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.  


  1. This is a great article! It is time for parents to realize that technology is here to stay and if we, as parents, don't keep up with all it has to offer, our children will leave us behind. I was never able to get my children to sit and watch the news with me and now they are learning more about what is going on in the world from social media than they have ever known before.
    Great job Lisa Nielsen and Lisa Cooley!!

  2. I had this same thought when I read the Common Sense Media article. You hit the nail on the head:"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."
    As a social media manager, I work with more and more clients that see the benefits of using social media to promote their business. Your example of the Student Voice Summit is a perfect example of how social media allows us to share information, ideas, and positively influence our world. How empowering for young people. Learning can't get more authentic than that. We need only look to the events this week in Boston to see how social media was used by the law enforcement to engage the public and find the identity of the men who bombed the Boston Marathon.
    I love that you make the point about adults own social media use and that we can not only be better role models, but learn a thing or 2 from kids. This a key component to our Saving Face for Parents of Tweens program.
    Its important that parents and educators not view social media as black and white. Yes kids are more tech savvy that ever, and yes many may not be socially savvy or emotionally mature, but it is our job as adults to set a good example and help them make smart digital decisions, while encouraging them to use their digital world as another tool to learn and grow!

    Sheri Watkins
    Social Media Manager | Hay There Social Media
    Co-Creator Saving Face for Parents of Tweens™

  3. Usually, I really like Common Sense Media, however, I do have an issue with their remark that, "... as your teen's engagement with friends via Facebook goes up, engagement in the 'real world' can go down." Um, hello, digital communication with friends IS the real world.

    We can't 100% gaurentee that Facebook will be as popular a communication tool 10-20 years from now, but it currenly is a huge tool. We, as adults, are doing our youth a disservice if we ignore this trend. We are doing a disservice if we encourage our youth to stay away from digital communication

    Instead, we should be modeling and teaching how to use Facebook correctly. Can you imagine handing keys to a car over to a 16-year old without any drivers training? this is what we do with Facebook. Who teaches our kids HOW to use Facebook? Parents and schools need to model correct digital citizenship.

    Our kids are goign to create accounts and use Facebook anyway. Who do you want your kid to learn how to use Facebook? Someone they sit by on the back of the bus, or a trusted adult? I know what I want.