When I was growing up I did not think that the world would care what my breakfast looked like, my feelings on new Pop Tart flavors, or that I liked to eat sweet things. I often shared these deep insights with my friends but I never considered that other people outside of my circle would care.
Evidently times have changed because my twenty-six year old son routinely publishes these kind of pictures on Instagram.
And he is not alone.
Look at Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter or Vine or the host of other social media sites that everyone - even old people like me - post to and access daily. Pictures like these and an infinite variety of other pictures and thoughts are found there - EVERY SINGLE DAY!
That is not to say that this is all social media is used for because social media presents multiple opportunities for people of all ages to find their voice, advocate for important issues, and learn from each other. Twitter, for example, has connected me to educators from around the nation and the world who bring me new and needed perspectives.
While social media presents multiple opportunities for self-expression, helps people find their voice, encourages collaboration, and provides platforms for advocacy, even my twenty-six year old has come to realize that there is a power in social media that takes time to recognize and to harness.
One of his recent texts to me contained these words:
And that is where the tension rests for us in positions of responsibility in schools.
How do we use social media tools and help students learn without over-reacting?
Social media tools create wonderful opportunities to connect. Social media provides students with an audience. Social media connects students with experts that they would never have had access to before. Social media creates engagement. Social media provides feedback.
But social media also allows students to share more than they should, to share in inappropriate ways, to share way too much.
So where should I draw the line?
Schools are supposed to be places where students can and should learn. But sometimes students act, quite honestly, stupidly. (They are not stupid - they just do stupid things.) Sometimes these acts are unintentional - they quite honestly had no idea that others people would be offended. At other times their actions were quite deliberate - they set out to offend or be provocative or to cross a line or, unfortunately, to threaten.
(To be clear this reflection is not about criminal acts. A threat, a picture purposefully posted to violate another person - these acts, and others, need to be punished both by the school and by the police.)
When my students post comments or pictures, when they share ideas and reflections that are offensive or vulgar or lewd - either with foresight or without - what should my response be?
Students need to learn. Those of us in schools need to teach and model and mentor. When lines are crossed what should be the consequence?
Finding the balance and navigating this new world can be difficult.