise media-savvy kids and good digital citizens.

READ THE FULL REPORT: The Common Sense Census: Plugged-In Parents of Tweens and Teens

The great news is that the report shows that parents are trying to be good digital role models and are overwhelmingly supportive of the positive benefits of media in their kids’ lives. No, we’re not perfect — and the report reveals the tension between what we do and what we want our kids to do. But we’re concerned about our kids, and most of us think we have a role in protecting them from online risks. Finally, the report suggests that when parents are aware of their kids’ online activities, they’re less likely to worry — which is a great reason to be engaged with your kids’ media. Here are some of the report’s key findings:

Parents are avid media users, too! On any given day, parents of American tweens and teens average more than nine hours with screen media each day. Eighty-two percent of that time (almost eight hours) is devoted to personal screen media activities such as watching TV, social networking, and video gaming, with the rest used for work.

Parents believe they “walk the walk.” In fact, 78 percent of all parents believe they are good media and technology role models for their children. Mothers are more likely than fathers to report this.

Many parents have concerns about their children’s social media use and other online activities. For example, 43 percent of parents are worried about their children spending too much time online. A third of parents are concerned that technology use is hurting their children’s sleep.

Parents keep tabs on kids’ media use. Most parents said that monitoring their tweens’ and teens’ media use is important for their safety. Two-thirds of parents say that monitoring media use is more important than respecting kids’ privacy. More than two in five parents check their children’s devices and social media accounts “always” or “most of the time.”

Hispanic parents are more aware and more concerned. Hispanic parents are more aware of their kids’ media use and manage it more than black or white parents. They also indicated more concern about their children’s online activities. For example, 60 percent of Hispanic parents were concerned about their children spending too much time online, as compared to 37 percent of white parents and 33 percent of black parents.

As the report reveals, parents face a number of challenges in the digital age. The sheer amount of media and tech in our lives makes it tough to monitor and manage our own use — let alone our kids’. And though screen-time guidelines are helpful, there are no hard-and-fast rules about how much is OK and how much is “too much.” 

But amid these obstacles, parents’ positive attitudes about the role of technology is a hopeful sign. We should build on this optimism by supporting uses of technology that foster academic and personal development. Role-modeling is a great start to promoting a healthy digital lifestyle, and parents can help establish good habits through family rituals like device-free dinners and media activities that strengthen relationships. Taking a hard look at the family media environment is an important step toward helping kids develop the digital citizenship skills they need to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly.

Apps to Help Keep Track of What Your Kids Are Doing Online

Though open communication is best, these tools can help parents who want a little extra control.

Christine Elgersma Senior Editor, Apps| Mom of one 

Senior Editor, Apps| Mom of one
Apps to Help Keep Track of What Your Kids Are Doing Online

As kids become more independent, we want to foster their sense of responsibility and give them room to prove themselves. But it can be difficult to navigate this natural separation, especially when kids are doing who-knows-what on their devices. There are constant questions: Where are they? Who’s contacting them? What are they doing online? Since tweens and teens are often tight-lipped about their lives, it can be tricky to get clear answers.

Though direct communication is always best, and the conversations around online safety and digital citizenship should start long before a kid becomes a teen, there are occasions when parents feel it’s necessary to monitor what kids are doing on their devices. Maybe they’ve broken your trust or you’re worried about their safety. Whatever the case, there are tools to track what your kid is up to. Be aware that spying on your kid can backfire and that kids can find a way around just about any type of tracking. But if you’re at the end of your rope or just need extra help managing your kid’s digital life, then one of these tools might work for you. To get more information, check out our advice about cell phone issues, including basic parental controls, and less invasive (and expensive) ways to limit access to content.

Bark: Similar to VISR (see below), kids and parents need to work together to hook up accounts to the service. It also analyzes all device activity and alerts parents when a problem is found. If they get an alert, parents will see the content in question and get suggestions on how to handle it ($9/month).

Circle Home and Go: This app manages the Circle with Disney device, which pairs with your home Wi-Fi and controls all Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Can create time limits on specific apps, filter content, set bedtimes, and restrict internet access for the whole house or for individuals. Circle Go will let parents filter, limit, and track on networks outside the home Wi-Fi (the Circle device is $99, the Circle Home app is free, and the Circle Go service will be $9.95/month).

Limitly: If screen time and specific app use is your concern, this system might work for you. It lets you track your kid’s app use and limit time using the device or certain apps (free, Android-only).

Pocket Guardian: Parents get alerts when sexting, bullying, or explicit images are detected on your kid’s device, though you won’t see the actual content or who it’s from. Instead, the alert can prompt a conversation, and the app offers resources to help ($9.99–$12.99/month).

Trackidz: With this program, you don’t see specific content from your kid’s device, but you can track app installations and use, block browsers and apps, manage time in apps and on the device, block out device-free time, grant bonus time, track location, get an alert when your kid’s phone is turned off, and see your kid’s contacts. It also claims to detect cyberbullying by tracking when your kid’s device use drops dramatically, which can indicate avoidance. Setting up a geo-fence lets parents track a kid’s location and alerts them when a kid has gone outside the boundaries, and a kid can tap the power button to send an emergency message to parents (currently free, but will be $6.99).

VISR: For this one to work, a parent needs the kid’s usernames and passwords, so be aware that it’s easy for kids to set up dummy accounts. Once enabled, the tool analyzes posts and emails for bullying, profanity, nudity, violence, drugs, and late-night use and sends parents alerts when anything iffy is detected (currently free, but will be $5/month).