Friday, April 19, 2013

Newsflash: Social media is real life

Co-authored by Lisa Nielsen and Lisa Cooley

A recent Common Sense Media story about Facebook Home warns parents that the new Facebook Home app will be an ever-present distraction in the lives of young people. It states that as your teen's engagement with friends via Facebook goes up, engagement in the “real world” can go down.  

Adults need to wake up. We need to take a step back from the notion that online communication is interaction in a world that is not real or is somehow less valuable than face-to-face life.  This impulse to dismiss social media as a “distraction” is detrimental to both ourselves and our children.

Social media has come to be a modern day tool, just like those we use to build houses and cars. While you can, of course, build a house or assemble a car without machines, it would be hard, if not impossible, to run a successful company without doing so.  Likewise, in today’s world, if you want to run for office, run a business, or change how things are run where we live, work, or play, you probably use social media to do so effectively. Just like the machines that build our homes and cars, social media, has become the tool that makes college, career, or success in building a movement more attainable.

Case in point: last week’s Student Voice Summit was a result of the Student Voice movement. This movement was born in the fertile environment of social media, the tool that very effectively connects like-minded individuals.   Weekly #stuvoice  Twitter chats (8:30 p.m. EST), a Facebook Page to share and celebrate success, a Facebook Group to interact, and a website to receive and disseminate information are the tools students across the globe have used to grow their own learning networks and contribute to the cause of transforming public education.

The Summit provided an opportunity for individuals to see the faces of so many of the minds they had already gotten to know, through their passion to give students a voice in educational policies. Social media gave them the ability  to change minds, change lives, and achieve real-world success.

Here’s the thing. Educators and parents do have to compete for the attention of young people today. They can do that by undermining and dismissing their online work as not real, relevant, or meaningful and forcing them to participate in that which adults think is important...because they say so.  

But teens today are savvy and becoming more and more independent.  They don’t want to be forced to disconnect just because someone else says so.  

Adults must stop looking at student participation in social media as  frivolous distractions.  Instead, adults --teachers, parents, mentors, employers, school administrators--can partner with them. All generations together can identify what matters to young people, and support them in that pursuit, by all means possible.

As adults, we can look at our own use of social media. How much of what we do is the sharing of everyday thoughts, gossip about friends and neighbors, complaints about politics and local controversies? How much of what we do is pass along funny jokes and memes? How much of our Facebook lives are dedicated to productive, meaningful interaction about causes and issues that matter?

If the Student Voice project can be held as an example of what can be accomplished through social media, adults themselves can learn something from kids.  Adults can put aside preconceived notions and prejudices, and discover how to live, operate, and succeed in their real, digital online worlds, before they themselves get left behind.